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School board reviews initial ‘rough cut’ budget

There’s still seven months before it needs to be adopted, but the Warren County School District is thinking about its 2024-25 budget.

During Monday’s meeting of the board of school directors finance committee, administration presented an initial “rough cut” budget to provide a starting point for crafting a fiscal plan to be adopted in June.

The “rough cut” is a very preliminary outline. Final results of the most recent district audit are not yet completed. Likewise, due to its own delays in passing and implementing a budget, the state has not yet finalized what its allocation for funding school districts will be. As a result, the document relies heavily on estimates and assumptions of maintenance of existing funding levels. Administration cautioned the board there would be “many more iterations” of the budget before final passage.

Presenting a “rough cut” this early in the process serves a number of purposes. It provides a starting point for the board and administration to at least begin to plan for the coming fiscal year. It also provides a reference for the board as it decides whether to increase taxes and by how much.

In Pennsylvania, a statewide index determines how much school districts can raise taxes without a ballot referendum. This year, the threshold is 7.7%,, or 4.2599 mills for the Warren County School District. Districts must either prepare a proposed preliminary budget for public inspection by Jan.4 or pass a resolution stating they will not raise taxes above the statewide index level.

Superintendent Amy Stewart noted that she does not believe the board has ever exceeded the index during her tenure, which began in 2016.

The “rough cut” of the coming year’s budget is smaller than the current year’s. This is largely due to the expiration of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund grant monies totaling nearly $5 million. In total, the just over $88 million in revenue in the “rough cut” budget as it stands is 5.62% lower than the $93.3 million in the current year. Meanwhile, after removing costs funded through ESSER grant monies, total costs are down 2.58%, from $94.2 million to $96.7 million.

Expense increases were calculated using an estimate of 3%.

When adjusted for estimated burn rate, the percentage of money available actually being expended in a given period – 99.09 percent in the “rough cut” budget, expenses drop to $93.4 million. The burn rate estimate was calculated using actual 2022-23 fiscal year figures for which audit results are not yet available.

In total, this would leave a deficit of just more than $5.3 million.

The “rough cut” shows estimates through the 2027-28 fiscal year with a continuing trend of rising expenses outpacing relatively minor revenue increases and a resultant growth of deficits.

A resolution not to exceed the statewide index for property tax increases was moved to the next full meeting of the board for consideration.

TIMELINE

January: Proposed preliminary budget made available for public inspection or resolution not to exceed state index for property taxes passed.

February-April: Administration and district board finance committee conduct budget workshops

April: Superintendent prepares and presents proposed budget to finance committee based on workshop results.

May: Finance committee presents proposed budget for full board approval.

June: WCSD board adopts budget for upcoming fiscal year.

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