The superintendent of Saucon Valley School District is optimistic it will avoid a tax increase for the sixth year in a row.
Saucon Valley has adopted zero-tax-increase budgets for the last five years, said Dr. Sandra Fellin, who believes it may be the only school district in Pennsylvania that has been so lucky.
And she stressed it has done that “without impacting our educational program or staff. We’ve been really, really fortunate. We’ve planned well. The administration and the board have worked together to really do a business approach in our budgets for the past five years.”
A proposed 2014-15 district budget totaling $41,686,654 was presented to the school board for the first time Tuesday night.
“At this time, we’re about $450,000 short to balance the budget,” David Bonenberger, the district’s business manager, told the board.
At the moment, balancing that budget would require a 1.55 percent tax increase, said Fellin.
Based on that projection, the school board passed a resolution that any tax increase in the proposed budget will not exceed the 2.1 percent index calculated by the state Department of Education.
If that 1.55 percent increase stands, the owner of a house assessed at $100,000 in the district will pay $81 more in the next school year, according to Fellin.
But she hopes the district will get that $450,004 from other funding sources and approve a balanced, no-property-tax-increase budget for district residents in Hellertown and Lower Saucon Township.
“We have the potential of bringing in a zero increase budget for six years,” said the superintendent. “I’m very optimistic.”
Fellin said the school district has financial resources that can be used to close that $450.000 gap, including its undesignated fund balance, which totals more than $3 million.
After the board meeting, Fellin said her recommendation will be to tap that fund balance to cover the $450,000 shortfall and avoid a tax increase.
“We will continue to adjust the budget,” Fellin told the board. “Remember, this is a starting point.”
The school board must adopt a final budget by the end of June. The superintendent anticipates it will begin working on the proposed budget in March.
The proposed budget includes purchasing an 84-passenger bus, which costs $118,000. Fellin indicated the district was going to get two buses in the current school year, but only got one, so it could balance the 2013-14 budget.
Fellin said five teachers will be retiring and the district is recommending two of them not be replaced – one for the middle school, one for the elementary school –and staff will be adjusted “internally to meet the needs.”
She said a full-time high school art teacher will be replaced, as will guidance and special education positions at the elementary school.
Bonenberger told the board he again is hearing nothing about increased state funding for education in the next school year, adding state support for special education has not increased for at least four years.
But he said the district’s contribution to the state pension program is increasing from nearly 17 percent to more than 21 percent. The state picks up half that increase, but Fellin said it still will cost Saucon Valley $448,628.50 more.
Bonenberger said the district will see a 25 percent increase in workman’s compensation insurance because of some high claims. He said liability and car insurance are increasing by 15 percent.
The business manager said funding for charter schools and cyber charter schools has to increase by nearly 17 percent, based on the increasing number of Saucon Valley students attending such schools.
He said the assessed value of real estate in the district has increased by only .35 percent, which means only $2,881 more for the district.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the school board approved a plan to replace two electronic scoreboards on its athletic fields and install a third at a field that doesn’t have one.
The board agreed to hire a transportation secretary, whose salary and benefits will total $44,517.
And the superintendent presented the board with a long list of capital improvement projects she hopes it will approve at its Jan. 28 meeting.