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No school tax hike…this year
An early glimpse at the preliminary budget for the Ephrata Area School District s 2011-12 school year calls for no tax increase, with the millage remaining at 19.02. However, as budget concerns at the state and federal level continue to have a significant negative impact on local school districts statewide, official say chances are quite high this will be the only year in the next several without a tax increase. At Monday night s meeting of the school board, members were presented with the first look at the budget which calls for $54,542,257 in expenditures against $53,780,816 in revenue. For the coming year, the $861,441 shortfall will be made up from reserves set aside from the general fund. By tapping into district reserves, the district was able to construct a zero increase budget without having to increase taxes. This was in keeping with the board s challenge to the administration in light of the on-going economic challenges. Board President Timothy Stayer congratulated the administration for a job well done, not only in creating the proposed budget but in taking numerous steps over the course of the past several years, anticipating challenges which only now are beginning to have a huge impact on school budgets state-wide. Ephrata Area School District Superintendent Dr. Gerald Rosati indicated this 2011-12 budget represents a major policy shift. What we are seeing, said Rosati is a major shift in the burden of funding education with the local schools feeling more of the funding burden.
He added that with each of the next several years, EASD will not be alone in funding steep increases in funding PSERS, while at the same time anticipating significant increases in utility and gasoline costs and receiving less support from the state and federal budgets. The budget process in the past several years has paid off, said Rosati. But I m not sure what degree of programs in the future may be in jeopardy if funding projections wind up being more true than not. We have already cut our budget to the bare bones.
Rosati added that without some change in the situation or other funding relief, and with raising real estate millage by the maximum beginning with school year 2012-2013, key programs and even perhaps economic furloughs may need to be considered next. Stayer concurred. I agree that the state should not be spending money it does not have, noted Stayer, but they also need to look at what they can do to help education. There are a lot of cuts that are all beginning to trickle down to EASD.
Stayer also questioned the board if there was still uniform agreement that holding the line on taxes for the forthcoming year was the most prudent course of action. With the board scheduled to approve the preliminary budget at the May regular school board session and the final budget in June, Stayer stressed the importance of any differences among board members on the issue to be hammered out sooner rather than later. Members of the board informally indicated they agreed that considering the sluggish pace of economic recovery, it made sense to offer local tax payers a break this year knowing they could afford to do so. Stayer cited a number of initiatives which, all combined, have helped EASD to be in perhaps a better financial position than other county districts. Those measures include the steady elimination of positions not through furlough but attrition. They also include reducing the work week hours and overtime, converting the high school to gas utility, implementing thermostat controls to reduce energy consumption districtwide and decreases to debt service principal and interest payments. In addition, the district has maintained the employer PSERS (Public School Employees’ Retirement System) contributions rate from the prior year, managed health insurance costs through trust merger, expanded use of RFP s for better contracting costs (auditing, insurance) and expanded used of the bidding process. Surprisingly steady increases in local property values have further helped the situation by adding more tax revenues. EASD has found it necessary to begin trending budget numbers several years out to school year 2015-2016, in order to properly plan for a rapidly-changing school funding picture including the loss of federal stimulus monies as well as Governor Tom Corbett s proposed budget slashing funding for education to the tune of about $1B. Citing figures from the School Leader News" March 18, edition, Stayer said that the governor s budget calls for some programs to be level funded or decreased or eliminated outright. In addition, a number of existing programs did not receive any state funding under the current proposed state budget. Stayer and Rosati have been in regular attendance at various meetings with state officials regarding the increasing challenges of funding public education. At the current time, Senate Bill 1, which which dealt with school vouchers has been put on hold until it can be assured the measure has enough votes to pass. Seventeen additional measures aimed at state relief from several unfunded mandates are also being considered. Stayer, Rosati and board member Glenn R. Martin emphasized several times the importance for taxpayers to keep in regular touch with their elected officials in Harrisburg with regard to this very important issue. And in other news, the board regretfully voted to accept the resignation of board member Allyson Snyder. Snyder submitted her letter of resignation effective April 11 citing health issues. According to board policy 004, the school board has 30 days from the date of a vacancy to interview candidates and by majority vote appoint a replacement. The vacancy will be advertised as required and the district will begin to accept resumes and letters from interested candidates immediately. The person selected would serve until the first Monday in December, unless they would choose to run for and be elected to a full term in November s elections. Snyder was in her first term on the school board and would have been up for re-election this coming November. Persons interested in the open position should be in contact with the school district at their earliest convenience. For additional information, visit easdpa.org. Gary P. Klinger can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. More TAX, page A16