Lehigh Valley

Parkland 2014-15 tax increase likely under 2.1 percent

SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. - Property owners in Parkland School District face a maximum 2.1 percent tax increase to pay for the 2014-15 school year, but district officials are optimistic the amount of that increase will be reduced before the final budget is adopted in late June.

The proposed $152-million budget received unanimous approval from Parkland School Board Tuesday night.

The final budget will be adopted by the board on June 24.

"We know the final budget presented in June will have an even lower tax increase than the budget package presented for board consideration tonight," predicted district Superintendent Richard Sniscak during the meeting.

That was echoed by John Vignone, Parkland's business administration director, who told the board: "Our plan is to present a budget to the board in June with less of an increase than the proposed 2.1."

Said Sniscak: "If our budget projections continue to trend in a positive manner, we are anticipating a lower tax impact in June of 2014 to balance our final budget than the 1.92 percent tax increase passed by our board in June of 2013."

No one from the public attended the school board meeting to ask questions about the budget.

It will be available for public review beginning Wednesday in the school district office at 1210 Springhouse Road in South Whitehall Township, said Vignone.

Information about the proposed budget also is on the school district's web site.

At a time when some local districts are faced with cutting many teachers, Parkland plans to add nine teaching positions in 2014-15.

Sniscak explained those positions are being "restored – we're not adding new – from the attritional savings from all the retirements that we had. I believe we had in excess of 23 retirements in the district this year, so that attritional savings allowed us to restore staff."

Tax impact

If the tax increase should remain unchanged at 2.1 percent, the owner of a home with an assessed value of $100,000 will see an increase of $29, said Vignone.

The tax will increase $58 on a home with an assessed value of $200,000. And the owner of a $300,000 home will pay $87 more.

The business director said the median assessed home value in Parkland is a little over $222,000. He said an owner of a home worth that much would pay $82 more when the 2014-15 school tax bills go out if the 2.1 percent increase does not change.

Vignone stressed Parkland residents whose properties are enrolled in the homestead/farmstead program will see an estimated $104 in property tax relief, meaning their school tax bills will be lowered by that amount.

No increase above 2.1 percent

Vignone said the administration and school board decided months ago that any tax increase would be limited to the state's Act 1 index of
2.1 percent.

"This is the first time in three years that our district has not sought approval to go beyond the Act 1 index assigned to Parkland,"
said the superintendent.

Doing so, Sniscak explained, would involve requesting exceptions that would allow the district to increase taxes more than 2.1 percent.

State help needed

Vignone said the number one challenge faced by the budget is the uncertainty of funding from the state.

Sniscak said Parkland is due to receive a $602,000 Ready to Learn grant that is proposed for the district in Gov. Tom Corbett's budget.

That budget has to be approved by the state Legislature, which is supposed to pass an annual state budget by June 30.

"We need that money to come through," said Vignone. "If that goes away, we have a hole in the budget. We've got to stress to our legislators that money has to come through."

He explained the $602,000 has been included as part of the new budget, so it's very important that the money comes through. "The Commonwealth has to be a partner here. The state has to be a player and help us out. That needs to happen."

Other challenges

Sniscak named several other challenges facing the district.

He said special education funding from the state has remained level for six consecutive years, "which equates to a decrease in funding."

He said the district will be paying $2.1 million for cyber and charter schools in the next school year, a cost that impacts local taxpayers.
"If we had this additional $2.1 million in Parkland School District, it would mitigate our need for a tax increase."

And he said Parkland also faces rising health care costs, increased state-mandated contributions toward pensions and a two-year contract with teachers that will expire in August.

Salaries and employee benefits make up nearly 73 percent of the district's new budget, according to figures Vignone shared with the school board.

The 2014-15 budget is 6 percent larger than the 2013-14 budget, which totaled more than $143.5 million.

Drawing from fund balance

Vignone said the district plans to use $4.5 million in its fund balance to help balance the 2014-15 budget. He said an additional $1 million from the fund balance will go into a capital reserve fund.

Vignone said the district still will have at least $18.2 million in its fund balance reserves, but he added a lot of that money is designated for pension and health care costs.

He said $18.2 million "may sound healthy" but could be gone quickly with the way pension and health care costs are climbing.

Other business

Also during the meeting, the school board honored 11 teachers from throughout the district as Technology Integrators – "teachers for the 21st Century."

The teachers were recommended by their building principals "for their achievements in infusing technology seamlessly into the learning process."

They are Kelly Casey of Fogelsville Elementary, Brian Ding of Parkland High School, Candace Lewis of Cetronia Elementary, Noel Mahmood of Springhouse Middle School, Debra Nagy of Schnecksville Elementary, Debra Newhard of Kernsville Elementary, Wendy Rice of Ironton Elementary, Janiel Spisak of Parkway Manor Elementary, Melissa Waring of Kratzer Elementary, David Whitby of Jaindl Elementary and Danielle Williams of Orefield Middle School.

All but two of the educators attended the school board meeting.

The board also recognized Jacob Wilkinson, a Parkland High junior who was named a winner in the 2014 National Association for Music Education's student composition contest.

Wilkinson was one of only 12 students chosen nationwide and the only one from Pennsylvania to receive the honor. He wrote a sonata for clarinet and piano.

The teen is an advanced placement music theory student at the high school.

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