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Chester County Press

Budget details examined by U-CF board and administration

05/03/2016 11:58AM ● By J. Chambless

The Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

The administration and school board of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District drilled down into the details of the proposed final budget at their meeting on May 2, moving towards final adoption of the budget in June.

Before a dissection of aspects of the budget, district superintendent John Sanville told the board, “The budget that is before you has a focus on the children of Unionville-Chadds Ford. It focuses on professional development for staff, staffing adjustments that reduce class sizes and provide additional services, and expanded money for technology improvements at the middle school and high school with the expansion of the Learning Management System. It does those things while recognizing the commitment of our community, through tax dollars, to provide for our children. I think it's a budget that's fair and reasonable, but also one that takes new initiatives and brings extra dollars and resources right to our children.

“We are budgeting total revenues of $82,406,523, and total expenditures of $82,597,582,” Sanville said. “Which means an operating deficit of $191,059. The bottom line is a tax increase in Chester County of 2.82 mills, and in Delaware County, a 3.15 mills increase. The weighted average between the two counties is a 2.88 percent increase in millage.”

Sanville pointed to the Act 1 Index of 2.4 percent, the cap at which the board may increase taxes, balanced with a gradual return to normal rates of tax revenue collection after the recent recession. The district's mandatory contribution to the state retirement system (PSERS) will be 30.03 percent in 2016-17.

Bob Cochran, director of business and operations, explained to the board how the district arrived at its proposed budget. For the coming school year, an increase in expenditures of $3,297,557 is being proposed, he said. Of that, the largest portions are for salaries and wages (increasing $888,420), and benefits (increasing $2,216,395). A large portion of the benefits increase is due to the mandatory PSERS contribution, which is going up $1.8 million this year.

Technology improvements are budgeted at $121,498, Cochran said. That includes the purchase of new Chromebook devices for middle school and high school students, as well as staff development and infrastructure upgrades related to the Learning Management System.

After a few years of pay freezes for administration, teachers and support staff, Cochran said the annual increases are now stabilized in the 2 percent range.

Of the entire school district's revenue, local revenues account for $69,236,229 (84.02 percent of the total), state revenues are $13,019,669 (15.80 percent of the total), and federal and other revenues are a mere $150,625 (.18 percent of the total), Cochran said.

There was no public comment on the budget. Board member Jeff Hellrung voiced some concern about new hires being considered for the district, saying, “If we're adding new positions based on enrollment, that's straightforward. Since we're not planning to increase enrollment, the new positions concern me. I think our default answer has to be 'no' to that. If we're at 78 percent of our budget for salary and benefits, then we need to keep an eye on new hires.”

Sanville said he would bring a detailed breakout of the staffing standards to next week's board work session, scheduled May 9.

Another topic of discussion was debt service in the district, which is occurring because of repairs and upgrades to schools planned in the district over the coming decade.

“The 10-year capital plan is roughly a $23 million plan,” Sanville said. “For the first three years, we have been able to fund that out of the reserve funds. In the next phase, we're talking about having to borrow $7 million or $8 million. We do that over three years, and then we borrow another $7 million or $8 million in another three years. We spread that debt over about 15 years. You're talking about, in rough numbers, $700,000 a year. As a rule of thumb, we try to keep our debt service to around 11 percent,” Sanville said.

Board member Gregg Lindner said, “I agree that's within the guidelines that we want to set, so that's a comfort. But you still have to find the additional $700,000 that has to come from somewhere. That's why I want to make sure that we tax in these years at the appropriate rate -- not to hold people's money, not to spend it on new programs, but to make sure that we're able to pay back the debt. Too little tax and you end up having a negative impact on programs.”

“So you're saying to spend less of the reserve now, when we have a higher capacity to tax?” Dupuis asked.

“That's correct,” Lindner replied.

“In the past, we've hesitated to tax to the max, so to speak, and spent from the reserves,” Dupuis said. “There is a philosophical difference on whether we should be holding taxpayer money in lieu of charging a lesser tax, regardless of changes in tax rates.”

Lindner replied, “We are not holding dollars. We are spending the dollars that we have, and the hold which is there for the health trust is something for which we have a recommended approach, and we're doing something to keep those health care trust funds where they are, because we need to manage our health care that is self-funded. We have done a good job, and I want to make sure we keep the reserves that we have for the years that we're going to need them.

“I'm not looking to tax any more than the 2.88 percent,” Lindner continued. “What I'm suggesting is that dollars that are going to be saved -- whether they're from more retirements than we have in the budget, for instance -- that we don't go out and just spend incremental dollars outside of what this budget says, but that the savings that we get are utilized for the spending programs that we have for the schools. I'm saying that at this level, we're in the right place, where there will be savings at the end of the year and we're going to move those toward the building fund, because that's where we need to spend those dollars.”

Hellrung said, “We're a high-quality district and a high-spending district, and that's OK. I'm not hearing complaints about that. But I think that we should realize that we're investing in our students and buildings as we should, but we don't want to do more than we need to.”

Board member John Murphy said, “I think this is a reasonable budget. It breaks down to $189 per family, and $220 for Delaware County. So it's a less than a dollar a day for the average family.”

The board will meet to discuss the budget further at their May 9 work session and June work session, with final approval of the budget scheduled on June 20. A public inspection copy of the budget will be available online before May 31.

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To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email [email protected].