Avon Grove School District finalizes budget
By Steven Hoffman
The Avon Grove School Board approved, by a 5-3 vote, a $98.1 million spending plan for 2019-2020 during a special meeting on June 10. There is a 3-percent tax increase to balance the budget.
Overall, spending is increasing by $1,231,051, or about 1.27 percent compared to the current fiscal year’s budget. The 2019-2020 budget totals $98,134,333.
The projected expenditures for the 2019-2020 school year have actually declined by almost $500,000 since the school board adopted a proposed final budget two months ago. The drop in projected expenditures can be attributed to a series of position re-allocations and retirements.
The school district is phasing in the additional financing that will be needed for the construction of a new high school. Groundbreaking on the new school is expected to take place in 2020.
The millage rate is increasing from 30.69 mills to 31.61 mills. For the average taxpayer in the school district, there will be an increase of $146.46 in the tax bill.
Additionally, the school district is planning to utilize about $6.1 million of its fund balance to balance the 2019-2020 budget.
The school board was predictably divided on the budget—the same thing happened last year at this time when the board was finalizing the spending plan for 2018-2019.
School board president Tracy Lisi, Jeff Billig, Bonnie Wolff, Herman Engel, and Bill Wood all voted in favor of adopting the budget, while Lynn Weber, John Auerbach, and Rick Dumont voted against it.
During budget discussions this year, several school board members have expressed their frustrations that Auerbach, Charles Beatty, Dumont, and Weber have consistently voted against the budget, even though they are fully involved in the process and have had the opportunity to make specific suggestions about how to reduce the budget—but don’t.
During a budget discussion in April, 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.
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 at the time. “What do you want to do? It’s easy to say no. It’s a lot harder to propose an alternative.”
It’s not just the other school board members who are upset that four members of the board refuse to support the annual budget. Several residents who spoke during public comment were critical of the school board members who voted against the budget. There appears to be increasing public push back against the school board members for their opposition to the high school project and the annual budgets, as well as to other district initiatives.
One woman said that a vote against the budget was a vote against children.
Stephen Pye, a resident of Penn Township, thanked the administration and school board for the hard work on the school district budget.
“I want to commend the administration and those members of the board that came up with this comprehensive and affordable solution,” said Pye. He added that voting “yes” for the budget ensures a continuing commitment to a high-quality educational program.
Pye noted that Avon Grove offers a program that allows senior citizens to volunteer in the school district as a way to reduce their property tax obligations. It would take fewer than 20 volunteer hours, Pye said, to earn enough tax relief so that there would be a net zero increase in the property tax bill for the coming year.
Like the previous speaker during public comment, Pye expressed his disappointment that some school board members refused to support the budget.
“By voting no,” Pye said, “you are stating that you do not support a high-quality educational program or a senior tax relief program. For the past number of months, there have been board members who want to spread the message of fear regarding this budget, trying to justify their actions of voting no. I have met with many seniors over the past few months and I can tell you upon learning the true facts that this message is being rejected.”