After hearing one resident speak against a possible tax increase and one resident express support, the Elizabethtown school board approved a $62.76 million preliminary budget for the 2018-19 school year with a tax increase of more than 5 percent.
The vote on Tuesday, Feb. 13, was 6-2, with board members Michael Martin and Karen Sweigart voting no; board member Menno Riggleman was absent.
School districts were required by Feb. 14 to pass a preliminary budget or a resolution that the district will not exceed the state Act 1 index, which limits tax increases. Elizabethtown’s Act 1 index for 2018-19 is 3.2 percent. The district is seeking exceptions for special education and pension costs that would allow for a 5.73-percent increase.
However, the budget numbers are not yet finalized. Business manager George Longride said that adjustments will be made as costs come in.
“I guarantee you these numbers will change,” Longridge said.
Board president Terry Seiders and member Craig Hummer (speaking via conference call) reiterated that exceptions give the board flexibility and the goal remains to keep any increase at or below the index.
A finance committee meeting to review budget numbers will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27, just before the 6 p.m. board meeting. Both are open to the public. A final budget will be voted on at the June 12 meeting.
Martin said the district has a “budget crisis,” with a $2.2 million deficit if there is no tax increase at all. Longridge had noted there would be a $175,000 surplus with the budget as is.
District resident Dennis Adair told the board he is “concerned at the pace of the Elizabethtown tax increase in recent years and consider that pace unsustainable.” He compared the district’s increases of at least 4 percent during the past few years to other Lancaster County districts that have had increases of 1 to 2.5 percent.
“It’s not a picture of fiscal responsibility to the taxpayer,” he said.
Adair, himself a former Lower Dauphin school board member, said he understands the pressures of unfunded and underfunded mandates. But he urged the board to evaluate expenses and make choices to align expenses with revenues.
Resident Jennifer Garver, who has two children in district schools, said she supports a tax increase and does not want programs, such as art and music, to be cut.
“Supporting education is the way to a better society in the end,” Garver said.
Garver also has been impressed with increases in the district’s performance scores in recent years.
“If you don’t have a good school system, and you’re not putting money into it, families like myself will leave,” she added.
The board also discussed passing a resolution opposing state Senate Bill 2, which would provide education saving account vouchers for students to use for private schools.
The Pennsylvania School Boards Association has estimated the bill would siphon $500 million from public education. Superintendent Michele Balliet learned at a meeting of school business officials that the loss to public schools could be as high as $1.7 billion.
Board members will consider the resolution at the meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 27.
Also on Feb. 27, the board will consider a proposed 2018-19 calendar, with school starting on Aug. 27 and ending May 31. With 176 instead of 180 days, it still meets instructional requirements and provides financial savings, Balliet said.