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April 16, 2014

First look at PENNCREST budget shows school district is $600,000 short

SAEGERTOWN — While initial numbers are extremely tentative, PENNCREST School District currently faces a deficit of more than $600,000 for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

At this point, closing the budget deficit would take nearly double the increase allowed by state law without the need of seeking voter approval during the upcoming May primary election.

However, the time hasn’t quite come for even a preliminary proposed budget, Business Manager Bill Fendya told members of the PENNCREST School Board during its special budget meeting Tuesday night. “Given the number and magnitude of uncertainties surrounding the budgeting process, the data in this document is not intended to represent a budget,” Fendya explained, using the term “first guess” to label 2014-15 revenues and expenditures.

With Pennsylvania Department of Education limiting the district to a 3 percent increase for the 2014-15 fiscal year without seeking voter approval during the upcoming May primary election, that means PENNCREST property owners are looking at a possible maximum increase of 1.46 mills, boosting the current 48.59 mill tax rate to 50.05 mills.

With one mill equaling $1 for every $1,000 in a property’s assessed value, that means an owner of a residence with the district’s median assessed value of $24,307 may be looking at a maximum increase of $35.49, boosting the property’s 2014-15 school property tax bill from the current $1,181.08 to $1,216.57.

PENNCREST, like all of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts, is required to have its final budget in place no later than June 30. Between now and then, however, anything — within the legal limit, of course — can happen.

The bottom line of Fendya’s first guess currently indicates a deficit of $648,000. With the district collecting approximately $240,000 for every property tax mill, it would take a 2.7 mill increase to close the gap, almost double the increase allowed by law.

As for what will ultimately happen, only time will tell. Wage increases, for example, are unknown because neither union contracts nor compensation plans are settled. Pension reform could have a major impact on the budget, but any action on that front is dependent on Harrisburg. Decisions must be made on whether the three teaching positions vacated by retirements will be filled for the coming school year.

During Tuesday’s session, the district’s guidance counselors, librarians and several teachers voiced pleas for the reversal of budget cuts made a year ago that eliminated two guidance counselors and three of the district’s six librarians.

May 6 has been set as the date for the district’s next special budget meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m. in the district’s Saegertown administration center.

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