Penns Manor HS.jpg

Indiana Gazette stock photos. Penns Manor high school sign.

KENWOOD — Penns Manor Area School District’s board of directors is still mulling over a 2021-22 budget that could wind up with a tax increase within the maximum of 4.4 percent as set by the state’s Act 1.

That could raise taxes from 14.7288 mills, the rate approved for 2020-21, to 15.377 mills.

At the workshop to prepare an agenda for next week’s voting meeting, Business Manager Joshua Muscatello said it appeared the consensus was that there should not be a tax increase.

However, he cautioned that without $200,000 in federal funds plugged in, the district might be facing a $410,000 deficit — and the possibility that such deficits could be compounded in the years to come.

The federal funding was a one-time shot because of COVID-19-related stimulus funds.

The business manager said 20 percent of that money is required for remediation, for learning programs to close the gap in education, such as through an extended school year program.

However, unlike other districts that weren’t able to have in-person classes, Muscatello said, “since we’ve been open just about every day ... the rest of those federal funds will be used to offset existing expenditures.”

Board President John Hardesty Sr. said, “Personally, I would advocate that we consider opening our budget and propose a millage increase to meet the state mandated top of Act 1.”

Hardesty said he hated to say that, but since the only way a school district can raise revenue is with property taxes, he said an increase would be “the prudent thing to do.”

Hardesty also offered the option of a tax increase that covers half of the Act 1 maximum or 2.2 percent, to 15.053 mills, but believes the full Act 1 maximum is necessary.

“I respectfully disagree,” Director Ronald Larch said. “We got this additional money from the federal government. We do owe something to the taxpayers. It has been a rough year for everyone.”

Another school director believed the district was put on the spot after last month’s vote on a preliminary budget that held the line on taxes at 14.7288 mills.

“I wish it wouldn’t have been put out in the media that Penns Manor holds the line on taxes,” Vice President Jill Eckenrode said.

She was referring to the May 14 Indiana Gazette where the headline read, “Penns Manor proposes budget that holds the line on taxes.” That was the day after a tentative budget was approved.

“I just cringed when I saw that,” Eckenrode said. “I think we are kind of in a hard spot right now.”

Other matters on the agenda for Thursday’s 7 p.m. voting meeting include a five-year renewal of an agreement with Indiana University of Pennsylvania for offering educator and clinician preparation field experience, and a template that takes into consideration the uncertainty that may still exist coming out of the pandemic.

“We had to have a health and safety plan to operate this year,” Superintendent Daren K. Johnston said. “We will have to do that again.”

Johnston said the Pennsylvania Department of Education is hoping to get all state school districts to open five days a week.

Still, he said, the plan under consideration gives the district authority “to go remote if we have to,” and “if we need to close because we hit a certain situation, we will do that.”

Also on the agenda will be continuation of a dual-enrollment agreement for the coming academic year with Mount Aloysius College.

Johnston said the arrangements with Mount Aloysius and Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, the latter of which may be considered next month, resulted this year in three students receiving associate degrees at the same time they received diplomas from Penns Manor Area High School.