KCSD unveils $86.3 million preliminary budget
● By Steven Hoffman
The Kennett School Board voted to authorize the release of an $86.3 million preliminary budget for 2018-2019 school year during its meeting on Feb. 12.
It’s still early in the budgeting process, but it seems likely that a tax increase will be necessary to fund the spending plan.
School board member Michael Finnegan, who serves on the district's Finance Committee, outlined some of the specifics of the budget. He explained that the budgeted expenditures total $86,337,497 for 2018-2019, which is an increase of more than $2 million over the current year.
If the budget is approved as is, Finnegan said that a 2.27 percent tax increase would be necessary—slightly less than the 2.4 percent Act 1 Index limit for the next school year. The Act 1 Index limit establishes the highest amount that a school district could raise taxes without seeking approval from residents through a referendum.
A 2.27 percent tax increase amounts to a $123 increase in taxes for the owner of a home with an assessed value of $330,000, which is the average assessed value in the district. The millage rate would be 30.5542 mills.
In addition to the tax increase, Kennett will also be dipping into its fund balance for approximately $714,330 to balance the spending plan.
The year-to-year increase in spending can be attributed in part to another big hike in the state-mandated PSERS costs. The state determines the rate that school districts must contribute to the retirement fund, and that rate has been skyrocketing for more than a decade. For 2018-2019, it is projected that Kennett’s costs will go up by $592,894, or approximately 2.6 percent.
The salaries in the district are going up by $745,021. This figure includes one new teaching position that is being added next year. The district’s costs related to charter schools are going up by $200,000. When a Kennett student attends a charter school, a large portion of the per-pupil expenditures travel with the student to the charter school.
The district is seeing costs increase for having a school resource officer in the school buildings. A grant had helped offset the costs for this position for several years, but that funding is no longer available.
The district is also planning to contract for additional mental health services for students through the Chester County Intermediate Unit.
Much remains to be determined on the revenue side of the budget because it will almost certainly take the state several more months to finalize its budget. Kennett is anticipating a slight increase in the basic education subsidy from the state, but not nearly enough of an increase to keep up with the increases in fixed costs.
Finnegan noted that the state, at one time, contributed about 50 percent of the overall costs of educating children. That percentage is now less than 20 percent in the Kennett Consolidated School District.
“More and more of the costs of educating children is being put on the local taxpayers,” Finnegan said.
District officials will continue to work on the spending plan until a final budget is adopted in June, and Finnegan said that they are optimistic that some combination of higher-than-expected revenues or reductions in spending can be found to reduce the amount of the tax increase. He noted that the district has been very good about delivering budgets that are below the Act 1 Index limit.
The budget will be one of the topics of discussion at the next Finance Committee meeting on Monday, March 5. The meeting is open to the public.
In other business at the Feb. 12 meeting:
In his report to the school board, superintendent Dr. Barry Tomasetti explained that the district is having a difficult time filling several custodial staff vacancies so they are looking to contract out those positions to ServiceMaster, a company that provides custodial services to numerous school districts in Chester County, as well as the Chester County Intermediate Unit.
Tomasetti emphasized that they are only contracting out those positions on a trial basis, and KCSD is not looking to outsource all the custodial positions.
“We value the staff that we have,” Tomasetti said. “We have no plans of doing this wholesale with our staff.”
Toward the conclusion of the meeting, board vice president Dominic Perigo expressed his concerns that a recent committee meeting involved a discussion about the possibility of redistricting so that the populations of Greenwood Elementary, Bancroft Elementary, and New Garden Elementary would be more evenly distributed between grades and between buildings. Perigo noted that two redistricting options that had been mentioned involve redrawing boundary lines in such a way that students who live in the borough will be moved to new schools, away from their neighbors and friends.
Perigo said that it’s too early to tell what impact two proposed housing developments in the district will have on the elementary schools’ enrollments, and it’s too early to be considering moving students who live in the borough to different schools when other options aren’t being considered.
Tomasetti pointed out that since the borough is the only area in the district without a neighborhood school—the Mary D. Lang building in town was converted into a district-wide kindergarten center several years ago—it is difficult to redraw boundaries without having the families in the borough be impacted the most. Those families living closest to the neighborhood schools are much less likely to be affected by redrawn boundaries.
Perigo made a motion for the district to abandon discussions about the specific redistricting options that had been mentioned for the 2018-2019 school year, and encouraged district officials and his colleagues on the board to consider other options. However, Perigo withdrew his motion when he was assured that, as discussions continue, other options would be considered.
The Kennett School Board will meet again on Monday, March 12.