Avon Grove School Board approves final budget for 2020-2021
By Steven Hoffman
The Avon Grove School Board has finalized a $99.3 million spending plan for the 2020-2021 school year.
The budget was approved by a 6-3 vote with school board president Bill Wood, board vice president Jeffrey Billig, Herman Engel, Dorothy Linn, Tracy Lisi, and Bonnie Wolff all voting in favor of the budget and board members Rick Dumont, John Auerbach, and Lynn Weber voting against it.
Dan Carsley, the school district’s chief financial officer, said that the millage rate to support the budget will increase from 31.61 mills to 32.71 mills, a hike of 3.48 percent—close to the Act 1 Index limit for Avon Grove for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
For 2020-2021, the school district’s expenditures total $99,331,571. The district is placing $1,960,000 in budgetary reserve. This financial move offers some protection against declining revenues—something that is out of the school district’s control—as the country recovers from the coronavirus pandemic and all its various effects.
Avon Grove had been on track for a maximum allowable tax increase from the start of this year’s budgeting process as the school district prepares for the construction of a new high school and invests in initiatives that are aimed at boosting academic achievement.
At the school board’s meeting on June 4, as district officials discussed the spending plan, Dumont read from a prepared statement urging the board to reconsider a budget that includes a large tax increase. Dumont said that school district officials had ample time to rework the budget and cut expenditures in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Only time will tell how deeply Avon Grove is affected by this,” Dumont said. Auerbach and Weber also said that they opposed the budget.
Superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese has consistently said during the budgeting process that the school district must phase in the funding for the new high school in a responsible way. If the district foregoes a tax increase this year, for example, then it increases the likelihood that very difficult decisions would need to be made about the budget in the next few years. Pennsylvania’s Act 1 Index limits how much a school district can raise taxes without securing approval from voters via a referendum. School districts are reluctant to put a large tax increase on the ballot, even for a worthy expense like the costs of a new high school, because it’s unlikely that the referendum would be approved.
Wolff, who has served on the board since 2003, said that budget supported the school district’s goals of improving academic achievement. She said that she recently analyzed some data on the Pennsylvania Department of Education website and Avon Grove is making the progress that was anticipated when Avon Grove made specific investments in educational programming.
“Our administration is doing a good job,” Wolff said, adding that Avon Grove is seeing a very consistent rate of achievement for students in recent years.
Billig expressed his disappointment that three board members were opposing the budget when they had ample time and opportunity to provide input into the spending plan. Billig noted that the same board members have voted against the budget, despite a months-long budgeting process, each of the last three years.
The Avon Grove School Board will hold its next public meeting in August.