Avon Grove approves proposed final budget
● By Steven Hoffman
The Avon Grove School Board unanimously approved a proposed final budget of $97 million for the 2018-2019 school year at its meeting on April 26.
The proposed budget will now be advertised for public review for 30 days before the final budget is adopted. District officials emphasized that a lot of work remains to be completed on the spending plan before it is approved.
Superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese and Daniel Carsley, the district's director of business administration and chief financial officer, presented the proposed final budget to the school board and the community, with Marchese focusing on the educational initiatives that the budget supports, while Carsley outlined some of the year-to-year changes in the budget.
Overall, the Avon Grove budget expenditures for 2018-2019 are increasing by approximately $3.4 million over the 2017-2018 school year, when expenditures are budgeted at $93.6 million.
Carsley noted that the proposed final budget's expenditures have declined slightly since the preliminary budget was unveiled in January.
One of the biggest items impacting the budget is the state-mandated pension costs, which will total a projected $10.9 million for Avon Grove in 2018-2019. That's an increase of approximately $500,000 over the current year.
The district's overall salaries, which include new positions, are increasing by approximately $695,706 year-to-year. Health care costs are climbing by more than $800,000. With per-pupil expenditures increasing, Avon Grove's charter school tuition costs will also be going up by approximately $400,000. Professional services are going up by approximately $624,755, and transportation costs are climbing by approximately $267,130.
Carsley noted that most of the expenditures in the budget are fixed costs that are beyond the district's control. However, for those line items that the district has contol over, the year-to-year expenditures are decreasing for 2018-2019.
“We take every opportunity to cut costs,” Carsley said.
A tax increase of 3.10 percent will be necessary to balance the budget if it is adopted as is.
According to Carsley, a 3.10 percent tax increase would amount to a $157 increase in the tax bill for the owner of a property with an assessed value of $169,900, which is average for the district.
Saying that the quality of the school district has a direct impact on the community, Marchese outlined the importance of educational initiatives that the school district has implemented to improve student performance.
Marchese explained that the district officials have worked diligently over the last five years to restore many of the program reductions that took place through the 2011-2012 school year, and to also add or expand other programs that benefit students. Marchese said that the implementation of a full-day kindergarten program was a positive step for Avon Grove. The district has also been developing and implementing new curriculum, as well as a multi-tiered system of support for students who need it. The district has taken steps to put more technology in students' hands, and to incorporate technology into the instruction in all content areas.
These initiatives, Marchese said, have resulted in academic gains for students—math scores on PSSA tests have increased over the last three years as a result of the curriculum improvements. SAT scores in content areas where new curriculum has been introduced have also increased.
Marchese said that it's important for the district to continue to invest in initiatives that will produce results for students.
Several school board members expressed concerns about the tax increase, and encouraged the administration to look for ways to reduce it before a final budget is adopted.
Carsley said that there are still a number of unknowns about the 2018-2019 budget, including the state subsidy that the district will receive. Based on the funding formulas that are used, the proposed state budget includes a modest increase for Avon Grove, but the district doesn't factor in that increase until the state budget has been finalized. Even if Harrisburg lawmakers approve a state budget by the deadline of June 30, school boards usually have their own budgets finalized before the state funding is approved.
“There is optimism that we may have a budget at the state level by June 30,” Carsley said.
Another issue that remains unresolved for Avon Grove and could impact the 2018-2019 budget is the Jennersville Regional Hospital's appeal to have its tax status changed. Under the previous for-profit owner, Jennersville Regional Hospital ranked among Avon Grove's largest taxpayers. New parent company Tower Health is seeking to have the hospital be tax exempt because it is not a for-profit entity.
The school district won the first level appeal, but may not win future appeals.
As of right now, the district has projected that it could lose $381,000 annually in revenues if the Jennersville Regional Hospital is given tax-exempt status.
Marchese pointed out that the loss in revenues keeps accumulating because the revenues generated by the parcels would be lost year after year.
“We have to prepare for that potential loss of revenue,” Marchese said. “Once it's gone, it's gone.”
The school board voted 9 to 0 in favor of approving the proposed final budget so the budgeting process to continue, but there could be additional discussions if the tax increase remains at 3.1 percent.
“There is still much work to be done on the budget for 2018-2019,” Marchese said.
The Avon Grove School Board is slated to approve a final budget for 2018-2019 on June 7. The school board's next meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 24 at the Avon Grove Intermediate School audion.