By Steven Hoffman
The school board for the Kennett Consolidated School District (KCSD) discussed the 2014-15 budget at Monday night’s meeting, and while the news might fall somewhat short of good—there’s still a $2.8 million gap between revenues and expenditures—this year’s budgeting process should be significantly improved over last year.
“It’s better than it has been,” said school board member Michael Finnegan, who serves on the district’s Finance Committee. Finnegan said that expenditures for the 2014-2015 school year were estimated to be $76,709,217 at the most recent Finance Committee meeting on Jan. 6. That’s an increase of about $2,814,709 over the current year’s spending.
According to Finnegan, if the district’s level of funding from the state remains the same, there would need to be a tax increase of about 3.35 percent to balance the budget. However, the hope is that as work on the spending plan continues over the next few months, the potential tax increase will settle between 2.5 percent and 2.9 percent before the school board adopts its preliminary budget.
Finnegan added that the goal is to get the tax increase below the Act 1 index limit of 2.1 percent before the final budget is adopted in May or June.
“The Committee expressed a strong desire to have a tax increase at the lowest possible amount,” Finnegan said. “We’re confident that we can tackle the deficit that we have.”
The Finance Committee has been diligently working on the spending plan at its last two meetings, reviewing the current year’s budget and projecting revenues and expenditures for next year.
The district received good financial news when there was a slight increase in overall real estate assessment valuation. This reverses a four-year trend where the overall real estate assessment valuation declined as a result of a large number of homeowners seeking property tax reassessments.
Finnegan explained to his colleagues on the school board that the increase was only slight, but at least it was an increase instead of another decrease.
“While this will not bring us significant dollars, it is a relief from the years of huge losses,” he said.
Finnegan explained that while KCSD officials have done its best to control internal expenditures that are under district control, some external expenditures continue to increase year after year.
The line item with the biggest impact on the proposed 2014-2015 budget is probably the district’s contribution to the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS), which continues to rise, with a 26 percent rate increase to the district. For the next year, the district’s contribution rate to PSERS stands at 21.4 percent of salary, and that will continue to increase each year until it peaks at 32 percent of salary in 2019.
The district’s charter school tuition costs are also expected to increase—mostly as a result of increase in cyber charter school costs and the reclassification of regular education students to special education students. Finnegan said that the district’s tuition payments for the approximately 216 Kennett students who attend charter schools are expected to increase to $2,636,000 next year.
The district’s special education budget, which stands at $11,726,512 for the current year, is projected to increase by $359,123 due to an increase in Chester County Intermediate Unit services and the aforementioned increase in the number of students being identified by charter schools as needing special education.
Salaries are projected to increase, as are medical benefits costs. District officials are relying on salary projections for educators because negotiations are still ongoing for a new collective bargaining agreement. The previous contract expired two years ago.
The transportation budget will increase by about 2 percent, projections show.
The Finance Committee will discuss the budget when it meets again on Monday, Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. in the District Office.
The Italian American Citizens League has established a scholarship account that will award $1,000 each to two high school graduates. One of the scholarships will be reserved for students who have a grade-point average of at least 4.0, while the other is for students who need financial assistance.
The school board listened to a request from Kennett High School students to formally institute a Mock Trial Club. This club will allow students to have the opportunity to learn about the law and how the judicial system works. Participation in the club should also help the students develop analytical and critical thinking skills, to learn teamwork and leadership, as well as compete in the mock trial program statewide.
Board member Aline Frank said that she has heard that participation in the Mock Trial Club is very beneficial for students. She and her colleagues on the board approved the club.
A presentation on the school district’s five-year Capital Reserve Plan will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. in the District Office. The school board will meet again on Monday, Feb. 10 at the Mary D. Lang Kindergarten Center in Kennett Square.