This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website and the Delaware County Daily Times‘ website.
WEST GOSHEN — The West Chester Area School District will see a tax increase of 1.9 percent after the school board approved Wednesday, with a 7-2 vote, the final budget for 2015-16 of $225.7 million.
The final number of $225,722,705, an increase of $6.5 million over 2014-15, is largely due to state mandated expenses.
“I certainly believe we can do a bit better,” said board member Vince Murphy. “We have a significant amount of money in our fund balance. I think we’re in a good position financially.”
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The district may have money in their fund balance, but many board members were against taking a large amount from it.
“I think the only recommendation that was made over the six months of the budgeting process was a recommendation to take more fund balance,” said board member Robin Kaliner. “Taking the $5.2 million this year and taking into account that we still are forecasting large shortfalls over the next couple of years with the pensions still increasing for the next several years and our fund balance going down, we’re going to be at a point where we don’t have a lot more that we can take from the fund balance. That money is not going to continually replenish itself. When it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Unfortunately for the district, the 2.97 percent increase in the budget was mostly out of their control.
State mandates of the state pension program (PSERS), special education and charter school funding have taken up a large chunk of the spending.
“There is a cost to mandates,” said Superintendent Jim Scanlon. “You look at this budget. The budget increase is about $6.5 million. Of that, $5.9 million are mandates. … Right out of the gate, we have to add that to our budget before we can do anything else.”
As Scanlon pointed out, about 7/10 of 1 percent increase is for the operating budget.
But board member Maureen Snook also was unhappy with the budget.
“One reason people move here is because of the low tax rate and our rate is slowly going up and up and up,” she said. “My only request is to stop increasing the spending and stop increasing taxes — live within our means like the rest of us who live and work here have to do also.”
Though the tax increase is up to 19.5779 mills, the district still continues to be one of the lowest in Chester County and has remained, over the last 10 years, in the bottom 20 percent of school districts in the state.
“We’re trying to look at operational ways to save additional dollars so that we can continue to fund the mandates that we are stuck with, as well as funding our programs that are so critically important to our students,” Scanlon said.
He noted that to help find ways to save, this year the district decided not to print out copies of the board agenda — which, like May’s meeting, was over 500 pages — and it has saved $60,000 in the copy center.
“We think the board acted appropriately in limiting the hurt to taxpayers by not drawing off a healthy reserve fund,” Kaliner said, quoting an editorial in the Daily Local News. “I think we did what we could and we worked hard to not take any exceptions.”