Taxpayers in the Allentown School District won’t face as big a tax increase as expected when their bills are mailed in the coming days.
In a rare special meeting Monday night, the ASD school board voted 6-3 to approve a revised 2013-14 budget that will raise property taxes by 5.54 percent.
That’s down from the 8.26 percent tax increase the board approved by a 5-4 vote on June 27.
It means taxes will go up by $97.66 for the average property owner in the school district, rather than by the $145.54 average increase if the 8.2 percent increase had remained unchanged.
The school board was able to reopen the 2013-14 budget because ASD is receiving nearly $8.2 million in supplemental funding from the state. But that full amount is not being used to lower taxes.
Of that $8.2 million state allocation, $2 million is being used to reduce taxes.
Another $2 million is being used to save the jobs of 25 teachers – mostly intervention specialists --- and to hire one new administrator: a special projects director.
And $4.2 million will be used to help reduce the district’s $10.2 million deficit.
Voting against the $245.6-million budget were board members Scott Armstrong, Joanne Jackson and David Zimmerman.
Zimmerman told his colleagues he would not be voting for the budget because “these tax increases are outrageous.”
Zimmerman said the system is broken and the board is not merely kicking a can down the road, but irresponsibly kicking a dumpster down the road. “We keep doing the same thing year in and year out and each year we expect a different result,” said Zimmerman. “That’s insanity. We’re going to lay off more people next year and we may be closing schools the year after that.”
Board president Robert E. Smith said reducing the amount of the tax increase will help senior citizens who own homes in Allentown.
District Superintendent C. Russell Mayo repeatedly said the administration’s goal “was to get as much bang for the buck as we possibly could.”
“This is an unusual meeting,” said Mayo. “Since I’ve been in the district, I don’t recall us ever reopening the budget after it was passed by the board by June 30.” Smith told the board Mayo came back from Florida just for the meeting.
Smith praised the “outstanding” work done by State Sen. Pat Browne and State Rep. Michael Schlossberg to get additional state funding for ASD. “They’ve worked hard for Allentown all year. They have Allentown in their hearts.”
Said Mayo: “Our legislators were especially encouraging that we give some tax relief [and] that we return some jobs.”
In addition to 18 intervention specialists, one elementary librarian and a dance instructor at Allen High School, the school board amended the proposed budget to restore the jobs of five “English as a second language” teachers at the elementary level – for a total of 25 restored teaching positions, out of about 100 slated for termination.
Previously, it was announced the district would get $9.6 million in additional revenue from the state, but Mayo explained $1.4 million of that total already was included in the budget approved by the board on June 27.
Board member Ce-Ce Gerlach made the first of several unsuccessful motions on the budget. She wanted a decision tabled for one week so the board would have more time to consider the revised proposal. Only Gerlach and Jackson voted for that motion.
“Tax bills have to go out as quickly as possible because of cash flow,” said the superintendent. Those bills originally were scheduled to be sent July 1.
Gerlach made that motion after Jackson complained that the board received the district’s proposed budget revisions only an hour-and-a-half before the meeting began.
Mayo explained the state did not publish official numbers “we could rely on” until Sunday and the administration’s proposal to revise the budget was developed on Monday.
Jackson supported tabling because “we don’t know what we’re talking about.”
But Armstrong said the school board has been working on the 2013-14 budget since last December and the administration had made many through presentations to the board.
When some people in the audience laughed at a comment made by Armstrong, he said: “The demeanor of the audience tonight has been lacking.” Someone snapped back: “So is yours.” Armstrong asked for some courtesy, saying: “We’re supposed to be professionals.”