$9 million gym causes debate at DV

| 16 Apr 2015 | 03:21

By Anya Tikka
— The cost of building a new gym for the high school caused some heated discussion at the Delaware Valley Board of Education’s recent meeting in Shohola.

The district opted months ago not to raise taxes, despite significant rising costs caused by back payments due to the state pension system (PSERS), and the already-approved $24 million expenditure to build a new elementary school. Last week, the board authorized a second contract of about $9 million for the gym.

“Money has been set aside previously in the capital reserve account for $30 million for this,” said Superintendent John Bell.

But Jack O’Leary, the only board member to vote against the expenditure, said, “I don’t think we have $9 million to put into a gym this time. I don’t think the taxpayers have it. All the money comes the same pot, you can move it from account to account, doesn’t matter.”

He continued: “We’re going to spend $24 million in the elementary school. We’re going to put $10 million into CTE Tech, that’s $34 million. We’re going put $9 million into this gym. It makes $44 million. Plus, PSERS is not $100 million, it’s going to be $150 million in a few years. Where’s this money going to come from? We’re the fastest-shrinking county in Pennsylvania. Our tax base is shrinking.”

He said that while CTE Tech is an educational facility, the gym, for physical education, is an extra-curricular. "My gymnasium when I went to school 30 years ago was just as small as this, and it’s still in use,” O’Leary said.

Treasurer Jack Fisher also raised concerns over the rising PSERS costs coming this year, but didn’t vote against paying for the gym.

The elementary and gym projects are tied together because the old elementary school must be torn down before the construction of the new high school gym can start on the site.

Also, part of the construction project includes repairing the high school swimming pool.

Bell said that, since swimming has suddenly become very popular, the pool’s outside wall will be torn down to make room for bleachers for about 200 parents and other spectators. Right now there’s no seating there to watch swim meets.

The old high school gym will still be used, but more space is needed to serve all the teams. Right now, basketball teams have to be bused to Shohola for practice.

"Every year, the amount we have to put into PSERS goes into the budget, it’s part of our regular budget," Bell said. "We don’t have to take a loan for that.”

The pension crisis was caused by the state and has affected schools across the commonwealth. If the state had put in the proper share for the PSERS payments, Bell said, the school wouldn’t be in the situation it's in.

”But the new governor, Tom Wolf, wants to close the gap," said Bell. "They’re going to have to work this out between the Senate, the House, and the new Governor. There’s talk about maybe the state would borrow money at low interest rate to close the hole, but who knows. Ultimately, the decision to fix the PSERS issue will happen in Harrisburg. There’s also talk about raising income tax, or raising the sales tax. It’s a statewide issue.”