Oxford School Board discusses budget for 2020-2021 school year
By Steven Hoffman
The Oxford School Board reviewed several different budget scenarios for the 2020-2021 school year during the work session that took place on April 14. The school board members and several administrators utilized Zoom to conduct the public meeting.
Brian Cooney, the district’s business administrator, led the budget presentation. He explained that the district’s Finance Committee has been working through the various budget scenarios in preparation for the school board to adopt a final budget before the June 30 deadline. The budgeting process was well underway for school districts like Oxford when the Coronavirus pandemic closed public schools in Pennsylvania for the remainder of the school year.
Cooney reported that the school district’s expenditures for the 2020-2021 school year are projected to be approximately $73.3 million. That’s approximately $2.7 million, or 3.92 percent, more than the budget for 2019-2020, which was approved at $70.5 million. That year-to-year increase in expenditures makes a tax increase for 2020-2021 likely.
The district is seeing increases in costs associated with salaries and benefits as well as costs related to the Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System (PSERS). There are also increases in special education costs and the tuition costs for students who attend charter schools.
Cooney outlined some of the possible budget scenarios to support the spending plan that have been under consideration by the Finance Committee. One scenario would see Oxford increase the tax rate by 3.6 percent, which is the largest increase that would be allowed under the Act 1 Index limit for Oxford. Another scenario would see taxes increase by 2.6 percent. A third scenario looked at a 3 percent increase—a middle ground plan between 2.6 percent and 3.6 percent—while a fourth scenario would have no tax increase at all.
Since projected expenditures outpace projected revenues for 2020-2021, the school district will need to balance the budget by utilizing a tax increase or dipping into its fund balance, Cooney explained. The smaller the tax increase, the more money the school district will need to pull from its fund balance.
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and its potential impact on school budgets. Cooney pointed out that the state has not finalized its own budget for 2020-2021 so public schools don’t know what funding they will receive yet. Gov. Tom Wolf offered a proposed budget two months ago that included small increases in funding for public schools, but that was before the crisis hit.
Oxford School Board president Joseph Tighe noted that state budgets have been hit hard by the pandemic, and some states are seeking federal funds to help make up for revenue shortfalls.
Superintendent David Woods acknowledged the uncertainty about state funding until a state budget is adopted.
“Until we have an actual budget from the state, we have to do the best we can to project those figures,” Woods said.
Cooney added that the district tried to be as conservative as possible when making projections for the budget. For example, instead of counting on the hike in funding from the state, Oxford kept the funding level the same for its projections.
School board vice president Mark Patterson asked if the school district had adjusted its projections for revenues and expenditures based on the changes brought about by the pandemic. Cooney said that they had, but making such projections can be difficult. For example, the school district will presumably save some money on transportation costs because the buses stopped running in mid-March for the current school year. But balancing that out is the fact that funding from the state will decrease in 2020-2021 because one part of that state funding is based on actual transportation costs during the previous year. So if Oxford’s actual transportation costs decline one year, it will receive less funding for transportation for the next school year.
Additionally, the school district will be making less than projected on investments as a result of the downturn in the economy.
Concerns about local revenues and funding from the state could result in a higher tax increase than last year when Oxford adopted a budget with a one-percent increase. School board member Howard Robinson asked if the Finance Committee looked at a possibility of a one-percent increase.
Cooney said that the district did not look at that specific option, but there was an option of no tax increase at all. The business administrator explained that it was the recommendation of the administration to approve a proposed final budget with a 2.6 percent increase for 2020-2021.
Cooney outlined the impact that the various tax increases would have on tax bills. For the owner of a home with a median assessed value of $126,598, a 3.6-percent tax increase would equate to an increase of $143 in the tax bill. A 3-percent tax increase would see the tax bill increase by $119 on average. A 2.6-percent increase would amount to a tax bill hike of $104 for the owner of a home at the median assessed value.
The school board was expected to approve the proposed final budget at its meeting on April 21. After that, the proposed spending plan will be available for public review and comment until a final budget is adopted.
The school board also reviewed the agenda for the April 21 regular meeting. That agenda includes an item that would authorize the high school band to take a trip to Walt Disney World to perform. Tighe asked whether they should add language to the motion that would stipulate that the trip could only be taken if the pandemic is under control and it is safe for students.
Woods noted that the school district could always take action to stop an out-of-state trip if there was concern about student safety. The board was being asked to approve the trip now because out-of-state trips need to be included in the school district’s insurance rider.
“We’ll certainly monitor the situation,” Woods said.
The Oxford School Board will be meeting again on Tuesday, May 12 and Tuesday, May 19.