Avon Grove adopts $91 million budget
● By Steven Hoffman
With the end of the school year fast approaching, the Avon Grove School Board took care of two items of pressing importance at the June 9 school board meeting. The board approved the implementation of full-day kindergarten, and it also voted in favor of a $91,471,852 budget for the 2016-2017 school year.
The board voted 7-1 in favor of the spending plan, which will require a tax increase of about 3.1 percent—just below the Act 1 Index limit for Avon Grove.
The millage rate will increase from 28.1570 mills to 29.0400 mills to balance the budget. At the new tax rate, the owner of a median assessed property value of $169,000 will see an increase of $149 in property taxes.
The approval of full-day kindergarten and the budget can be considered a part of what the school district administration has called a reinvestment in Avon Grove.
“The support by the Board of School Directors for the 2016-2017 budget demonstrates our continued commitment to investing in our children and in our community,” said school board president Bonnie Wolff in a statement. “We believe this budget will allow us to achieve our outcomes for all students, while continuing to lay a foundation for enhancing the overall student experience here in the Avon Grove School District.”
At the June 9 meeting, school board vice president Brian Gaerity talked about how the school board has been working with the administration to balance two imperatives: to provide high-quality education to students, but to provide that education as efficiently as possible.
Gaerity said that they have made staffing decisions and investments on things like technology and curriculum in an effort to increase academic opportunities for students. The district has also funded improvements to school buildings to make them safer and better for students.
The budget funds several support staff positions that had previously been reduced. There is funding to support a Chromebook initiative at the middle school so that there is one-to-one ratio for Chromebooks to students. There is also funding for the professional development necessary to launch the full-day kindergarten program in 2017.
“None of the investments were excessive,” Gaerity said. “Avon Grove is an excellent school district.”
Several items had a large impact on the budget. The district's state-mandated contribution to Public School Employee Retirement System (PSERS) increased costs by $1.3 million. The district is also seeing a $370,000 increase in occupational education, and $1.8 million in increased costs to charter school tuition payments. The budget also includes about $1 million in spending to support curriculum development, technology, and staffing that are funded through the reallocation of existing resources.
The district is also dipping into its fund balance to balance the budget, utilizing approximately $2.5 million of committed and unassigned fund balance. Additionally, $2.4 million will be used for the general fund reserve and to maintain debt service at the 2014-2015 level. An additional $1.6 million will be transferred to the capital projects fund for projects to improve facilities. District officials estimate that $20 million will remain in the fund balance.
School board member Charles Beatty voted against the spending plan. He agreed with Gaerity's assessment that Avon Grove is an excellent school district, but said that the district’s spending is not sustainable.
“After careful consideration of all the information available for the board to review, I want to state that I will be voting “no” on the budget proposal,” Beatty said. “Without a comprehensive financial forecast, we do not and cannot know how year-over-year growth in the budget will affect the future sustainability of Avon Grove.”
Beatty said that during the last few years, the budget has been growing significantly.
“From 2013 to 2016, we have gone from a $76 million budget to a $91 million budget tonight,” he said. “Even with tax increases up to the Act 1 limit, we are exceeding revenue and consuming fund balance reserves to take on higher spending levels that will continue while reserves are being depleted.”
The board did vote in favor of establishing a rolling five-year financial plan. Discussions about what will be included in the five-year financial plan will begin in August.
Superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese thanked the school board and the community for their support of the district and its educational initiatives.
“It continues the effort of leaning toward greatness,” he said.
In other business at the June 9 meeting:
Scott DeShong, the principal of Avon Grove High School, presented a profile of the senior class. He explained that there are 446 members of the Class of 2016. DeShong said that they surveyed the seniors and found that 87 percent will be pursuing some form of higher education next year. Of the students who are going on to higher education, four out of five students are going to be attending four-year universities. Collectively, the students are reporting that they are receiving $2,941,424 in scholarships from the universities that they are attending. They have also received $122,884 collectively through the local scholarships.
The board approved a list of appointments, retirements, and resignations at the meeting. Bonnie McCloskey was appointed to serve in a special assignment as the assistant principal at Avon Grove Intermediate School from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017.
The board approved the starting and ending times for the school day for the 2016-2017 school year. At the elementary school level, students will begin their day at 8:25 a.m. And end their day at 3:15 p.m. The morning kindergarten class will run from 8:25 a.m. To 11:05 a.m. The afternoon kindergarten class will run from 12:30 p.m. To 3:15 p.m. The school day at the middle school will run from 7:30 a.m. to 2:25 p.m. At the high school, it will be 7:30 a.m. To 2:30 p.m.