Limited tax hike, new hires in planned budget

By on May 17, 2017
Incoming Superintendent Dr. Ella Musser with Cocalico School Board President Allen Dissinger at the June 20 meeting of the board. Photo by Kimberly Marselas.

Cocalico Superintendent Dr. Ella Musser 

A preliminary Cocalico School District budget adopted Monday night adds three new special education positions and a new pre-kindergarten class, while limiting a property tax increase to 1.5 percent.

The board voted 9-0 Monday night in favor of the $59.9 million spending plan, which will be finalized next month. The biggest cost increases are for teacher salaries-up a negotiated 3.1 percent next year-and almost $900,000 more for state-required pension contributions.

The three new special education positions will allow the district to serve more of its special needs students at Cocalico schools, a move that officials say should lead to long-term cost savings. Currently, those students are sent to IU13 buildings and the district pays their tuition on a per-student basis.

“If we’re talking about a whole classroom of students that we’d be sending to the IU, it makes sense to offer it in-house,” board president Allen Dissinger said after the meeting.

The district has already hired one of the two full-time teachers it needs to create new emotional support and autistic support classrooms. The board also created a new position for a behavioral consultant.

Students with other, specific needs will still be served by the IU or other special education providers on an as-needed basis.

The budget also includes the additional pre-kindergarten classroom, though Superintendent Ella Musser said that program will only be offered if the district receives additional grant funding to cover its $127,000 cost.

Final word won’t come until the state budget is approved.

“It’s something we’ve been wanting to do a for a while,” Musser said. “It really perpetuates positive growth.”

Families would have to apply for 30 slots, with 15 students in a morning session and 15 in the afternoon. The classroom would be housed at the Cocalico Care Center across the street from Denver Elementary School, and the center would hire a teacher.

The district would work in partnership with the center, passing funding through from the state to cover other operational costs including transportation and food.

The program would be open to 3- and 4-year-olds, with preference given to older children.

The district already runs a similar program at Reamstown Elementary School.

The budget offered little else new in the way of programming, other than continued investment in a technology initiative that supplies every student with a tablet or laptop.

The district plans to use $250,000 in previously committed funds for that effort, as well as $610,000 for other technology and science, technology, engineering and math programs.

The district will dip into its reserve funds for $2.5 million to offset the pension contribution increase, but business manager Sherri Stull said borrowing from savings isn’t an effective long-term strategy.

After passing a budget with no tax increase last year, Stull said board members decided to seek a conservative increase that would bring in about $480,000. That’s enough revenue to pay for about half the increase in retirement expenses.

Musser had previously asked members to consider an increase somewhere between 0 and 2.5 percent.

That equates to an extra $47.43 in taxes on a house with Cocalico’s median assessed value of $139, 500.

“We’re just taking enough to take the edge off,” Stull said Tuesday. “We’re a school district that doesn’t have a lot of commercial properties here. We’re taxing our residents. Our school board is cognizant of that.”

The district’s pension contribution is expected to climb from 32.57 percent, or $4.38 million, in 2017-18 to 36.4 percent, or $5.2 million, by 2021-22.

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