Kennett School Board unveils $79 million preliminary budget
● By Steven Hoffman
The Kennett School Board unveiled a $79,062,067 preliminary budget at the Feb. 9 meeting, unanimously adopting the spending plan so that district officials can continue to fine-tune it until a final budget is adopted in June.
Overall, spending is increasing by approximately $3.1 million. Like most other districts in Pennsylvania, the Kennett Consolidated School District (KCSD) is seeing a large year-to-year increase in the state-mandated contribution to the Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS). Last year, the district budgeted $6,213,503 for PSERS. The retirement costs for 2015-2016 are expected to be $7,565,364, which is an increase of $1,351,861—a 21.76 percent hike.
Salaries are increasing by $838,810, or 2.90 percent, district-wide, as a result, mostly, of contractual agreements. This increase includes several new teaching positions: a STEM teacher at the high school, two special education teachers, and a social studies teacher at the middle school. That adds approximately $162,000 to the budget.
Tuition costs for KCSD students who are attending charter schools are increasing by about $114,000, bringing the total charter school expenditures to approximately $2,750,000. There are currently 157 students attending regular education classes at charter schools, with 49 other students attending special education classes at charter schools. Each regular education student has a tuition rate of $10,345, while each special education student has a tuition rate of $24,175.
School board member Michael Finnegan, who serves on the district’s Finance Committee, said that the state’s system of funding charter schools is flawed. When a student who attends a charter school needs one hour of speech therapy a week, he or she is considered a special education student. The home district must consequently send along the tuition rate of a special education student. In Kennett, that’s an extra $14,000 per student. There is no correlation between how much the school district sends to the charter school and the actual costs of educating that student. The home school does not have the ability to monitor the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the student.
Kennett is seeing a $141,456 increase in costs associated with students attending Chester County Intermediate Unit classes or special education offerings.
The district has also budgeted $61,000 for security and safety services. This helps pay for a Middle School security guard position and other initiatives that are intended to keep the schools safe.
On the revenue side, the district is expected to have an increase of about $133,681 for assessments on local properties. Earned-income taxes are also climbing by an anticipated $250,000.
Finnegan said that during preparations of the preliminary budget, district officials made an assumption that the level of state funding would remain the same.
“We’re saying that they will be the same, but we don’t know,” said Finnegan.
He noted that because there is a new governor in office, the state has an extra month to prepare the preliminary 2015-2016 budget, while school districts adhere to the normal deadlines. District officials will have a clearer picture of state funding levels when Gov. Tom Wolf unveils his first preliminary state budget in March.
As it stands now, the district would need to raise taxes by 2.67 percent and dip into its fund balance for an additional $714,320 to balance the budget. The state-wide Act 1 Index limit for tax increases is 1.9 percent this year, but KCSD would qualify for some exceptions, including the exception for PSERS contributions.
If the final budget were adopted as is, the millage rate would increase to 28.6871 mills. The current millage rate stands at 27.9406 mills.
For the average homeowner, a 2.67 percent increase amounts to a $149 hike in school taxes.
School board president Heather Schaen said that no one is satisfied with a 2.67 percent tax increase, and work to find additional savings will continue.
Board member Dominic Perigo said he would not support a final budget with such a large tax increase. He said that he spoke with Aline Frank, who was unable to attend the board meeting, and they both agreed that they would not vote to raise taxes by 2.67 percent.
“This is a no-frills budget,” Perigo said. “The administration has done a good job of controlling costs on things that we have control over. We do need to get the budget down to the [Act 1] Index limit, and I think we can do it.”
He added that the state mandates a lot of different programs and services without providing the funding necessary to do so. Perigo suggested holding a town hall meeting to educate the public about all the services that the district provides, and how the state needs to provide additional funding for some of the services.
“We need their help to get Harrisburg to listen,” he said.
Finnegan said that he is optimistic that the school board will be able to find additional cost savings as the budgeting process continues.
“We are confident that we can get our tax increase closer to the 1.9 percent Act 1 Index,” he said. “Last year, we started with a preliminary increase of 2.51 percent against a 2.1 percent Act 1 Index, and we passed a final budget with a 1.78 percent increase.”
The proposed budget will be available for public review and comment on the school district’s website and in the district office, where it will be available each Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. until June 8.
The school board will hold its next meeting on Monday, March 9 in the district office.