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Tax hike looms Pensions and special education may continue annual increases into 2016
MICHAEL C. UPTON Record Express Correspondent
, Staff Writer
Warwick School District continues to work on its $63.8 million 2013-14 school year budget, which is currently projected to raise taxes.
The preliminary budget calls for a .68 mil increase in property tax, or an increase of 3.66 percent, to set the total millage rate at 19.25. According to district calculations, the new rate will propose an increase of $116 on a residence appraised at $170,000. Superintendent Dr. April Hershey and Business Manager David Zerbe said the amount of tax increase could be lowered before final adoption of the budget in June.
"This budget has been in the works since last fall and major revisions have been made since the adoption of the preliminary budget in February," said Hershey in a prepared statement.
Some of the money trimmed by the district includes $500,000 in savings due to retirements, $258,000 in non-repetitive maintenance, $40,000 in supplies, $30,000 in technology, $14,000 in athletics and $200,000 in energy costs. Since joining Warwick in 2009, Hershey has been tasked with trimming the district budget.
"In total, our tax increase from (the) preliminary (budget) has gone down from 3.88 in February to 3.66 in this version of the budget," said Hershey. "We still have a month to go. We intend to make some continued reductions."
The budget will claim $35 million from property taxes, and a total of $42.2 million comes from local resources. State funding equals $17.9 million. Federal funding accounts for $671,606.
"As revenues are concerned, we have flat-lined everything from last year, despite the fact the Governor’s proposal … said we would be getting approximately $400,000 in new money," she continued. "We’ve heard nothing since February and are still budgeting conservatively and not adding that amount to this budget. We’ve also taken a five percent reduction in revenue for Federal grants due to the sequester. That results in $25,000 less for (Federal mandates). Regarding special education, it remains to be seen what will happen with that as there is lots of current legislation pending; however, since February we’ve been able to reduce our initial numbers by $130,000."
Hershey said tuition levels for cyber schools remain the same. Some students have decided to attend the district’s own cyber school, Warwick Virtual Academy, rather than going elsewhere. The budget for cyber school tuition costs is $125,000. Other cost increases include text books at $111,000, IU13 at $110,000 and transportation at $90,000.
"Also up in our budget from last year is (Lancaster County Career and Technology Center) tuition, by $49,000. Alternative education placement (is up) by $71,000," said Hershey.
The district has raised the millage rate continually for the past several years and district projections look for that trend to continue into the 2014-15 (up 3.22 percent) and 2015-16 (up 3.02 percent) school years. Zerbe’s major concern is the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS), which will cost the district an additional $1.3 million in 2013-14. That amount equals $4.75 million of the entire $63.8 million budget.
"The impact of the PSERS program is going to be very significant. If we don’t get any additional assistance from Harrisburg, in terms of revenue or special education funding, I can’t see us (not raising taxes) a little at a time unless we do something drastic," said Zerbe.
Something drastic would be program elimination. Recently, many districts in Lancaster County have considered cutting music and athletic programs to balance budgets.
"The original model (for public education funding) was to be 50 percent funding by the state," said Hershey. "We’re not even close to that. If we were closer to that I don’t think the outlook would look so bad."
Hershey agrees that the issue with PSERS is troubling, but both also mention special education funding as another area of great concern. Special education costs for 2013-14 are budgeted at $8,090,526. That number is expected to increase by $1 million by the 2015-16 budget.
"Our special education funding has been level for the last five years. We’ve not seen any increases in special education funding, but at the same time our expenditures have risen probably – I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me – a million dollars or more," said Zerbe. "We’re not seeing any new numbers from Harrisburg to contribute toward that mandate. That’s a very significant issue."
Hershey said the board continues to address state government and encourages the public to also contact their Representatives and Senators about education funding.
More SCHOOL BOARD, page A3