Seneca Valley School Board Splits 5-4 on Final Budget Approval
The $94.5 million spending plan calls for a 5.6-mill tax increase.
Despite pleas from several board members to delay a vote until a state House counterproposal to Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget plan is resolved, Seneca Valley School Board officials in a 5-4 decision Monday approved the 2011-2012 school year budget.
The $94.5 million spending plans increase real estate taxes by 5.6 mills and curtails a half-dozen district programs. Board members Eric DiTullio, Anthony Storti, Joseph Scalamogna and James Welsh voted against approving the budget.
By increasing activity fees, cutting back on programs, and adding to the millage rate, the budget addresses the $10 million deficit the district faces in the next school year.
Supported by DiTullio and Storti, Scalamogna was the first to request that the board wait before approving the budget until state budget matters are determined. Last week, the House Republican majority unveiled its alternative to Corbett’s budget plan, which calls for major cuts to education funding. While the House plan maintains the governor’s $27.3 billion bottom line, it shifts money earmarked for public welfare programs to public education.
According to the state’s House Republican Caucus, the plan increases K-12 education funding by more than $200 million and includes returning state dollars for basic education funding to 2008-2009 pre-federal stimulus levels. It also restores $100 million for Accountability Block Grants for districts and helps school districts by paying a share of Social Security with $43 million.
As for higher education, the House increased Corbett’s proposal by $380 million. In turn, $470 million would be cut from the Department of Public Welfare.
A decision could be made by next month. The state’s fiscal year ends on the last day of June, the same date the school district is required to have its final budget approved.
“I’m requesting we delay voting until we have a better idea of what the state is going to do,” Scalamogna said.
The funding shift could affect 500 school districts across the state. Scalamogna said it was too early to tell what, if any, money Seneca Valley would receive if the House plan is approved.
He requested that the board pass a resolution that any additional money from the state be used to decrease the millage rate, but solicitor Matt Hoffman said the board couldn’t approve a conditional tax rate. In response to a question from Storti, Hoffman also said the district could not reopen the budget later.
Board member Jeanette Lahm said she was in favor of passing the budget at Monday’s meeting so that the district would not be in limbo.
“There are a number of people with lives who would like to move forward,” she said.
The 2011-2012 budget calls for alterations to the business education, physical education, foreign language, guidance, elementary education and alternative learning center programs. Altogether, the move will affect 16 full-time teaching positions and one part-time position.
In March, the board accepted the retirement of 36 teachers, which is expected to save the district $2.88 million. The budget also calls for the elimination of support positions.
The district’s 49-person administrative staff has agreed to a one-year pay freeze. Last week, the Seneca Valley Education Association said no to a request from the board to agree to a voluntary one-year pay freeze.
The budget also would raise the student activity and parking permit fees. In a prepared statement he read to the board, DiTullio said he thought members spent too much time discussing the fees and not enough on the tax increase.
“I’m disappointed with the way we’ve handled this year’s budget,” he said.
DiTullio, who is serving his second year on the board, said he also voted against last year’s budget, which called for a 2.76 mill tax increase and the transfer of more than $5 million from the district’s reserve fund to balance the budget.
In the last four years, he noted, the district has spent $10 million of the $17 million it had reserved in the 2007-2008 school year. He blamed the board for the $10 million shortfall the district faces next year.
“This budget crisis that we have is of our own doing,” he said.
He added that the district would likely face a $6 million dollar shortfall next year and would again have to raise taxes to balance the budget.
“The district has overspent over the last four years,” he said. “We’re going to fix that, and we’re not going to let that happen again.”
After rejecting a $4.34 million budget from the Butler County Area Vocation Technical School last month, the board also voted 7-2 to approve a revised budget of $4.19 million. Scalamogna said Seneca Valley’s contribution to the vo-tech school's budget is $416,689.