By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

After identifying more than $950,000 in expenditure reductions since the preliminary budget was approved, the Kennett School Board unanimously adopted a $73.8 million final budget for the 2013-14 school year on June 10.

Taxes will increase by 2.7 percent to support the budget, with the millage rate increasing to 27.4520 mills. That’s up from 26.7303 mills for the current school year. At the time the preliminary budget was approved, district officials projected a 3.8 percent tax increase. Kennett was eligible for exceptions from the state for special education and Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) contributions that allowed the district to exceed the 1.7 percent Act 1 index. The district also dipped into its fund balance for more than $700,000 to balance the budget.

For the average homeowner in the district, taxes will increase $133 from $4,922 to $5,055.

School board member Michael Finnegan, who serves on the district’s Finance Committee, noted that there were no salary increases in the last year in an effort to keep expenditures down. The district is currently negotiating with the teachers’ union on a new contract for Kennett’s 314 teachers. They have been working without a contract since June 30, 2012. The district is also negotiating with the Kennett Consolidated Support Professionals Association on a new contract.

Finnegan said that the district has made some difficult decisions while developing the budget.

“The district is faced with decreasing revenues and increasing expenditures,” he said, noting that declining property values and an unusually high number of tax assessment appeals have resulted in decreasing local revenues for four straight years. The district has seen a $625, 244 decrease in revenue for the current year, and during the last four years assessment appeals have resulted in nearly $3.5 million in revenue declines.

The declining revenues, combined with increasing expenditures, made the tax increase necessary.

“It would be impossible not to increase property taxes without diminishing our current educational programs and long-term objectives,” Finnegan said. “It has been a tough financial year for our district, forcing the board to make some tough and sometimes unpopular decisions.”

For example, the board outsourced 66 instructional and teaching assistant positions for a savings of $462,952. The board also considered outsourcing custodial services before being able to reorganize existing staff to save $344,773. This included the elimination of six positions.

Finnegan said that the goal has been to balance the needs of students with the needs of taxpayers.

“By working together with administration and staff,” Finnegan said, “we have managed so far to weather the great recession while maintaining all of our instructional and extracurricular programs, all while striving to not overburden our taxpayers.”

The school board will meet again on Monday, July 8 at 7 p.m. in the District Office.