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June 17, 2013

Vo-tech budget an issue for interim director

NEW CASTLE — The first order of business for the new vo-tech school interim director may be to address the 2013-14 budget.

The Lawrence County Career and Technical Center’s spending plan must be passed by at least six school boards in the county and a majority of the 72 members on the eight school boards in the county must vote yes. The deadline is June 30.

Otherwise, the center would have to cease operations after June 30, which is the end of the fiscal year.

On Thursday, the center’s joint operating committee appointed Domenic J. Ionta as interim director, following the resignation of Dr. Andrew J. Tommelleo. The change comes in the midst of financial turmoil at the vo-tech school.

The school districts’ share of the center’s $6.8 million budget is $4,750,356, based on their estimated student enrollments for next year.

The New Castle, Ellwood City, Neshannock and Laurel districts have approved the vo-tech budget. Union and Shenango have rejected it, and the Mohawk and Wilmington boards plan to vote at today’s meetings.

The Ellwood City board approved the budget 7-0 Thursday. New Castle unanimously approved it Wednesday.

While some districts, such as Ellwood City and New Castle, are content the adult practical nursing program and its expenses no longer will be affiliated with the center after February, other districts are still concerned about the money the vo-tech owes them for enrollment differences, and the per-pupil cost to send their students there next year.

The center owes the districts $450,572 in refunds for the 2010-11 school year for differences between projected and actual enrollment.

Despite multiple requests for the amounts owed for the 2011-12 school year, center officials have not provided them.

The center had been using the districts’ operating funds to subsidize the nursing program when it fell a half-million dollars into debt to the center.

Tommelleo had said last week he would provide the 2011-12 refund figures, but did not. The records were requested of superintendent of record, Dr. Alfonso Angelucci, Thursday night, and he said he would direct the assistant business manager to provide them. As of Friday afternoon, they had not been provided.

David DiGiammarino, committee member and New Castle school board president, said he has not received the figures and expects they will be presented to the joint operating committee at its meeting Thursday.

By that time, the districts all will have voted on their 2013-14 budgets and the proposed vo-tech budget.

“That’s part of the whole problem,” Union school board member John Bertolino commented Friday.

He said that at Union’s meeting Wednesday, there was no discussion about reconsidering its earlier vote rejecting the budget.

Bertolino had said he does not agree with such a high per-pupil cost.

The vo-tech’s 2013-14 budget is based on a per-pupil cost of $12,339, which was based on a projected enrollment of 385 students.

DiGiammarino said after a New Castle board meeting last week that he had voted for the center’s budget with the students in mind, to keep the school from closing.

Likewise, Leroy Cortez of Ellwood City, a member of the joint operating committee, said Friday he has not been given the 2011-12 reimbursement figures either, but he encouraged the Ellwood board to adopt the center’s budget to avoid what had happened two years ago — the school closed for the summer because not enough of the member districts had approved the spending plan.

“At least, with resignation of the director, we are now able to make a turn and head in the other direction,” Cortez said, adding he foresees a lot of changes for the 2014-15 school year.

“My goal is to provide vocational education for students of Lawrence County,” he said. “We’ve made one right decision, but there is a lot of work to be done to keep that school open. From my point in Ellwood City, we’re going to do everything we can to do that.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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