In the face of a budget deficit that reaches as high as $4,798,676, the Warren County School District board of directors elected to raise taxes in multiple places during the May meeting held on Monday at the Warren County Career Center.
The board approved a tax increase of 1.2741 mills, in line with the allowable state index, that will generate approximately $519,000. The board also approved a referendum tax exception of 1.1249 mills, approximately $459,000, that will allow the district to generate revenue that will cover most of the mandated increase to the state retirement fund, PSERS.
In doing so, a final proposed budget was approved totalling $67,693,095. The district will utilize $251,285 in fund balance to balance the budget.
The board debated a host of potential spending cuts, settling on a menu that leaves district curricular programming largely intact. Indicating that the board exhibited no appetite to undertake significant cuts to programming, Zariczny said that "you only have one way to gain revenue. If we don't accept it this year, PSERS and (the) index won't allow us to make up for what we didn't do this year." She argued that the board should implement both forms of taxation to "generate the revenue that we so desperately need."
"An opportunity for revenue lost is lost and is compounded in a subsequent year," Board member Jack Werner said. "It's a revenue issue more than a reduction issue."
Board President Arthur Stewart argued for just the PSERS exception, expressing optimism to "hold open the possibility that additional revenues will come open." He said the district's building projects, or an increase in state funding, are a couple of the variables that would permit the district to make up the revenue lost next year. "I think I could still say we are being responsible if we left off the index this year and left it to next," he contended. "I can see the possibility of $700,000 in cuts or some of the federal money that has been cut (returning)."
Werner said that if such an opportunity exists next year, the district would still be in a position to "adjust our revenue stream accordingly."
Board member Mike Zamborik said that "what we're doing here (in terms of raising taxes), (we are) going to thank ourselves for this time next year."
Modifying the middle level program and merging Allegheny Valley and Sheffield Elementary schools were two of the most high-profile cuts included in the budget proposal, which will be advertised for a period of public inspection in the coming days.
Acting Superintendent Amy Stewart said the board reviewed "probably half a dozen ways" that the middle level program could be modified to achieve the proposed savings, five teachers for a total savings of approximately $250,000.
"We're going to have to sit down and weigh what we want to have in the program," Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Gary Weber said. "I think there are things we can keep in the middle level program. Somebody loses. I don't know where that's going to land."
He explained that specials, music and art, are already down 36 percent which "leaves you with advisory time, exploratory time (and) coverages that specials are making" as things on the short list for potential reduction, with the goal of "trying to find time that isn't instructional time to pull back. If we have to take something, it's going to be curricular in nature"
Administration is also prepared to make a recommendation that Allegheny Valley and Sheffield be merged at Allegheny Valley, potentially with the Learning Enrichment Center as well. Amy Stewart said that administration has asked "will those buildings go together? They really will," she said. While she acknowledged that she has received some "push back" regarding moving the LEC to AVES, she said that "we could make that happen from a logistics standpoint and programs would stay intact. There's a lot of room at AVES."
Mike Kiehl, district transportation manager, said two buses that previously did not go to AVES will have to have their route adjusted while another will see a reduction in miles by not traveling to Sheffield Elementary. He estimated that the merger, expected to bring a $200,000 savings, could cost the district an additional $5,000 from a transportation perspective.
The district will be required to have a final budget in place by July 1, the start of the 2013-2014 fiscal year.