Kennett School Board adopts $78.8 million final budget
By Steven Hoffman
The Kennett School Board adopted a final budget for the 2015-2016 school year at its June 8 meeting, approving a $78,897,319 spending plan by a 6-2 vote.
The real estate tax millage rate is increasing from 27.9406 mills to 28.6017 mills to support the spending plan, a 2.37 percent increase that equates to a $125 hike in the average homeowner’s property-tax bill.
The final tax increase was slightly less than expected, as projected expenditures for the next school year dipped by more than $100,000 in the few months since the preliminary budget was adopted by the board.
Overall, the spending is increasing by about $3 million over the current year’s budget. The largest single increase in the 2015-2016 budget is the state-mandated contribution to the Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS). The retirement costs for the district are expected to be $7,565,364 for 2015-2016, an increase of $1,351,861 from last year. That’s a 21.76 percent increase.
“The 2015-2016 budget is easily defined by a single word—mandates,” said school board member Michael Finnegan, who chairs the district’s Finance Committee. “While the board has been diligent to minimize increases in employee salaries, benefits, equipment purchases, operations, and debt, we have been forced to cope with the massive increases in the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System, charter school tuition, and special education services.”
Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed state budget calls for education increases for public schools, but Finnegan explained that there has been no movement on that proposal since it was unveiled in March, and Kennett was not able to factor in any of those proposed funding increases in its own spending plan. Finnegan pointed out that expenditures that are fully under local control have remained essentially flat for the last five years, but the mandates from the state and federal government continue to push expenditures up.
Despite the budgetary constraints, Finnegan explained that district officials found a way to fund an expansion of the high school’s STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) Program. The district is also looking to restore the athletic director and assistant principal to full-time positions at the high school, instead of having the two duties handled by just one person. The budget also includes funding for an eighth grade social studies teaching position and increased security and surveillance initiatives in schools.
School board member Rudy Alfonso said that he couldn’t support allocating more resources right now to fund the athletic director position on a full-time basis. School board president Heather Schaen explained that the board previously had a lengthy discussion about the position, and a majority of the board felt that attempting to have a part-time athletic director position simply wasn’t working. Alfonso was one of the two board members, along with Aline Frank, who opposed adopting the final budget when the vote was taken.
In other business at the June 8 meeting, the board approved the appointment of Jeremy Hritz as principal of Kennett High School. Hritz graduated from Bethlehem Center High School, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Penn State University, a Master of Arts degree in Liberal Arts at Lock Haven University, and a Doctorate in Education in Innovation and Leadership at Wilmington University. Hritz has been an assistant principal at the Kennett Middle School.
Hritz begins his new duties on July 1, the same day that former principal Dr. Michael A. Barber begins his new duties as the district’s assistant superintendent. The school board approved a five-year contract with Barber that runs from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2020 at its meeting in April.
Superintendent Dr. Barry Tomasetti said that Hritz is very impressive with his ability to form positive relationships with students, parents, and teachers.
The district also approved the appointment of Jessica Klimetz as the new supervisor of reading, language arts, and social studies. She has eight years of experience as a teacher and previously served as an assistant principal and director of student services at Mariana Bracetti Academy in Philadelphia.
District officials lauded the efforts of Nancy Tischer, the director of human resources, who agreed to delay her impending retirement for two months, from July 1 to Aug. 31. Schaen said that Tischer has played an important part in assembling such a good staff in the district.
The board approved a number of retirements and resignations, including the retirement of Anne Carroll as a mathematics teacher in the high school for 29 years, and the retirement of Carla Horn, the principal of the Mary D. Lang Kindergarten Center, who has been with the district for 11 years.
The board approved a new course of study at the high school, Literacy in Literature, which is designed to introduce students to Keystone eligible content in preparation for the upcoming Literature Keystone Assessment. Students will be taught content that is aligned with the state curriculum standards. Students will be using existing textbooks and resources for this course.
In his Finance Committee report, Finnegan talked about the tax-assessment appeal filed by Walmart.
“While the property’s current market value is $20 million, the owner has furnished an appraisal report which implies a value of $13 million, which would reduce their property taxes by $107,000,” Finnegan said. “The district hired Coyle, Lynch, & Company to provide a summary valuation on the property, and they determine it to be worth at least $18.6 million, which would only be a tax reduction of $28,000. Based on this information, the committee recommends that we proceed with a full appraisal report and appeal Walmart’s appraisal report.”