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Chester County Press

KCSD unveils $82.2 million preliminary budget

01/12/2016 01:37PM ● By Steven Hoffman

The Kennett School Board approved the release of a preliminary budget for the 2016-2017 school year at its meeting on Monday, Jan. 11.

The $82,248,395 spending plan will continue to be revised in the coming months as district officials look for ways to reduce expenditures and factor in other changes in revenue sources.

“It's been an interesting year without a state budget,” explained board member Michael Finnegan, who serves on the district's finance committee. Finnegan and district business administrator Mark Tracy led the budget presentation.

Overall, spending is increasing by $3,351,076 year-to-year. The rising costs for employee benefits is responsible for more than half of the increase. According to budget figures, there will be a $2,032,270 increase in employee benefits. That can be attributed largely to hikes in the state-mandated Public School Employee Retirement System (PSERS) costs.

“PSERS is a big piece of this,” Finnegan said, noting that the district has no control over the employer-contribution rate, which is now above 30 percent.

Other expenditure increases include a $671,602 jump in employee salaries, which factors in the addition of two new teaching positions; a $947,194 hike in professional services; a $246,112 increase in contracted services; and $120,866 jump in property services. Charter school funding is also increasing by about $300,000 for 2016-2017. Finnegan said that the budgeted charter school expenses—in the form of tuition payments that the district must make for each student who attends a charter school—amount to a projected $3,050,000 for 2016-2017. This breaks down to $10,686 for each regular education student, and $26,241 for a student who needs some form of special education.

Finnegan noted that Kennett currently has 178 regular education students in charter schools and 45 special education students in charter schools. Having 25 percent of the students in charter schools identified as requiring some form of special education is much higher than the district's overall rate for the student population in Kennett schools, and is an indication that changes in the funding formula may be necessary. There have been concerns raised by districts throughout Pennsylvania regarding the percentage of students that charter schools are identifying as in need of special education. Additionally, charter schools receive the same amount of tuition for each special education student from a district, regardless of how much it costs to provide those special education services. For example, a student with a slight hearing impairment would carry the same tuition rate as a student that needs significant assistance throughout the school day. Finnegan also noted that students that attend cyber charter schools from a school district carry the same tuition rate as students who are attending regular charter schools, even though the costs are not comparable.

If the budget were improved as is, there would be a three-percent tax increase necessary. The millage rate would increase by .86 mills, from 28.6017 mills to 29.4605 mills.

For the average taxpayer in the district, a three-percent tax hike would equate to an increase of $156 in the tax bill, Finnegan said. The average property tax for school district residents is currently $5,202, and that would increase to $5,358.

Finnegan did note, however, that in past years, the district has been able to reduce expenditures from the time the preliminary budget is released until the time that a final budget is approved.

The ongoing state budget stalemate has led to considerable uncertainty regarding the proposed budget. School districts still aren't sure about the funding they will receive in the current year, so that makes it harder than usual to project state subsidies for 2016-2017. Finnegan noted that the district's collective-bargaining agreement with the teachers' union expires at the end of the current school year, so they had to do some estimations on the impact the new contract could have on the proposed budget as well.

The Finance Committee will be meeting on the first Monday of each month between February and June. The public is invited to attend all these meetings.

The preliminary budget is now available for review on the district's website and in the District Office each Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. until a final budget is approved on Monday, June 13.

In other business at the meeting, the school board approved a list of personnel changes, the use of school facilities by various organizations in the coming months, and a series of readings for policy changes.

The board also approved the establishment of the Johnson Family Scholarship after the Johnson Family Philanthropic Fund was deemed to have met all the criteria necessary. The $10,000 scholarship will be awarded to a Kennett High School graduating senior whose intent is to continue his or her education. The application process and requirements will be established by the Johnson Family Scholarship Agreement, and the recipient each year will be selected by a Johnson Family Scholarship Committee.

Tracy said that this is one of the largest scholarships available in the district for students, and district officials expressed their gratitude to the people that are creating this opportunity for Kennett students.

Two school board members, Finnegan and Joseph Meola, offered separate reports that mentioned the district's ongoing efforts to work with municipalities regarding future residential growth. Finnegan explained that as many as 500 homes could soon be in the planning stages across the district. Meola, who serves on the district's liaison and communication committee, reported that the district is attempting to set up a date for a public meeting where district officials can discuss the issue with elected leaders from each of the municipalities in the district.

The Kennett School Board will meet again on Monday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Mary D. Lang Kindergarten Center.