Barely a week into the new year, Seneca Valley officials already are making plans for next year’s budget.
At the Jan. 16 meeting, school board members will vote on
That proposed preliminary budget, which is expected to be available online today on the district’s website, shows revenues for the 2012-13 school year at $94.8 million. Expenditures are at $99.6 million—leaving a shortfall of about $4.8 million.
“That shows there’s a pretty significant gap coming right out the gate with the first draft,” district business manager Lynn Burtner said Wednesday at the school board's workshop meeting.
Officials are not required to approve a final budget until June. Under the Taxpayer Relief Act, commonly known as Act 1, school districts must introduce a preliminary budget 110 days prior to the primary election. In this presidential election year, that means a preliminary budget must be submitted to the state in January.
By having the proposed 2012-13 preliminary budget available for public inspection, the district is allowed to apply for exceptions if officials plan to raise taxes beyond the allowed 2 percent index calculated for the district under Act 1. For Seneca Valley taxpayers, that equals 2.11 mills.
Although it gives them the option, it does not mean district officials plan to raise taxes beyond the index. It also gives the district permission to ask taxpayers to approve an increase by a referendum vote in the primary election.
Burtner said the proposed preliminary budget—which she called a baseline starting point—assumes the district would move forward with the same amount of staff it has right now. It also estimates revenue, including state funding, for the coming year.
“There’s a pretty significant amount time and a lot of unknowns to still hear about as these next few months progress,” she said. “We have until June to figure out what we need to do to deal with this $4.8 million gap that’s coming right out of the gate.”
This isn’t the first time the district has faced a significant funding shortfall.
Slast May. The plan included a 5.6 mill increase in property taxes and the curtailment of a half-dozen district programs.
While the district’s 49-person administrative staff agreed to a one-year pay freeze, the Seneca Valley Education Association said from the board to agree to a voluntary one-year pay freeze.
School board member Eric DiTullio, who is a member of this year’s labor relations committee, said officials didn’t approach educators about the freeze until late in last year’s budgeting process. This time around, he said he hopes to partner with the teachers union early on to discuss budget constraints and ideas.
“It’s going to be an ugly year,” he said. “We do need some help outside of what this board can do.”
While exploring options to address next year's funding gap, Superintendent Dr. Tracy Vitale emphasized putting the needs of students first.
“We will overturn every stone keeping in mind that every cut and every change that is made affects children,” she said. “That is the number one goal we have to keep in mind.”
School board member James Welsh also encouraged residents to attend school board meetings during budget discussions.
“I welcome their input," he said. “I think a lot of the board members would as well.”