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Chester County Press

Avon Grove unveils preliminary budget

01/22/2016 01:06PM ● By Steven Hoffman

The Avon Grove School District recently unveiled an early look at the budget for the 2016-2017 school year, and projected expenditures are increasing, even as a great deal of uncertainty surrounds the spending plan.

Avon Grove, like school districts all across Pennsylvania, is dealing with the fact that state lawmakers have yet to approve a budget for the current fiscal year. The state budget impasse is now in its seventh month. As a result, districts only recently started receiving state education subsidies, and there is still uncertainty about the level of state funding each school district will receive for the current year. Avon Grove is basing its projections on the amounts that were included in a state budget that was put forward in late December. Gov. Tom Wolf used his line-item veto authority to reject portions of this spending plan, but did free up about $3.5 billion for Pennsylvania's 500 public schools.

Avon Grove's final budget for 2016-2017 also depends on a decision on whether to move forward with a plan to transition from a half-day to full-day kindergarten program to start the next school year. Costs associated with the switch to full-day kindergarten are estimated to be about $1.3 million if the district opts to install modular classrooms to accommodate an increase in kindergarten students. District officials have prepared several different versions of the draft budget based on different scenarios for the kindergarten program.

If the district does move forward with the plan to implement a full-day kindergarten program in the fall, the overall expenditures for 2016-2017 would increase by about $2.7 million, from approximately $85.2 million to $87.9 million.

There are a number of factors driving up projected increases.

School districts across the state are dealing with a large increase in the state-mandated Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) contributions. The rate is jumping from 25.84 percent to 30.0

3 percent for the 2016-2017 budget. For Avon Grove, that amounts to a year-to-year increase of more than $1.2 million.

The district is also seeing significant year-to-year increases in salaries ($451,000), insurance costs ($551,000), and professional services for special education ($324,000).

District officials will continue to revise the spending plan as updated figures become available. As it stands now, the budget would require a 3.172 percent tax increase.

The Act 1 Index for Avon Grove this year is 3.2 percent. The Act 1 Index establishes the maximum amount that a district can raise taxes without seeking approval from voters via a referendum. The school board previously voted in favor of an opt-out resolution that obligates the district to remain within the Act 1 limit for the tax increase.

The district's millage rate is current 28.1570 mills. The millage rate is expected to increase by .89 mills to 29.050 mills.

What kind of impact would that have on the tax bill for residents? A property owner with a home with an assessed value of $168,025 would see an increase of $150 in the tax bill.

The school board is expected to make a recommendation regarding full-day kindergarten for the 2016-2017 school year at its next meeting on Jan. 28.

The Finance Committee will hold its next meeting on Feb. 9 to review revenues for the budget. A meeting to review expenses will take place on March 8. The board is expected to adopt a proposed final budget on April 28. Adoption of a final budget is slated for June 9.