EASD passes preliminary budget

By on May 15, 2019

The budget, scheduled to be finalized in June, includes a 2.3% tax hike

The Ephrata Area School approved a preliminary budget that includes a 2.3% increase in the 2019-20 spending plan.

The school board on Monday voted unanimously to approve the preliminary plan that is expected to be adopted at the board’s meeting in June.

If adopted, the tax rate would jump to 17.34 mills from 16.95 mills — an increase of less than half a mil.
For a home valued at approximately $172,000, taxes would increase by about $67.

The Board initially proposed an increase of 2.8 percent, the highest allowable increase according to Act One regulations.
Board President Timothy Stayer reminded the board directors that, when finalizing the budget next month, they could not go higher than the increase passed in the preliminary budget, but they can go lower.

“Keep that in mind; if we decide on a 1.5 percent increase tonight, we can’t go up next time for the final budget,” said Stayer, who is chairman of the Finance Committee.

In the budget handout given to all board members, all numbers were based on a 2.8 percent increase, the highest allowable under state law.

If passed, that percentage would have meant an $81 increase to households with an assessed value of $172,000.

After explaining the various points of the budget, Stayer asked the board directors to consider a lower increase than the 2.8 percent, so as not to alarm residents, since it is likely that number will fall when the budget is finalized.

The administration believes the district will get substantial funds when the governors’ budget passes, so before the vote, board members were asked to consider a lower increase for the preliminary budget.
District Superintendent Dr. Brian Troop urged the board to consider a lower increase.
“If you’re going to look for a year that we don’t go to the max (maximum allowable increase), this would be the year,” Troop said. “The governor’s budget has very little opposition and there’s no legislation currently that’s going to threaten us.”
Stayer also encouraged the board members to consider a lower percentage of an increase in taxes.

“The economy is doing good and we’re hoping the governor’s proposed budget will be passed, but whether or not that passes in June remains to be seen,” said Stayer, who asked the board to consider going to two percent.

Board member Glenn Martin preferred to be cautious.

“I don’t want to go lower than two percent,” Martin said. “I don’t want to get hamstrung with some numbers we don’t want.”

If the preliminary budget would have passed with a two percent increase, the increase in taxes for homeowners would have been $59.

The preliminary budget, if finalized in June, would take millage from the current 16.95 mils to 17.34 mils, an increase of about .39 mils, or less than half a mil. For the 2018-2019 budget, total revenues for the school district were $67,250,494 and total expenditures were $67,441,489. Based on the proposed 2.3 percent increase, the district’s 2019-2020 budget would have $70,783,988 in revenues and $70,330,431 in expenditures, with a net budget of $453,557.

The ending fund balance for 2019-2020 is $17,112,602.

“By far, our biggest source of income is from real estate (taxes), from the community,” Stayer said.

Property taxes will bring the district about $40 million this year, with Earned Income Tax a distant second, adding about $4 million, and per capita taxes another $190,000. The biggest expenditure for the district comes from professional staff salaries, at $22 million, with retirement the next highest expenditure, at $10 million.

“We’re in the business of providing an education for our children — we don’t make widgets — so staff have increasing salaries,” Stayer said.

New staff positions, approved within the past two months, include a high school learning support teacher; two part-time middle school aides; a supervisor of student services and two itinerant autistic support teachers.

A middle school autistic support/life skills classroom has been added with one teacher, three fulltime aides, and two part-time aides.
Extra staff added up to a $1,113, 773 increase in salaries.

Health insurance will increase by $559,178; charter school expenses will increase by $340,000; special education will increase by $630,189; and transportation costs by $155,000.
“Bills are now being proposed to change the way charter schools are funded, but there has been no concrete change so far,” Stayer said.

All together, the increase in expenditures for the next budget year is about 4.3 percent, according to Stayer’s calculations.

Special education costs are looked at as a challenge, Stayer said, explaining that in less than 20 years, they have gone from about two million to more than nine million.
Of that $9.6 million, only $2.4 million comes from the state, Stayer said.

“By far, it’s not near enough to cover our costs for special education,” Stayer said. “There’s just a growing need for education for these children and we’re obligated to do so and to do the best we can.”

The state budget, signed in June of 2018, increased basic education funding to $194,967, and increased special education funding by $29,461.

The proposed governor’s budget for 2019-2020 would increase basic education funding by $293,862 and would increase special education funding by $122,192.
Pupil transportation is estimated to be under-funded at $100 million.

“Across the state, all school districts will have to ante up more money for their transportation needs,” Stayer said. Also in the proposed governor’s budget would be $45 million for safety and security, and $50 million for pre-K and Head Start.

Neither proposed property tax reform nor proposed pension reform was included in the state budget. In the future, Stayer said, increasing social and emotional learning needs and property tax reform will need to be addressed.

“Those are two significant issues that will give us challenges as we move forward,” Stayer said.

Marylouise Sholly is a freelance feature writer for The Ephrata Review. She welcomes your comments and questions at weezsholly@verizon.net.

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