ASD Tax Increases Needed to Balance Budget

Director of Business Affairs John Zenone points out proposed budget figures to Armstrong School District board directors during last night’s open caucus session. Despite many cutbacks and money transfers, Zenone proposed Armstrong County taxes rise for a second straight year.

by Jonathan Weaver

Armstrong School District taxpayers may be taking another hit to their wallet this fiscal year.

During a proposed final budget presentation made by Director of Business Affairs John Zenone at last night’s open caucus session, Zenone included a 2.33-mill increase for Armstrong County taxpayers.

The millage increase would balance a budget that is expected to include $97.3 million in expenses and only realize $92.3 million in revenue. Armstrong taxpayers currently pay more than 56 mills of taxes and the increase would take that to nearly 59 mills.

While Armstrong school taxes would increase, Indiana County residents would actually pay five mills less under the proposed final budget.

Zenone also hinted at the tax increase during his preliminary budget presentation in February, but said teachers and administrators have been doing their part to try and curb the extra taxpayer expense.

“Throughout the year, I’ve seen that the administrators have been working a little tighter.” Zenone said.

A total of 38 retirements and resignations are also to occur to save money in salary and benefit expenses.

During the past few years, administrators have also cut back $326,000 in technology purchases, $316,000 in text books purchases and $184,000 in transportation expense, among other things, for a total of $1.1 million. More transportation savings are expected next school year after an agreement with ARIN IU 28.

“We’re working creatively through the grants and are not spending money in the other funds,” Zenone said.

Textbook purchases for secondary business and music departments will be through the Accountability Block Grants to help strengthen high school curriculum, Coordinator of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, Federal Programs, and Accountability Dr. Shauna Braun-Zukowski said.

Administrators also transferred $1.8 million from the Capital Projects fund and $275,000 from the Food Service fund, “reducing the loss” by more than $2 million for a “one-time jolt” of revenue.

Director of Food and Nutrition Services LuAnn Fee said the $275,000 will not impact the $3 million food budget.

“The actual food service budget is $3 million, but we have a fund reserve, and our fund reserve is right around $700,000 right now – that’s where they’re taking the money from,” Fee said. “How we’ve been able to get that fund reserve over the years is of course we’ve been watching our budget, but we wanted enough of a reserve to pay our bills to cover months and we were able to do that. The cafeteria runs at a break-even budget.”

Zenone predicted Food Service will not be impacted again next year.

“This is the first time we’ve asked them to contribute any money, and I don’t see us asking that in the near future,” Zenone said.“When we consolidate the buildings in year `15-`16, it is estimated we could have a $2.8 million in savings. That’s the revenue we need to make up this shortfall.”

Still, the District needs to make up $4.2 million in expense, largely due to retirement expense, health insurance costs and no increase in basic educational subsidy.

“There are always challenges with the Act 1 index. If you’re falling behind between revenue and expenses, you’re limited to what you can increase taxes by,” Zenone said.

School Superintendent Stan Chapp also said State lawmakers could help by approving reimbursement from several district building projects – which could aid an estimated $770,000.

“There are several school districts across the state that are counting on that in their budget to make their budgets work, and they’re not getting it. We have to make up that shortfall as long as it goes,” Chapp said. “All those are sitting out there right now.”
About 65 percent of the budgeted expenses go toward salaries and benefits.

The proposed budget has actually decreased more than $927,000 compared to the 2013-14 fiscal year budget, and will be a business matter discussion during Monday’s regular meeting at West Hills Intermediate.

The final budget will be reviewed by board directors in June.