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Sooner (perhaps) than later: Cocalico school taxes may increase in short term
A draft spending plan proposed by Cocalico School District officials includes no tax increase for 2017-18, but board members may be asked to pass one before this year’s budget deliberations end.
A $60-million budget presented to members at a work session March 6 includes flat tax revenue from year-to-year, but district officials noted that they’d be spending nearly $3.4 million from reserves just to balance spending.
Without any tax increase, Cocalico would end the year with an estimated $394,000, not leaving much wiggle room in case of unexpected costs or emergency needs.
A 2.5-percent property tax increase, however, would net the district $808,000 in additional revenue.
“We may not need a 2.5 percent increase, but a zero (increase) would be tough,” Superintendent Dr. Ella Musser told board members. “It would be challenging to make sure all the funding needs are addressed.”
Year-to-year spending would jump 4.65 percent for a total of $2.7 million, while revenues are projected to grow just 1.8 percent or $937,189.
Nearly $900,000 in new expenses is due to a required increase in contributions to the state’s pension fund, which was supposed to level off starting this year.
Instead, the district’s contribution is now 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.
The district had previously committed reserve funds — $2.5 million for 2017-18 — to pay for the increased contribution, a solution that won’t be possible every year.
“This changes the scenario again,” Business Manager Sherri Stull said. “Level funding isn’t really an option.”
Member Doug Graybill said the state keeps “kicking the can down the road” on pension contributions, without providing realistic estimates or relief.
“It’s just so frustrating because we’re all on this Titanic ship and we can see the iceberg but nobody has any idea how to divert it,” he said. “The people of Pennsylvania really have no idea how bad this is.”
Other spending increases are connected to increasing special education needs. According to the initial plan, the district would add three new special education positions and two more paraprofessionals who provide classroom assistance for special needs students.
Musser said special education remains an area for “shuffling or additional work” as the district attempts to bring more services back in-house after years of contracting with IU13 and other districts. She said demand for emotional support services are increasing, particularly among younger students.
The total proposed salary increase of $644,292 includes the special education positions, more part-time hours for tech support and a contracted 3.1 percent pay raise for teachers.
The district would also face $36,331 in new transportation costs for special education students who can’t be taught locally, as well as a $28,625 increase in substitute pay.
The board is expected to vote on a proposed budget on May 15, followed by final budget adoption on June 19.
“This is just our first complete pass through,” Stull said.
In May, the board will also discuss its five-year capital plan.
Next year, the construction projects could include the replacement of playground equipment at Denver Elementary School; a new roof and heating and cooling system at Denver; a renovated high school guidance office; and new paint and carpet at the district’s central office.