Lehigh Valley

BASD taxpayers looking at all-out tax hike

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Perhaps it was an act of mercy that only a handful of Bethlehem Area School District taxpayers showed up to Wednesday night's budget hearing at the administration building.

They missed out on the news that the district is strongly considering raising taxes to the maximum amount allowed by law, under a proposal presented by the administration of Superintendent Joseph Roy and approved by the majority of the board of directors.

As of Wednesday night, the exact amount of the tax increase is undetermined as the district is waiting for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to certify the special exceptions amount above the 2.6 percent index allowed under state law, according to Stacy Gober, the district's business manager.

But as the saying goes, "Baby, you ain't seen nothing yet."

Even with raising taxes by the largest legal amount, cutting $4.7 million in programs and using $1 million of their fund balance, the district still needs to come up with another $4.5 million to produce a balanced budget by June 30th.

The administration will consider several items to close the gap the remainder of the way, including laying off teachers, procuring additional retirements, examining collective bargaining agreements and examining the employment status of two high school social workers, among others.

On Wednesday night administrators took to pleading with directors to sway them to their side.

"We are doing everything we can," said Gober of the district's penny-pinching budget.

Administrators presented a series of pie charts, graphs and power points to indicate where taxpayers should place the blame.

"We are cutting our programs to fund charter schools," said Roy. "...the problems are really at the state level."

Preliminary figures released by the administration indicate BASD will drop $20.5 million in the 2014-2015 budget for charter schools, a per pupil increase of $3,696 from the current year.

The charter school receiving the most money is the Lehigh Valley Academy, which saw enrollment spike by 161 students during the 2013-2014 school year from the year before.

Another culprit in the budgetary tale of woe, according to administrators, are rising PSERS costs which saw a 26.4 percent increase in the proposed 2014-2015 budget.

The sad story resonated.

"We have to protect what we have," said President Michael Faccinetto, adding that if the district cuts more programs or teachers, they will undermine their own product, thus creating even more demand for charter schools.

The administration presented a preliminary budget in January that had a $16.9 million shortfall.

The next budget workshop is slated for April 24th, with a tentative final budget adoption set for May 12th and final budget adoption scheduled for June 16th.

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