Budget, biomass and daycare transportation up for discussion at Crawford Central

May 13—VERNON TOWNSHIP — A potential tax increase, a major part of district infrastructure and daycare transportation will be on the agenda for Crawford Central School Board when it meets today for the monthly work session.

The board is expected to vote next week to adopt a preliminary budget for the 2024-25 school year. Last month, administrators proposed a $71.1 million budget that came with a tax increase of about 5.5 percent. Combined with $3.1 million in reserve funds, the increase would be used to bridge a projected deficit of more than $4.3 million.

Under the proposed budget, the owner of a home assessed at the district's average assessed value of $30,000 would pay an additional $93 beginning next year, bringing the annual tax amount from approximately $1,703 to $1,796.

After approving a preliminary budget this month, the board must approve a final budget in June.

The board will also hear a presentation from RABE Environmental Systems of Erie on the biomass generator that provides heat for the Meadville Area Senior High-Meadville Area Middle School complex as well as Crawford Tech and Meadville Area Recreation Complex.

A biomass plant burns renewable and biodegradable energy sources such as wood chips to generate heat or electricity. The Crawford Central biomass plant, which operates from October to April each year, incorporates a high-pressure steam system. In February, a consultant involved in the feasibility study that is currently reviewing the district's buildings described the system as "very unusual" in a school district setting.

Completed in late 2011 at a cost of about $3.5 million, the plant was expected to save the district approximately $1.5 million in energy costs over a 25-year lifespan. Declines in the cost of natural gas and costly maintenance requirements in recent years have eaten into the expected savings. Combined with the impending retirement of the district employee responsible for operating the plant, recent board discussions have raised the question of whether it makes sense to continue operating the plant — from the perspective of economics, safety and practicality.

The biomass presentation will be followed by discussion of board member tours of the district's two Cochranton-area schools, part of visits related to the ongoing feasibility study.

Also up for discussion are the district's transportation services to Meadville-area daycare businesses.

The discussion follows an address to the board last month, when the owner of a city daycare requested that her business be added to the district's after school busing destinations.

Currently, 90 students from First District, Second District and Neason Hill elementary schools are transported to three after school daycares by non-district transportation, according to Superintendent Jenn Galdon.

At their April work session, Marcy Kantz, owner of Keystone Kidz LLC, told board members that her business pays for Crawford Area Transportation Authority (CATA) to transport 12 students each day, but CATA is not able to provide more than one bus. The business could serve twice that many, she said, if additional transportation were available.

Crawford Central currently provides transportation to daycares located within a student's school transportation zone, Galdon said in an email. However, Cochranton Elementary is the only school currently receiving such service. Because the daycare in question is located within the school zone, the district incurs no additional cost.

Tonight's discussion will include "the most cost-effective option to provide transportation to Meadville daycares," Galdon said. "It will be an additional cost to the district."

Crawford Central meets at 5:30 p.m. in the Instructional Resource Center, 11280 Mercer Pike. Those who wish to address the board should arrive a few minutes early to place their names on the public comment sign-in sheet.

Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at mcrowley@meadvilletribune.com.