Preliminary Kennett schools budget set at $84.5 million
● By Steven Hoffman
The Kennett School Board unanimously approved the release of a preliminary budget in the amount of $84,510,237 for the 2017-2018 school year on Monday night. By doing so, the board authorized a public notice of the budget, and the spending plan is now available for review by residents on the school district's website and in the district office.
District officials emphasized that the spending plan will continue to be revised during the next few months, with the hope being that some cost savings can be identified to reduce the potential tax increase.
School board member Michael Finnegan, who serves on the district's Finance Committee, led the budget presentation, outlining how the budget is changing from this year to the next, and what impact those changes will have for taxpayers.
The school district's budget for the current school year is $81.7 million. As in recent years, Kennett's year-to-year expenditure increases can be attributed largely to the state-mandated contribution to the Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS). Finnegan explained that benefits costs are projected to increase by nearly $1.3 million for the next year—mostly due to the PSERS costs. He noted that the PSERS contribution rate increased again this year to 32.57 percent, which means that for every dollar spent on salaries, the district must also allocate 32.57 cents to PSERS, an increase of 9 percent.
Salaries are increasing by about 3 percent, on average, in the district. Medical and prescription costs are increasing at less than 2 percent. Tuition costs for students attending charter schools, costs associated with occupational education courses through the Chester County Intermediate Unit, and transportation costs are all projected to increase, contributing to the budget's bottom line.
School board member Bob Norris said that the board did not take having to raise taxes lightly, and noted that many of the increases are costs that the local school board has no control over, especially the skyrocketing costs of the pension fund.
It was an act by the State Legislature more than 15 years ago that boosted the pensions for lawmakers, judges, and state employees, including public school employees, that set the table for the kind of large year-to-year increases that districts are seeing now.
Finnegan, like Norris, said that some of the items that are impacting the budget the most are things that the school district has no input on.
“Everything that we can control, we're controlling really well,” Finnegan said, noting that the district is adding no new teaching positions at this point.
One issue that continues to hinder the school district's financial position is that the total assessment of all the properties in the district still is not back to the 2007 values. If the total assessment increases from one year to the next, a school district will have increased revenues without having to raise taxes.
Finnegan presented a chart during his presentation that showed that, of the 14 school districts in Chester County, only one has not had an overall increase from 2007 to 2017—and that's Kennett. The total assessment in 2007 was $2,030,291,064, and the total assessment in 2017 is $2,021,416,348, a decrease of $8,874,716. Downingtown has seen an increase of 12.1 percent and Avon Grove and Twin Valley have both seen increases of 10.1 percent during the same time period. During the housing crisis, many property owners throughout Chester County had their properties reassessed because of falling home values. The valuations of houses still hasn't caught up in Kennett, even though the market is generally healthy. Finnegan said that it's possible that a number of larger homes were built in Kennett right before the housing crisis, and those homes simply aren't worth what people had paid for them at the time. The bottom line for the school district is that revenues aren't growing from year to year as much as they are in other neighboring districts, which makes balancing the budget that much more of a challenge.
Finnegan said that if the budget were approved as is, there would be a 2.79 percent increase in school taxes necessary to balance the spending plan. The Act 1 Index limit for KCSD next year will be 2.9 percent. That's the maximum percentage that the district could raise taxes without seeking approval for the tax increase from residents via a referendum. Finnegan said that the goal is to find ways to reduce the size of the tax increase.
”We hope to get lower as time goes on,” Finnegan explained.
A 2.79 percent increase would hike the millage rate to 30.0540 mills. The district would also need to dip into its fund reserve for $714,330 to balance the budget with a tax increase of that size. The average tax increase for property owners in the district would be $148.
“Some would pay less and some would pay more,” Finnegan said.
The 2017-2018 budget will be a major topic of discussion for the Finance Committee in the meetings that take place on the first Monday of each month now through June.
Comments about the budget will be accepted until Monday, June 12, when the school board is expected to adopt a final budget.
In other business at meeting, the school board also approved the school calendar for the 2017-2018 school year. The calendar includes 182 days of instruction for students and eight additional in-service days for staff, bringing the total to 190 days of employment in accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement that KCSD has with its teachers.
The next school year will begin on Monday, Aug. 28 and is tentatively set to end on Thursday, June 7, 2018. The winter holiday takes place from Friday, Dec. 22 through Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. Spring break is slated for March 26 to March 30, 2018. There are six inclement days built into the schedule, and five days designated as local holidays. Those days are the Martin Luther King holiday, the President's Day holiday, and three days of Spring break. The school board unanimously approved the school calendar.
In other business at the meeting, the school board approved an independent contractor agreement with Jane Pedroso for consulting and transitioning services during the term of the agreement, which extends from Feb. 14 through June 30. Pedroso will assist the district with some work on the English and Language Arts curricullum.
The Kennett High School Mini-Thon is taking place on Friday, Feb. 24 into Saturday, Feb. 25. The event raises money to fight childhood cancer.
The school board will meet again on Monday, March 13. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at the Mary D. Lang Kindergarten Center.