Exeter School Board works to balance quality, quantity with tight budget

No tax increases planned for coming school year.

EXETER TWP., Pa. - Exeter Township School District held a special board voting session to approve the proposed final general fund Budget for the 2014-15 school year as well as the purchase of math textbooks related to the implementation of the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum. 

Before the vote, the board and public were given an in-depth look at the budget, presented by secretary Anne Guydish.

The presentation highlighted the major items in the budget, and, discussions about priorities within the budget and taxation followed the presentation.

The board said the deficit from the current year for the district is $430,000, though projections in the proposed budget will be much greater, up to $2.2 million, without tax increases for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Members of the public voiced their concerns about the deficit increase relating to personnel costs as well as cost increases from curriculum changes.

They asked questions regarding the necessity of establishing a one-to-one laptop program for students, an item currently taking up $135,000 of the proposed budget, to be implemented over a 4-year period. 

The other curriculum change leading to a noticeable increase in the budget was the approved plan to revamp and strengthen the STEM curriculum through the purchase of textbooks.

Other big expenses for the 2014-15 budget were employee benefits, pension, and special education costs, though there are still many unknowns with the situation in Harrisburg regarding state funding.

Exeter Superintendent Dr. Beverly Martin said districts have been told to "proceed with caution" when relying on outside funding.

"There's just a lot of money sloshing around and I just don't see how we can go to taxpayers with the recommendation of a tax increase," said board member Dr. Tim Timura. 

"I would rather see that money returned to the taxpayers… It provides a cushion to us, but at what expense?" Timura continued.

Other board members said they supported a more conservative approach due to the uncertainty in funding for education across the state.

"There's 500 school districts in the state, I want to be one of the last 250 to go broke. We've got a perfect storm of limited taxation, limited revenues, uncontrolled expenses and it's in the state's hands." said Robert Quinter, board president. 

The discussion then moved from being strictly about numbers to talks about quality with regard to keeping students in mind.

"This is not a business, this is about quality education for kids. I don't want to go backwards when it comes to quality. I believe this community does not want to go backwards." said Russell Diesinger in response to Timura's comparison of the school district to a business.

The Bond Counsel recommended the district obtain an independent financial adviser (IFA) to assist with long-term planning and sales methods as other districts in Berks County have done.

The board said they would be open to hearing more about the option of an IFA.

A motion to appoint Heidi Rochlin as the K-12 coordinator of mathematics and STEM to continue to strengthen the program was made and passed.

Final adoption of the budget for the 2014-2015 school year is slated for June 17.

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