By Steven Hoffman
The Avon Grove School Board approved the Accelerated Budget Opt Out Resolution for the 2014-15 school year at its meeting on Jan. 23. This action obligates the school district to stay within the Act 1 Index limit for the tax increase for the next fiscal year.
“We are making no commitment to raise taxes or not to raise taxes with this vote,” explained school board president Brian Gaerity, adding that the vote merely assures taxpayers that if there is a tax increase, it will stay below the Act 1 Index.
Board member William Sites, who serves on the district’s Finance and Budget Committee, said that the Act 1 Index limit is 2.8 percent. If the district opted to increase taxes by 2.8 percent, it would equate to a millage increase of .749 mills. The district's current millage rate stands at 26.750 mills.
Avon Grove superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese said that salaries, benefits, and contributions to the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) are the items that are impacting the budget the most.
“Avon Grove is not unique in dealing with those issues,” he explained.
The district's net PSERS contribution is increasing by $762,575 next year, while debt service payments are jumping by $158,325. Contracted special education services are increasing by $160,000, while pupil transportation costs are climbing by a projected $220,583.
With all those increases, district officials will have some work to do and some decisions to make in order to balance the budget.
Marchese was hired as superintendent last August so this is his first budget cycle in a new school district. He said that a priority is to make sure that the district continues to invest in those things that improve student learning in the classroom. For instance, the district's staff needs to keep current with the latest curriculum and there needs to be adequate professional development for teachers. Marchese wants to make sure that the district makes the necessary investment in technology and plans for capital projects that will be necessary, too.
The budget gap will be closed through a combination of increasing revenue, making decisions about how much to dip into the fund balance, and evaluating cost efficiencies that might be available.
One cost efficiency that the district will pursue is attempting to reduce the number of Avon Grove students who enroll in charter schools. When a student moves from the home district to a charter or cyber charter school, the home district must pay tuition for that student on a per-pupil basis. Avon Grove will be spending more than $8 million to educate charter school students in the 2014-15 school year, according to projections. That's an increase of $746,103.
Marchese said that district officials will look at ways to bring some of those students back to the district, thus reducing the amount of tuition that the district must pay out.
He is also hopeful that Avon Grove and other public schools will see increases in the state subsidy.
Pennsylvania school districts are waiting for Feb. 4, when Gov. Tom Corbett is set to unveil his proposed state budget.
“There is some early information being shared that there will be an increase in the subsidy,” Marchese explained.
He added that he hopes the Finance and Budget Committee will have more specific information about the state subsidy the district will receive by the time the committee holds its next work session on Feb. 11.
Marchese said that there will soon be a budget link on the website that will provide district residents with various documents related to the 2014-15 spending plan as it is being developed.
A proposed final budget will be adopted in early May, with the final budget scheduled to be adopted in June.
In other business at the Jan. 23 meeting, the school board also approved the acceptance of the audit report from Barbacane Thornton & Company. The report addressed the financial records for the 2012-13 school year.
Marchese recognized the contributions of all the school boards as part of School Director Recognition Month in Pennsylvania. He thanked all nine board members individually. The Avon Grove School Board includes Charles Beatty, who has served on the board since 2011; Herman Engel, who has served on the board since 2010; Pattie Lyons, who has served on the board since 1999; Donald Needham, who has served on the board since 2011; Ed Farina, who has served on the board since 2013; William Sites, who has served on the board since 2011; Patrick Walker, who has served on the board since 2013; Brian Gaerity, the current school board president, who has served on the board since 2013; and Bonnie Wolff, the board vice president, who has served on the board since 2003.
The Avon Grove School Board will meet again on Thursday, Feb. 13.