Seneca Valley Talks Budget, Anticipates Tax Hike
Citing cutbacks in state funding and ballooning pension costs, officials are expect to vote next week on a proposed budget with an increase in property taxes.
Discussion of what appears to be an inevitable tax increase dominated Monday night’s work session of the Seneca Valley school board.
The district is facing a $4.8 million dollar shortfall for the 2012-13 school year. In April, officials voted to eliminate 14 positions, 11 of which were teachers. The three eliminated non-teacher positions were the assistant director of buildings and grounds, a paraprofessional for the secondary gifted program and the attendance officer.
The board is expected to vote next week on a proposed budget that includes a tax-mill increase ranging anywhere from 2.11 to 5.71 mills. The proposed budget will be available to the public before officials give their final vote June 25.
Superintendent Dr. Tracy Vitale indicated this year’s shortfall is only the beginning.
“It is very important to consider beyond this year,” she said. “As another board member said, and I couldn’t agree more, we have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
Vitale predicted that even with a two-percent tax hike each year, the district’s budget shortfall will be more than $2 million for the 2013-14 school year—and continue to grow by more than $2 million in each year after that.
Vitale said many of the increased costs cannot be avoided.
“We can’t reduce pensions, they are mandated by the state,” she said. “Projected pension rates going out are very scary, they are unsustainable.”
The district can only cut so much, she added.
“We must enhance our science, technology, engineering and math classes," she said. "We must continue to offer electives in music and performing arts and remain competitive with the cyber charter schools."
Board member Eric DiTullio echoed Vitale’s assessment.
“Pension costs are up 130 percent and will double in the next two years,” he said. “We haven’t just cut to the bone, we’ve cut past the bone. We are going to ask for a tax increase this year, and guess what, we will probably have to ask for another one next year.”
Board Vice-President Eric Gordon also issued a challenge to the teacher’s union.
“For the past two years, we’ve asked for concessions and have received none,” he said. “I understand the union is meeting soon and so I ask again, give us something. I would use that money to buy back teachers. I want to keep teachers in the classroom.”
School board member James Welsh said increasing class size as a result of having fewer teachers is becoming a concern for him.
“I don’t want to see 30 children in a classroom, but that’s where we are headed,” he said. “I hope people spread the word that we are not getting the funding we need from the state. It’s time people contact their legislators.”
School board member Jeanette Lahm noted future tax increases would likely require a voter referendum.
“I want to be cognizant of not overspending,” she said. “We are a very fiscally responsible district.”
Fellow board member James Nickel agreed.
“We should prepare for the worst on the expense side,” he said. “Our revenue stream comes from the taxpayers of this district. I want to maintain quality, but also make sure we respect our taxpayers."
The board also will consider several fee increases to help alleviate the budget shortfall.
They include increasing the athletic activity fee from $75 to $125 dollars, increasing the non-athletic performance fee from $25 to $50 dollars, increasing the non-athletic (club) fee from $25 to $35 dollars and introducing a school-owned musical instrument rental fee of $100.
If approved, the cost of cafeteria meals will be more expensive next year. Breakfasts will go from $1.25 to $1.45, elementary lunch will go from $1.75 to $1.95 and secondary lunch will go from $2 to $2.25.
Business manager Lynn Burtner said some of those cost increases are the result of new requirements to provide students with more fresh fruits and vegetables.