Minnie Baker, business manager, said the school district is still facing a $630,451 shortfall in the the 2014-15 budget, even if the board approves a 2.06-mill tax increase, up to 76 mills.
What's driving costs?
Baker said much of the budget, about 95 percent, is made up of fixed costs. Major cost drivers include $2.9 million in state-mandated pension contributions next year, an increase of 21.4 percent; increased health-care costs of 4.5 percent; and contractual increases, which varies between 2 and 3 percent depending on the bargaining unit.
The district must also vote next week to approve the Beaver County Career & Technology Center’s operating budget of $5.045 million, a 3.94 percent increase of $191,097 over last year. The 14 school districts that participate approve the CTC budget.
Restructuring the workforce provides some cost savings, Baker said. The district is not replacing five teachers, a savings of $536,175 and nine teachers will be hired at the Step 1 level, totaling $290,363. Secretarial positions have been restructured due to retirements, saving $78,038 and a vacant principal position will save $113,688, Baker said.
Based on the proposed budget, taxpayers with homes at a $50,000 market value could expect to pay about $103 more in taxes per year. For residents with a market value of $100,000, the amount doubles to an additional $206 per year.
Maryann Mahlen of Harmony said she is “shocked” to see a budget presented with the maximum increase.
“I just cannot understand why we cannot live within our means,” Mahlen said.
Mike Stulak of Economy, a member of the group CAFÉ, Community Advocates For Education, told the board that he sat on an advisory committee last year and had an opportunity to look at budget line items to see where money was being spent and saved.
“Unfortunately this year, that committee was not brought to the forefront, swept under the table and forgotten about. I actually harassed Mrs. Baker to try to get line items and was unable to do so. I look at tonight’s budget and it still really doesn't tell me what you’re spending money on in comparison to last year,” he said.
Stulak said the public should be able to see what’s being spent in line items.
Board members offer input
Board member Roger Kowal suggested the board go through the budget to see where they can save $600,000. He asked that Baker hold a public budget meeting and go line item by line item.
"You want to vote on a budget next week and I don't know how you can," Kowal said.
Superintendent Cynthia Zurchin said there are unfortunately some expenses beyond the district's control. She said the district has a $500,000 lawsuit settlement payment due in July. The board also has $450,000 -- broken into two annual $225,000 payments -- built into the budget for a series of K-6 reading and math textbooks from McGraw Hill Education. She said essentially teaching staff and books can be eliminated, if the board so chooses.
"I think getting rid of the books shouldn't even be discussed," Kowal said.
Board member Jeremy Angus said he just wants the board to decide whether it will raise taxes or not.
"A good leader takes a stand on it and makes a decision," he said.
School board members are expected to vote on the finalized budget Wednesday, June 18.
Solicitor Lisa Colautti said all school districts are required to pass a final budget by June 30. Should the board fail to do so, she told the board the district will not be able to issue any checks.
Baker said the board received packets on Friday with detailed budget information and members have been encouraged to ask questions throughout the process.
Baker said she spoke with the auditors and told the board they could choose to use some of the $4.4 million fund balance to help cover the deficit, but she didn't want to present a "false budget."
In years past, she said the fund balance was used improperly and should be reserved to help the district cope with unexpected expenditures and potential budget changes.
"I could do that, and I could balance the budget, but that would not be fair to the public or this board," Baker said. " I am obligated to present the numbers."
The budget is available for public inspection and comment online. Baker said questions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org