Parkland Approves Preliminary Budget With Tax Hike
Parkland Superintendent says the final budget, to be approved in June, will possibly be less than the 2011-2012 budget.
The Parkland School Board approved a $138 million preliminary budget Tuesday night for the 2012-2013 school year that would require a 4.96 percent tax increase.
However, school officials fully expect the tax increase to be reduced by June, when a final budget must be adopted.
Superintendent Richard Sniscak said, “It is very possible that our budget for next year will be less than our current budget in order to stay within a 3.83 percent tax increase.”
The preliminary budget represents an increase of .19 percent over last year’s budget. The district’s millage would increase 1.97 mills, from 39.73 mills to 41.70 mills.
Parkland is struggling with the fact that interest rates are at historic lows, new construction is sluggish and commercial property owners continue to appeal their assessments, resulting in lower tax contributions to the district.
“Any assessment growth we have has been offset by appeals,” Director of Business Administration John Vignone told the school board.
School board member David Kennedy said it is “virtually impossible” to increase revenues, adding, “It’s gut-wrenching to look at budgets and see what we have to do.”
Parkland officials are considering a number of ways to balance the budget for 2012-2013, including a planned wage freeze for teachers. Administrators took a wage freeze in the 2011-2012 school year that resulted in a savings of $250,000, according to a prepared statement.
Teacher contract negotiations were not mentioned at the meeting. However, the Parkland Teachers Association tentatively has reached an agreement with the Parkland School District administration for a two-year contract, a shorter period than the current five-year contract because economic uncertainties that make forecasting difficult.
The teachers union won’t vote on the new contract until Feb. 21.
Also, more than 30 teachers and staff have announced retirements. Officials must assess which positions will need to be filled and which will be eliminated.
District officials also are considering: personnel reductions, elimination of the Blake Space Shuttle project, summer school tuition increases coupled with more online instruction, library book purchase reductions, less professional development opportunities for staff, and fewer bus transportation runs.
In addition, officials will enact a spending freeze on Feb. 1 and consider cuts in athletics, transportation, food services, equipment and supplies, according to a prepared release.
The school board approved permission for Parkland to file for “exceptions” designed by the state to help districts pay for costs outside of their control. If approved, exceptions would allow Parkland to raise taxes above the state-mandated Act 1 index of 1.7 percent.
Parkland plans to file for exceptions related to escalating special education costs and fixed distributions to the Pennsylvania State Employee Retirement System. Both are mandated by the state.
With approval of the exceptions, district officials estimate they can raise taxes up to about 3.83 percent with school board approval in June.
Parkland raised taxes 3.8 percent for the 2011-2012 school year after eliminating 60 positions and freezing the administrators’ pay. The elimination of 60 positions saved the district $2.6 million, according to Sniscak.
Among other savings cited by Sniscak: A $400,000 petroleum savings achieved in recent years after Parkland partnered with the Whitehall-Coplay School District to purchase petroleum; a $914,400 reduction in electric utility costs realized in 2010 and 2011 due to purchasing electricity in a competitive manner.
Also, Sniscak said, Parkland realized $1.2 million in savings in September 2011 when the district did a traditional bond refinancing. The district plans to save another $350,000 with a similar measure in February.
The Parkland School Board is scheduled to adopt its proposed final budget for 2012-2013 on May 15. The board will adopt its final budget on June 19.