Southeastern PA

Cost reductions identified to help close Quakertown Community School District deficit

QUAKERTOWN, Pa. - After agreeing to a series of cost reductions recommended by the administration Thursday night, the Quakertown School Board will receive a proposed budget that helps close a $4.7 budget shortfall for the 2017-18 school year.

Nancianne Edwards, assistant superintendent, presented a series of recommended cuts that totaled $1.2 million by eliminating the cyber program, an academic support program and a district level administrative position and moving forward with middle and elementary school consolidations. Superintendent William Harner and school board President Paul Stepanoff were absent.

Since the board must act on the proposed preliminary budget at its April 27 meeting, 30 days before the budget comes up for a final vote, the administration’s cuts for the 2017-18 budget did not include the $1 million in savings that would be realized by the closing of Milford Middle School.

A decision on Milford Middle School will not be made until July at the earliest. The school’s fate was the central topic at a hearing that drew a packed house Tuesday night.

Closing Milford, a school in need of maintenance, had been a key part of a series of options being recommended by the administration to improve the district’s financial health. Most the people who spoke Tuesday night called on the board to hold off on deciding on Milford for at least a year to explore more options.

After Edwards’ presentation on the proposed reductions, board members discussed each recommendation and reached a consensus to direct the administration to cut the administrative position, saving $148,807, and phase one of the elementary school consolidation, saving $238,500.

The board supported keeping the cyber program, $482,700, and the “Team Time” middle school program, a school period where teachers work with students needing extra help, which costs $413,000 a year.

The rest of the budget shortfall will be closed by taking $4.2 million from the district’s $14 million reserve. Edwards cautioned that repeatedly turning to the district’s saving is a poor long-term financial strategy, noting that a depleted fund balance would affect the districts bond rating.

She said the administration was not recommending anything else and was not planning to cut core programs to close the budget gap. The district has held salaries fairly level in recent years, she said, but mandated contributions to the state’s Public School Employees’ Retirement System, or PSERS, has grown. Quakertown Community School District is facing a $12.5 million contribution this year

Board Vice President Charles Shermer said Quakertown has been vocal about the rising costs of PSERS for the past three years, describing the program as out of control.

School board member Stephen Ripper agreed. “PSERS is bankrupting the state,” he said. “We’re looking at something that’s catastrophic.”

The school board has declined to use exceptions to raise taxes higher than the ceiling allowed under Act I and restructure the district’s debt.

Expenditures for next year’s budget are projected to be $109,409,164 million; revenues are projected to be $103,532,677 million.

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