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ARMSTRONG: School board grapples with spike in expenditures

by HEATHER ROTH on May 29, 2013 10:49 AM

FORD CITY — The proposed final budget accepted Tuesday night at a special meeting of the Armstrong School District Board of School Directors calls for a slight tax increase and dips significantly into its fund balance.

The $97.5 million budget is an increase of $11.4 million — more than 11 percent — over last year, though a little more than $5 million of that is an accounting change. The budget includes a tax increase up to the adjusted index, or the amount a school district can raise taxes legally without going to taxpayers through a referendum: 1.25 mills (about $33 for the average homeowner) in Armstrong County and 6 mills ($89.40) in Indiana County.

The budget does not reflect the referendum exception for the PSERS contributions received by the district, which would allow the district to raise taxes an additional 1.12 mills in Armstrong County and 4.58 mills in Indiana County.

The board did not discuss whether they would take advantage of the exception.

The proposed final budget shows $97,500,338 in expenses and $92,530,002 in revenues; the $4.97 million difference would be made up from the fund balance, leaving the district with about $2.06 million in reserve at the end of next school year.

The proposed budget is larger than the current year’s due mostly to an accounting change and to increases in health insurance and PSERS contributions.

John Zenone, director of business affairs, explained that previously the debt service payments on roughly $80 million bond had been made out of a capital projects account rather than the general fund. Arguing that it is better to keep all the district’s obligations together in one account for simplicity and transparency, Zenone said he was keeping everything in the general account. That reflects as a $5 million increase to the coming year’s general fund budget, he said.

Also contributing to expenses this year is an increase of nearly $2.3 million for PSERS, $594,468 for health insurance, $269,267 for social security payments, $297,141 for tuition to vocational-technical schools, $391,389 for books and periodicals, and $2.3 million for charter school tuition.

The charter school tuition increase is still accounting for a potential charter school in Elderton. The board rejected an application to found Everlasting Elderton Charter School last March, but the charter’s proponents had 60 days in which to appeal.

Superintendent Stanley Chapp said the 60 days were over on May 20 and that he had not received notice of an appeal, but that he was waiting to be absolutely sure that nothing has been filed in Armstrong County courts before removing the money from the budget.

The school district will vote on a final budget in June.

In other business, the board decided to delay putting in a paved parking space for administration staff at West Hills Primary School. The administration is moving to West Hills and the current administration building is slated to be sold to Sheetz Corp. for $412,000; but there is not sufficient parking at the school for all administration staff.

With the costs of remodeling a portion of the school to serve as administration offices approaching the $3 million budgeted for the project, Board President Joe Close argued they should wait to pave a parking lot until they were sure what monies were available.

He also argued that more bidders might be interested in the project later in the summer. Two companies bid on it.

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