Tax increase OK’d by Cocalico School Board

By on May 13, 2015

 

The Cocalico School Board approved a proposed $56.7 million budget that will hike property taxes an average of $73 annually.

The action was taken at the Monday, May 11, board meeting.

The 2015-2016 spending plan represents a $2.5-million increase over the current school year, much of the new money committed to state-mandated retirement contributions. The budget also funds two new elementary school teachers, laptops for fifth- to eighth-grade students, and the creation of a new skills program for special needs students.

Photo by Kimberly Marselas New Cocalico School Board director Audrey Stoner is sworn in by Magisterial District Judge Nancy Hamill as board members look on. Stoner will serve through the first Monday in December.

Photo by Kimberly Marselas
New Cocalico School Board director Audrey Stoner is sworn in by Magisterial District Judge Nancy Hamill as board members look on. Stoner will serve through the first Monday in December.

The plan is similar to one the board previewed in April. Business Manager Sherri Stull said the district reduced the amount it expects to spend on contracted substitute services, eliminated a library aide position, cut a high school science teacher, and lowered tuition reimbursement estimates to shave about $216,000 from the original draft.

Revenues were also adjusted to reflect lower grant funding.

The board agreed to raise property taxes by 2.4 percent, which equates to $73.72 yearly or 6.14 monthly on the district’s median assessed home valued at $139,000.

Superintendent Dr. Bruce Sensenig noted that taxes could have gone higher because of retirement commitments, but the district decided not to seek exceptions to the state-approved rate.

Board members, however, repeated earlier concerns that the state’s retirement program is putting many districts on a collision course with financial disaster.

While a .53 millage increase will provide Cocalico with nearly $750,000 in new money in 2015, that doesn’t even pay for the extra $1.1 million the district must pay into the state pension plan.

“It’s very frustrating because our hands are tied,” said board member Douglas Graybill. “We’re putting more and more money toward that and less for educating our students.”

Stull said the district had done a good job of balancing its responsibilities, noting low construction-related debt for comparably sized districts, as well as still-thriving extracurricular programs. A graph charting expenses over the last several years showed the district has kept its instructional spending level, even amid cuts in state funding.

“We are putting the majority of our funds right into instruction, where it should be,” said Lesley Stricker, assistant business manager.

The budget will be presented for a final vote during a meeting June 15.

In other action, the board heard a presentation from Lebanon-based Brightbill Transportation on a proposed bus GPS system. The district would split the $47,000 cost of leasing equipment over the next five years with Brightbill, which supplies the district’s buses.

Local transportation directors would be able to track buses and determine if drivers are following protocol and routes using the system. It could be installed as early as Jan. 1, according to Cocalico Transportation Director David Lutz.

The board also voted to expel a high school senior on a weapons violation. Sensenig said the student brought a knife to the Lancaster County Career and Technology Center, which referred the case back to his home district.

The meeting was the first for member Audrey Stoner, who takes over a seat vacated by Michael Messner. Stoner was sworn in by Magisterial District Judge Nancy Hamill. Stoner will serve through the first Monday in December.

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