Raise taxes or cut programs
By Rob Wheary, Staff Writer – firstname.lastname@example.org
ELIZABETHVILLE – Upper Dauphin faces some tough choices on its 2016-2017 budget, which might include a tax increase, funding solutions or furloughs for teachers.
During a public budget workshop on April 26, members of the school board sat down with district superintendent Evan Williams and business manager Mary Bateman to discuss how to balance a $19.4 million budget with a $1 million deficit.
The coming year’s budget features revenue that will remain the same as last year, but with an extra $1.4 million in expenses, 75 percent of that figure coming from rising costs in the Pennsylvania State Employee Retirement System funding costs, health insurance and cyberschool.
At the start of the meeting, board president David Barder talked about cyber school, saying that he doesn’t think it’s fair that school districts are paying astronomical amounts of money to students when there is no accountability in some cases.
“There should be an outside organization that polices the cyber schools and looks after the students and if there’s no progress, the money stops and they come back in-house. The school is not going to do it because they are pocketing so much money, but there should be accountability and showing improvement on a daily basis.”
Williams answered that there’s not much they can do because cyber schools do not have the right to hold students to compulsory attendance figures.
“I have no right to see the student’s report card because they are not a student here,” Williams said.
“You’ve identified the problem, and talk about ourselves but we need to reach out to all the districts and see what we can do as a group,” board member Mills Eure said.
“I’m just getting tired of seeing the money going out of the district for this and it’s creating a hardship on our students,” Barder said.
Getting back to the budget, Williams presented to the board ways to cut the deficit down.
In Williams’ plan, there would be no cuts to any programs or teachers, but creative funding practices.
The superintendent said the district will receive a $90,000 increase in its basic education funding from the state and a $180,000 funding holiday from its health insurance group this year. Upper Dauphin will also save $90,000 in salary this year because of new hires coming in, If the district uses $185,000 from the district’s fund balance to pay the PSERS increase, saves $225,000 from spending freezes, and increases taxes up to the index to generate approximately $200,000, the deficit drops down to $106,992, an amount that can be absorbed by the district’s $1.3 million fund balance.
Without the tax increase, the district is looking to cut programs to generate the $300,000 needed to eliminate the deficit, such as transfers to fill fourth-grade classrooms, eliminate family and consumer science classes and reduce the science and graduation requirements, thus eliminating two teachers.
Of the six board members present at the meeting, Barder took an informal poll in which three said they would not vote for a tax increase, two said they would and one was on the fence about the issue.
The increase would raise taxes one-half mill, costing taxpayers $58 for every $100,000 their home is valued at.
Williams and Bateman spoke about the tax increase to the board, saying that its needed for future funding.
“This year it’s $200,000,” Bateman said. “If you don’t do the increase, you will have to make up $400,000 to replace the money you didn’t get this year by not raising taxes.”
The board met on April 28 for a special meeting to approve a final proposed budget that will be on display for 30 days before having to be approved on before June 30. The public will be allowed look over the budget, and Barder encouraged the community to do so.
“We want the public’s input on what we are doing and their ideas for the district,” Barder said. “We encourage everyone to come to the meetings to show what their taxpayer dollars are going for and learn about the decisions we have to make.”