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Lehigh Valley

Northampton school board approves final budget with 2.47 percent tax increase

NORTHAMPTON, Pa. - The Northampton Area School District Board of Directors approved a final budget Monday that includes a 2.47 tax increase for the 2014-15 school year.

The hike will have an estimated economic impact of $67.85 for the year and will increase the district's millage rate by 1.18, bringing the total to 48.89.

The 2.47 percentage raise will keep the area just below the maximum allowable increase index of 2.5.

"As you all know, public education is becoming more and more difficult -- not just in Northampton County -- but in the state," said Superintendent Joseph Kovalchik of the challenges faced throughout the year.

Rising costs of charter schools and cyber schools as well as retirement benefits and pension costs have caused numerous school districts within the Lehigh Valley to cite difficulties in maintaining taxes where they are.

"We're always having issues with the state and seeing where the funding is coming from because they're not actually doing their budget until June 30th and we're doing ours earlier," said Secretary Terry Leh.

The vote to approve the final budget, which carried on a 6 to 3 majority, failed to muster the approval of all board members though.

"I think we could have gotten by with a little less percentage increase," said board president David Gogel. "I was trying to get two percent increase in the budget that would've given us .95 mills, but I didn't have support from all the members of the board."

 Gogel added that he had voiced his opinions repeatedly at prior meetings but that ultimately a compromise had to be reached before the end of the academic year.

"We didn't want to have reductions in our programming at all," he said of his proposed changes. "We just wanted to use some of the fund balance that we have accrued over the last couple of years in order to reduce the tax increase."

He went on to explain how much would've been needed to reduce the proposed hike to his satisfaction.

"To get to [a two percent tax increase] we would've needed about $350,000 out of the unassigned balance fund. That's what we had asked for and the administration didn't want to give that up."

Board members Darin Arthofer and Jean Rundle joined Gogel in voting against the budget.

Superintendent Kovalchik though continued to emphasize the priorities of the board.

"We have a very strong administrative team," he said. "You maybe don't make a lot of people happy, the best interests of the students is always first."

The Northampton Area School District will reset its fiscal calendar in July.

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