West Perry is the latest local school district to face a budget deficit.
According to Superintendent Dr. Michael O’Brien, the district is coming up about $3.1 million short of its proposed $39 million budget for 2016-17. O’Brien says a proposed property tax increase will fill an $800,000 hole, but cutting the remaining $2.3 million could be painful.
“There’s only one way to make some of that ground up,” says O’Brien. “To use some of our fund balance, or to cut programs and staff.”
At this point, it will likely be a combination of both, but details are still being finalized. At a workshop meeting of the school board on April 27, members filled a white board full of possible cuts, including cutting back on elective educational offerings, reducing the number of foreign language offerings to federal minimums, and laying off between 20 and 25 district support staff and teachers. The district is also considering eliminating athletic programs, such as Cross Country, and cutting classes within its family and consumer sciences curriculum. The board was looking for areas where attrition could achieve needed cuts, such as not filling an expected vacancy in the library.
“We’re not going to make any good decisions in this. We’re here sorting out bad from worse,” says Charles Thieman, West Perry School Board President. “There’s about ten positions in the middle school that may be reduced, about three at the elementary, and seven at the high school. I know our staff is very concerned. We put a lot of value in all our staff members, and what they bring to the district. What we were talking about tonight was the reality of letting to have some of those folks know that next year, there may not be a place for them here.”
According to administrators, the district’s shrinking enrollment and stagnant tax base mean that fewer dollars are coming in locally and the state is funding less. According to O’Brien, the state contribution to basic education has grown by only $200,000 over the past seven years. Meanwhile, the cost of stand-mandated programs such as the Keystone Exams and cyber charter school fees have well exceeded that, as health care and pension costs have skyrocketed. The school district continues to wait for more than $600,000 in state PlanCon dollars to reimburse the cost of several eco-friendly facility upgrades made over the past few years.
“We don’t see a large revenue increase from year to year,” adds Thieman. “We don’t have a lot of growth in our area that leads to natural growth in property tax revenue.”
A proposed property tax increase to the maximum allowed by state law would result in an additional $65/year for a home with an estimated value of $100,000. Thieman says the district has the option of not cutting at all, but paying for the deficit by taking $2.3 million from district savings would deplete resources, risking a complete shutdown by the end of next year.
The West Perry School Board is scheduled to vote on the proposed 2016-17 budget on Monday, May 9 at 6PM.