Responding to claims that school districts are raising taxes instead of dipping into healthy fund balances, Parkland Superintendent Richard Sniscak said since 2010, the district has used about $15 million from its fund balance to fill budget gaps.
Parkland School Board expects to pass its 2012-2013 budget on June 19 using another $3.3 million from the fund balance to plug the budget hole, according to John Vignone, Parkland director of business administration. Last month, the district predicted it would need to use $3.4 million but it expects to save about $55,000 on insurance and is counting on some additional state funding if the Legislature restores some of the Accountability Block Grant for schools.
The issue arises because Gov. Tom Corbett has claimed many school districts are squirreling away large budget reserves while raising property taxes and blaming his administration for funding cuts.
"These funds are intended for rainy days. It's raining," Tim Eller, a spokesman for the Department of Education, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Instead of demanding more from local taxpayers, they should be using their savings accounts to reduce the burden on taxpayers."
Sniscak and Vignone said Parkland has had to dip into its fund balance for three years, including using $8.5 million to balance last year’s budget. Sniscak estimated that by fall, the district will have roughly $14 million in its fund balance but much of that money is earmarked for “unfunded liabilities.”
Most school districts, including Parkland, are trying to put aside money for the whopping state public school employee pension costs they expect to pay over the next few years.
Like most school districts, Parkland is struggling with millions of dollars in lost revenue – from lower interest earnings, reduced property assessments and federal subsidies. Meanwhile, it faces rising costs in special education and pension costs and funding from the state has not kept up with the increases.
The district can’t afford to keep using its fund balance to pay for ongoing expenses, Sniscak said.
“That’s one-time revenue,” he said. “We can’t climb that mountain continuously.”