School board approves budget proposal

By on May 16, 2012

By: MICHELLE REIFF Review Staff, Staff Writer

The Cocalico School District board approved its 2012-2013 proposed budget at a special meeting on May 14.

After months of determining ways to cut costs, the board settled on an increase of 2.65 percent. The .43 mills translates to $609,737 of new revenue for the district.

Sherri Stull, board secretary, said the need for the increase is being primarily driven by two line items.

"If you would remove the employers contribution and the health insurance, you would actually get an overall budget to budget decrease of approximately $201,000 or .4 percent," she said.

The district’s total budget will be just over $49.9 million. The expected revenue only totals approximately $47.1, but committed funds from PSERS of approximately $2.8 million will be used to make up the difference.

The 2.1 percent tax increase will bring the school district’s total millage to 21.32. The impact on the median assessed home, valued at $138,200, will be a $59.43 tax increase.

Dr. Bruce Sensenig, superintendent, compared the school district’s budget management to the game of Jenga.

"The concern is if we keep pulling out a block here, a stick there, how long can we hold the structure up?" he said. "The good thing is that good schools increase home values and public school education is nation-building; an investment in the future.

Sensenig said the new budget provides students with education opportunities that will meet their needs and are within the PDE approved strategic plans. He noted that the board has worked hard to decrease expenses, taking the first action to limit potential tax increase in October by opting out of Act I.

"When you opt out of Act I that means you are not going to take any exceptions or apply for referendum," said Sensenig. "So that cap was put on right from the beginning. The only thing we could use was the allowable Pennsylvania index, which we will be seeking in this budget."

From March to May the district has made an effort to reduce the budget, initially proposed at $3.5 higher than 2011-2012 or a 7.24 percent increase.

The three major impacts on the budget are wages, legislated retirement contributions (PSERS) and health care costs. They were addressed as follows:

? The district went from a 3.61 percent projected wage increase of $783,000 down to $16,000 or .07 percent.

? Employee contributions increased from 8.65 to 12.36 percent.

? Health care costs will remain at the proposed $687,000, a 14.39 percent increase.

Sensenig said the district is beginning to see the benefit this year from what was done last year. Additional budget cuts include: the elimination of six teacher positions via attrition instead of through furlows and the loss of six support staff positions

(in addition to last year’s 11 teachers and five support staff); removal of small food appliances from classroom and work areas, refitted lighting in gymnasium and use of a four-day summer work week to save energy costs; and limited equipment purchases and renovations.

The budget passed by an 8 to 1 vote, with Steve Richardson being the sole member to vote against it.

"We keep pulling pieces of the community apart," he said, as he shared what he had read recently regarding real estate transfer.

He went back from 2005-2006 up through 2011-2012, noting that the property he owns has seen a 30 percent increase in taxes but only a 6.5 percent increase on the total value of the property.

Sensenig maintains that the district is continuing to see a slight increase in revenue, including: recycling of scrap metal, collecting medical assistance funds, initiation of an advertising policy, seeking of additional grants and collection of facility use fees.

In accordance with attempting to reduce expenses, the school district has also made the decision to eliminate its extended day kindergarten program.

The program was in place for about six years, but there has been not enough significance in terms of retention over time to continue, said Sensenig. He noted that doubling up on reading specialists offers support for a longer time period — kindergarten through grade five.

The budget will be on display to the public and voted on for final board approval at its June 18 meeting.

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