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WESTTOWN — The West Chester Area School District’s school board approved the 2015-16 proposed final budget totaling $225.6 million, which comes with a 1.9 percent tax increase.
The budget, approved by a 5-2 majority Monday night, is seeing an increase of $6.4 million over last year due primarily to mandated expenses the district has no control over.
“While our expenses are going up $8.8 million, about 80 percent of that is beyond our control, including PSERS, charter tuitions, special ed, benefits and salaries that have already been contracted,” said board member Robin Kaliner.
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Superintendent Jim Scanlon expanded upon the $8.8 million increase.
“The overall expenses of the budget are going up 2.9 percent of the entire budget,” he said. “Of the $8 million increase, $3.9 million of that is going to pay for the mandated pension. $1 million is going toward the increased charter school tuition — also state mandated. Then special education costs, which is a federal mandate, continues to rise. Of the increase, $5.9 million is those three items, all mandated. The rest of the operating budget — salaries, benefits, cost of fuel, cost of materials — is $2.1 million. That is less than 1 percent increase.”
Though the budget dropped over $500,000 from the preliminary budget set forth in February of $226.2 million and the tax increase went from 3 percent down to 1.9 percent, a couple members of the board were still not happy with the final numbers.
“I know the exceptions were taken so that up to 3.4 percent tax increase could be voted on and it was brought down to 1.9 percent,” said Maureen Snook. “I laud everyone for the effort to reduce that. But just imagine having the majority of the board directed a 1.9 percent tax increase, we might even have been looking at more of a .5 percent tax increase.”
The proposed final budget also will be using $5.1 million from the reserve fund balance, an amount of almost $700,000 more than the $4.4 million originally in the preliminary budget.
But board member Vince Murphy wants to use more of the reserve balance to reduce the tax increase.
“I would recommend that we take additional advantage of the large amount of cash available in our reserve fund,” he said. “Rather than raise taxes, I believe we could safely balance our budget using additional $2.8 million out of our reserve fund. I believe we have the money and that we don’t need to raise our taxes.”
However, Scanlon is looking toward the 2016-17 budget, which will have another pension increase.
“We still have another big year of pension spike increase for next year,” he said. “Twenty-five percent is the rate this year and 25.8 percent to 30 percent next year. It continues to go up. We have really worked hard with the board and the community the past several years to build up our fund balances to use those wisely. I think this budget does that.”
Board member Sue Tiernan was on board with the budget, citing the amount of time and work which has gone into it.
“With multiple people looking at multiple factors and finally getting the budget to the point that we are not exceeding the 1.9 index, which was set by the state (and) is a modest amount, we are still providing outstanding, excellent education for every student in our district,” she said. “This process of getting to this point did not come easily. It did not come without making adjustments and doing what we needed to do to reach this very evening.”
Ricky Swalm, president of the board, also voted in favor of the budget.
“The board has been working very hard to meet the needs of our students in an era of unfunded mandates,” he said in a district press release. “We have to balance those needs with reasonable ways to secure the necessary funding for our programs. I believe this budget has accomplished that.”
The board will vote to adopt the 2015-16 final budget at its next meeting May 27.