State College school board OKs proposed final budget

crosenblum@centredaily.comMay 5, 2014 

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    Also on Monday, State College school board members watched a 6-minute YouTube video produced by the district to gather support for the May 20 referendum on a new State College Area High School.

    The public will vote on whether to allow the district to borrow up to $85 million to build a new high school to replace the aging two buildings straddling Westerly Parkway. Board members and district officials said that the aging, flood-prone buildings are falling apart and hindering education.

    The video is online at http://www.scasd.org/Page/20967.

    They also said the current campus poses a safety concern because students have to cross Westerly throughout the day.

    At 7 p.m. Tuesday, the district will hold a public meeting about the State High project at Foxdale Village.

    Leading up to Election Day, student-led tours of the North and South buildings will take place on May 12 and May 17.

    On May 12, tours will be at 6:30, 6:45 and 7 p.m. On May 17, there will be tours at 10 and 10:15 a.m.

— The State College Area School District on Monday took another step toward arriving at its 2014-15 budget.

School board members unanimously approved a proposed final budget that includes a 1.95 percent tax increase. Next up will be a budget hearing at 7 p.m. June 2, with the final budget scheduled to be presented for adoption on June 9.

By state law, a budget must be passed by June 30.

The tax increase would be the district’s second-lowest since 1998-1999, and lower than the proposed increases for Bald Eagle Area, Bellefonte Area and Penns Valley school districts, board members heard during a review of the budget.

“We’ve moved through (the budget process) at a pretty good pace,” Superintendent Bob O’Donnell told board members. “We wanted to make sure we touched on some key information as we reflect on the process, and also include some analysis for you.”

The increase also would fall within the inflation-based 2.1 percent Act 1 index, the measure used to determine maximum tax increases for school districts.

Real estate taxes in the 2014-15 budget are projected to provide $82.9 million.

“Most of our revenue comes from local sources,” Assistant Business Administrator Donna Watson said while presenting the review.

The district maintains that the increase is necessary for more funding to the district’s employee portion of the state Public School Employees’ Retirement System, or PSERS; employee health insurance; and higher salaries in certain positions.

Under the budget, the millage rate would increase from 38.75 to 39.5056, translating into an additional $54 for the average residential homeowner in the district. But, according to the district, the 2014-15 rate still would be the lowest among county school districts.

The budget includes an increase of about $324,000 in the Unassigned General Fund balance, but even so, the fund accounts for 7.8 percent of operating expenses, within the allowed limit of 8 percent.

Salaries and benefits, including pensions, account for about 70 percent of the nearly $126 million budget.

“This budget reflects efforts by our board and administration to pursue sustainable long-range planning for the school district,” board Vice President Amber Concepcion said in a news release. “While ensuring academic needs in the classroom are our first priority, we continue to fund long-term capital needs and remain consistent with our multiyear plan to fund pension obligations.”

PSERS funding necessitated the single largest budget increase, at $2.7 million, because rates have increased from 5.64 percent of qualifying salary expense in 2010-11 to 21.4 percent for 2014-15.

But in the proposed budget, the district established a fund balance of about $600,000 to offset a portion of PSERS costs, starting with the 2014-15 budget year, and better prepare for expected pension escalations in the future.

“We’re building a ramp up to the cliff,” board member Jim Leous said, jokingly.

Full budget information is available at www.scasd.org/ page/23254.

Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter @CRosen blumNews.

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