Elizabethtown’s school board plans to consider a tax increase of 4.75 percent at its board meeting on Tuesday, May 16.
Board members took no vote on the proposal at their workshop meeting on Tuesday, May 9, but reached a consensus that they need to take action to address the serious financial problems the school district faces. Under state law, the school district could raise taxes by as much as 6.45 percent, but nobody at the meeting proposed raising taxes as much as the law allows.
No board member expressed enthusiasm for the 4.75 percent increase, but the only objection was raised by Ronald T. Grenko, who was recently appointed to the board to fill a vacancy until a permanent board member is elected in November.
“I have trouble with that, but I’m too tired to argue at this point,” Grenko said shortly after 9 p.m., when the meeting had been in progress for a little over three hours.
Superintendent Michele Balliet said although every school district in Pennsylvania has financial problems due to unfunded state mandates, Elizabethtown’s are among the worst in Lancaster County. She said she had just learned shortly before the meeting started that one mill of property tax in the Elizabethtown Area School District generates about $1.63 million in revenue, which is the fifth-lowest in Lancaster County. The school district with the most revenue per mill of property tax gets $3.69 million, she said; there are seven school districts that get at least $2 million per mill.
Also, 15.46 percent of properties in the Elizabethtown Area School District are tax-exempt, such as real estate owned by nonprofit organizations. Only Lancaster City has a higher percentage of tax-exempt properties, Balliet said.
Business Manager George Longridge emphasized that expenses come up that are beyond the administration’s ability to control. For example, he said a student with multiple disabilities enrolled earlier that day and that student will cost more than $50,000 a year to educate.
“We have no control over this. … It’s not something we can cut; it’s not something we have a lot of discretion over,” Longridge said.
Balliet and Longridge identified $258,962 in budget cuts that have been identified since the last board meeting, including saving about $100,000 by scaling back on online learning at the high school. Balliet emphasized that the plan was just to scale the program back, not to eliminate it.
Balliet said the budget must be passed by June 30 and some cuts will be painful.
“The rubber band is stretched and pretty soon it’s going to snap,” Balliet said. She said Elizabethtown Area High School has the lowest parking fees in the county and the district may have to consider raising that fee as well as admission fees to theatrical productions.
“At some point we might not be able to be everything to everyone at all times,” Balliet said.
But she emphasized that even if the state does not, the school district must pass a balanced budget by June 30.
“We have not cut teachers. And we have not cut programs. And I’m going to use the three-letter word: yet,” Balliet said.