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WEST GOSHEN — It has seemed like a more arduous road than usual for the West Chester Area School District when figuring out the budget for the 2016-17 school year.
The guessing game of a state budget did no favors, but with it passed before the proposed final budget and allowing a month to fine tune more, the school board approved its final budget of $237.4 million Wednesday night.
The budget comes with a tax increase of 2.7 percent in Chester County and 5.8 percent in Delaware County, or roughly an increase of $97 for residents in Chester County, and $230 for those in Delaware County.
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The final tax increase dropped significantly from the preliminary and proposed budgets, which featured a 4.1-percent increase and 3-percent increase, respectively.
“I think it’s a balanced budget and I think it doesn’t significantly add a lot and maintains our programs and it keeps our students with programs we believe are critically important,” said Superintendent Jim Scanlon.
The budget passed with an 8-1 vote with Christopher Tabakin the lone dissenter.
“When I see things in documentation about nonessential purchases having been frozen in January and we have identified $576,000 as a result of that, those are the types of things that … I question if they’re nonessential, why don’t we do this overlook for a period of time to make up for some of the difference instead of tapping into exceptions?” he said. “I would like to see us be a little more aggressive in those areas.”
Some of the other members of the school board did not feel the same way, believing nonessential items doesn’t necessarily mean the district should not pay for them.
“As far as nonessential, you could put 35 kids in a classroom and you could get rid of art,” said school board member Robin Kaliner. “There are a lot of things that are nonessential to educating in terms of the bare bones of what the state requires. You can always cut stuff, but I think we’re at the point where we are still delivering a very high-quality product and putting out very well-prepared graduates without being extravagant.”
School board member Joyce Chester agreed with Kaliner’s view.
“I think you have to balance everything,” she said. “We have what the state gives us, but we have to do what we know is best for our district and our kids.”
The final budget increases by $11.7 million over the current one, but roughly 70 percent of that is due to the unfunded mandates, which includes state pensions, special education and charter schools, according to district officials. Of the $11.7 million increase, $8.5 million of that covers the mandates.
“The rest of the budget went up about $3.2 million,” Scanlon said. “That includes all the salary and benefit contracts, all of our transportation costs, all of our supply costs and all of our heating and fueling costs. Those were the things that we worked within that we had a lot of control over and that is way under Act 1 increase in terms of managing that.”
The budget also taps into the district’s fund balance, using $7.9 million, leaving roughly $15.1 million in an undesignated fund balance.
“I don’t think any of us want to see taxes raised, but we have a high-quality product,” said school board member Karen Herrmann. “We have an excellent school district and I do believe part of this is yes, we have to watch the money and we have to be fiscally responsible, but we also have to progress (and) we have to do what is best for our children. I think everyone has done everything they could to cut as much as we could. We’ve had a rough year with the non-budget and we need to move on and focus on why we are here.”