4.5 percent school tax considered

Staff levels will stay the same, but officials say cost of living is driving up costs


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Photos



  • School board and adminstrators talk salaries and benefits at their budget workshop on May 7. (Photo by Anya Tikka)




  • Superintendent John Bell presents the numbers. (Photo by Anya Tikka)



By the numbers

Salaries as percentage of the budget — 48 percent
Benefits as percentage of the budget — 29 percent
Proposed salary increase — $714,000
Percentage of state reimbursement for benefits — 55 percent
Cost of benefits before reimbursement — $1.625 million
Cost of benefits after reimbursement — $782,000
Percentage increase in health insurance — 2 percent (approximate)
Cost of health insurance increase — $172,000
Total percentage of property tax increase — 4.5 percent
Cost of each 1 percent in tax increase — $415,000
Total cost of budget increase — $1.668 million

By Anya Tikka
— School budget talks so far anticipate no significant changes to staff levels. But Delaware Valley's newly proposed budget still includes a 4.5 percent school tax increase, the maximum allowed by the state education department.

The increase is being driven by a hike in the cost of living — nearly 15 percent — as determined by the Social Security Administration, school administrators and board members said at their May 7 meeting.

They said that when it comes to school budgets, it's mostly about salaries.

“Tonight’s meeting is really about the 76.5 percent in the budget that we have not covered, and that has to do with salaries and benefits," said Jack Fisher, chair of the Budget, Finance and Audit Committee. "That’s the major portion of budget.”

Fisher said he supported the maximum increase as the best way both to balance the budget and keep student programs.

Superintendent John Bell said the only staff change proposed for 2014-15 is increasing the half-time technology teacher to full-time. This will help meet the needs of the district's growing cyber academy, he said.

Bell and Secretary William Hessling gave a detailed Power Point presentation on the salaries and benefits portion of the draft budget. Afterward, board members considered how it might be made leaner. They asked about a smaller increase of 2.8 percent, or something between that figure and the 4.5 percent proposed in the budget. But Hessling said a smaller increase will not allow the district to balance the budget.

“If tax revenue were up 2.8 percent, we'd still have a deficit," Hessling said.

During the same years-long period that the cost of living went up by 14.9 percent, Hessling said, “we would have needed 26.9 percent from raised taxes, but we only raised 4.29 percent. We are trying to keep lid on expenses.”

Bell said that every one percentage point in the tax increase equals about $415,000, plus or minus.

"This is the magic number to play around," he said. "You have to either find revenue by that number or decrease costs.”

There was general agreement about two possible cuts: $169,000 for the marching band, and $250,000 for technology equipment. But the feeling was that even those possibilities were not ideal.

“The hardest thing we have to do is expulsions, and every time we do that, I ask, 'Was that kid involved in drugs?'" Fisher said. "That’s why I want to have a marching band, to involve another 80 to 90 kids in it, to be involved in something that may help them.”

Pam Lufty, the school board chair, said she too would like to keep the marching band, adding: "But I would look at it differently — reducing from the $250,000 for technology."

Board member Jack O'Leary suggested the marching band be started "on a less grandiose scale."

"Cut back, you would get a lot of students, parents, and teachers involved," he said.

The school board will vote on the final budget, which may reflect changes from the draft budget, on May 15, as this paper goes to press. The final budget will be available after the school board meeting.

A 30-day period of public follows, leading up to the final vote on June 18.

Lufty thanked Fisher for his work on the budget, and for regularly updating board members, even if they missed a meeting. She also thanked the "obvious cooperation of the administration."

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