Lehigh Valley

Pension benefits continue to weigh down Parkland budget

SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. - The Parkland School District will again face a multimillion dollar increase in expenditures due in large part to the growing cost of employee retirement benefits.

At Tuesday's budget work session, Parkland Director of Business Administration John Vignone announced that the district will face an expenditure increase of 6.3 percent for the 2013-14 school year, bringing the total to $9,027,948.

Of those expenses, over $3.5 million will go towards the district's Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) which has seen spikes in costs statewide.

"That's the biggest increase in the budget," said Vignone. "This is one of the areas where the Commonwealth [of Pennsylvania] is struggling."

The rate of salaries going toward the pension system will increase by nearly five percent, up from 16.5 to 21.4 this coming year.

In spite of the addition of eight new employees, the cost of salaries will only increase by 2.6 percent, whereas the cost of employee benefits for the district will go up over 15 percent.

"It's increasing but we're aware of it and controlling it as best we can," Vignone said. "Parkland has designated some of its fund balance to manage this."

The Parkland School District will however see a decrease in expenditures for special education, costs for property services, equipment and petroleum costs.

By upping their investment in natural gas, the district is also expected to begin cutting down on energy costs by utilizing the more economically efficient alternative.

"We are spending a lot of upfront capital on natural gas" said Vignone. "You're going to be far better off using natural gas than petroleum products."

The business administrator also expressed hope that the state's budget would provide monetary relief for the public education system.

"[The state legislators] have to come through with some funding for us," he said. "They need to contribute."

Next Tuesday the board will meet again to discuss the projected revenue, at which point they will begin to entertain plans to balance the budget.

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