The board approved the $41,794,796 spending plan after essentially deciding not to restructure principal and secretary positions, which added $200,400 in additional expenses to the final budget.
After thoughtful consideration and many hours reviewing the budget, Superintendent Cynthia Zurchin said her recommendation was for the board not to increase taxes.
“A zero-mill tax increase might not be possible every year, but now is the year. This is the time,” said Zurchin, whose comments were applauded by the audience.
Since 2007, Zurchin said the Ambridge Area School District has raised taxes 15.5 mills.
With property taxes remaining at 73.939 mills, a homeowner with a $67,600 assessed value will continue to pay $2,500 in taxes.
After approving the budget, the board voted 5-4 against restructuring principal and secretary positions for savings, increasing the budget deficit to $1,319,647.
Board members Kimberly Locher, Roger Kowal, Robert Keber, Kelly Smith and MC Knafelc voted not to restructure positions, while Jeremy Angus, Scott Angus, John Baker, Mary Jo Kehoe voted in favor.
“I feel this is an immensely, fiscally unsound decision,” board member Jeremy Angus said before his vote.
Baker said the district will refinance a bond in the coming months, which is expected to provide a one-time savings of at least $1 million. That savings was going to help replace money used from the fund balance, which is currently at 11 percent. But Baker said the added expenditures could prevent the fund balance from reaching the 8 percent recommended state level.
The district will now have to hire a principal and two secretaries, Baker said.
Economy resident Mike Stulak commended Baker and the board for approving a budget without a tax increase. The board could have raised taxes up to 2.07-mills, or 76 mills.
“I know it wasn’t an easy task,” said Stulak, a member of the citizens group CAFÉ, Community Advocates For Education, who gave the board a hand-out with suggestions to recoup additional funds.
Zurchin said the largest expenses in the district are salaries, benefits and debt service. Ambridge Area is facing several large, one-time expenses, including $500,000 to settle a lawsuit and $400,000 in retirement costs.
Baker said the district is also sending an additional 57 students to Baden Academy in the coming year and tuition costs have gone up.
Meanwhile, Zurchin said state and federal funding are remaining at the same levels or decreasing while local tax payers are left picking up the burden.
“In order to hold the line on taxes, we must reduce our expenses, cut our costs and control our expenditures,” Zurchin said.
Zurchin said some of the people who retired won’t be replaced and staff members are being asked to wear many additional hats, though no one is being furloughed.
The administrative team will also review all purchasing practices and contracts.
“We will work to focus on the academic success and the financial stability of this district,” Zurchin said.
In other business, the board:
- Approved an agreement between the district and the Community College of Beaver County to make College in High School courses available to students from July 1 to June 30, 2017.
- Approved the 2014-15 Beaver County Career & Technology Center operating budget of $5.045 million, an increase of 3.94 percent.