Avon Grove School Board approves proposed final budget
By Steven Hoffman
The Avon Grove School Board approved a proposed final budget for the 2019-2020 school year at its meeting on April 25.
The proposed spending plan totals $98,620,103, an increase of about $1.7 million over the expenditures budgeted for the current fiscal year. The school district’s projected expenditures for 2019-2020 did decline by about $227,000 over the last two months, and the spending plan remains a work-in-progress until the final budget is adopted.
A 3-percent tax increase would be necessary to balance the budget if it is approved as is. The millage rate, which currently stands at 30.69 mills, would increase to 31.61 mills under this scenario.
For the average property owner in the school district, with a property that has an assessed value of $170,000, a 3-percent tax increase would equate to an increase in the tax bill of approximately $156 before the Homestead/Farmstead exemption is factored in.
The vote was 5-4 in favor of approving the proposed final budget, with school board members Tracy Lisi, Bill Wood, Bonnie Wolff, Herman Engel, and Jeffrey Billig voting in the majority, while John Auerbach, Lynn Weber, Charles Beatty, and Rick Dumont once again voted in a bloc. It’s unusual for a school board to be so divided on a spending plan that is still being worked on, but this board has been divided on many issues during the last two years.
School districts in Pennsylvania are required to follow set procedures during the annual budgeting process. A proposed final budget, for example, must be advertised and put on display for the community to review before a final budget can be adopted. The months of work leading up to the point where a proposed final budget is being approved typically allows board members to support the spending plan.
Both Auerbach and Dumont talked about how they appreciated the effort that has gone into preparing the spending plan, but they said that they would not be supporting it.
Auerbach said that the district is always developing a budget that requires the maximum increase in taxes that is allowable under the Act 1 Index in a given year.
“It always adds up to all we can get,” Auerbach said.
Several board members expressed their frustration that Auerbach, Beatty, Dumont, and Weber will cast “no” votes without a reasonable explanation as to why they are opposed.
Wood pointed out that the school district is required by state law to approve a proposed final budget by a certain date so that the budgeting process can continue. Pennsylvania school districts must approve a final budget by June 30 of each year, so there is a deadline to approve the proposed final budget.
“This is still a preliminary budget,” Wood said. “There are still opportunities to continue working on the budget.”
Wood said that if the four members are voting against the proposed final budget because of the size of the tax increase, they should be offering suggestions on how to trim the budget, and offering details about what level of spending that they would be comfortable with so that the district can adopt a final budget.
“What would it take for you to vote yes?” Wood asked.
“I wish I could answer that,” Auerbach replied. He said that he did not have access to the information necessary to provide such details.
Wood pointed out that after spending many months during the last fiscal year on developing the budget for the 2018-2019 school year, the end result was still having Auerbach, Dumont, Beatty, and Weber opposing the plan at the end of the process.
Billig also expressed his frustration that the four board members consistently vote against issues without working with the rest of the board by providing specific improvements.
“You’re telling us what you don’t want to do,” Billig said. “What do you want to do? It’s easy to say no. It’s a lot harder to propose an alternative.”
Wood also took exception to the suggestion that the board members were denied access to all the information that they needed to make decisions about the budget. He explained that the school district changed its budgeting process, moving away from the system where the Finance and Budget Committee took a lead in developing the spending plan, to one where the full board had a more active role throughout the whole process.
Wood added that all the board members had the option of talking to Superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese and the district’s director of business administration, Daniel Carsley, to have specific budget questions answered.
Marchese himself cast doubt on claims that the board members didn’t have all the information that they needed. He called Avon Grove’s budgeting process the most detailed that he has seen during his 21 years in education.
“It’s a little upsetting to me to hear board members say that they don’t have enough information to make a decision about the budget,” Marchese said. “It’s disappointing. Countless hours have gone into these presentations.”
The school board is expected to adopt a final budget for the 2019-2020 school year at its meeting on June 6.