Category: Armstrong School District
By Jonathan Weaver
Armstrong School District expenses continue to exceed revenue projections, but taxpayers will not pay more to make up the difference this year.
During a special board meeting last night, school board directors voted unanimously, 9-0, not to increase taxes.
School directors will fill the void through more than $2.68 million in the district fund balance.
The tax rate – established after last year’s tax increase – will remain at 58.2 mills for Armstrong taxpayers and 151.5 mills for those in Indiana County.
Before the final vote, Business Manager Sam Kirk gave school directors two budget scenarios: one with a one-mill tax increase and one without.
The one mill tax increase would have cost Armstrong County taxpayers about $27.15 more, or a monthly increase of about $2.25.
“I don’t believe in using the fund balance for reoccurring cost. When you’re using it day-in and day-out for salaries and to turn on the lights, eventually it’s going to be gone,” Kirk said.
Board Vice-President Chris Choncek and other board directors voiced why they did not support the mill tax increase.
“We’re so close that we need to have more discussions about cutting costs,” Choncek said. “We talk a lot about things we want to do here in the future – we really don’t know what the fund balance is going to be, the true savings from this new school, but I have a lot of confidence that there are a lot of underlying savings we’re going to see.”
Board Director Paul Lobby said there are so many unknown variables, but as a businessman, he said the school district has to work with the money they currently have.
“The purpose of the consolidation was to reduce costs, and I think we have an obligation to the taxpayers to adhere to that concept,” Lobby said. “To say we’re building this new school and now we’re going to raise taxes again, I think that’s poor judgment.”
School Board President Joseph Close and Board Director Larry Robb also were concerned due to not knowing the State budget or when ASD will receive PlanCon reimbursement.
“If those things come around, it would make it quite-a-bit easier for us, but right now, we don’t have any,” Close said.
“It’s a very difficult time – there are a lot of unknowns,” Robb added.
Board Director Stan Berdell also used his business knowledge to make his decision.
“We have no idea what they’re going to do – it’s going to be a battle in Harrisburg,” Berdell said. “I understand everyone’s concern moving down the road and (Kirk) made a very good point, but in my heart, I have to believe that we can make this work with no increase.”
Regardless, through the end of the month, expenses are expected to reach about $93.5 million. Compared to last fiscal year’s budget, salaries and wages decreased the most – by more than $2.1 million
“I know it (was) a tough decision. A couple years ago, you made the decision to consolidate the schools – which was not a popular decision. I think, though, if you would not have made that decision, imagine if you would have borrowed the $80 million to still have the schools in place that there are, I’m not sure where you’d be financially,” Kirk said. “At least we’re seeing some savings because of that decision you made.”
Since the 2005-06 school year, the fund balance has decreased about $1.7 million
West Shamokin Junior-Senior High School activity buses are not included in the budget – due to “very little” participation – and more financial savings could come after if a new copier agreement is signed in the next few months.
Choncek added that there were other budget discussions previously that highlighted possible cuts, and he wished those would have been finalized – such as the activity bus eliminations – at that time rather than “in the 11th hour.”
Kirk pledged to start the budget process a lot earlier this coming fiscal year and making a list of the top 10 items board directors can try to reduce.
“We, as a board and administration, have some tough decisions in the coming years,” Kirk said. “We’re going to have to really look at every line item and consider all the revenue sources.”
School directors are expected to meet again for one meeting the second week of July.