Centre County school budgets expected to be finalized this week

Taxpayers around Centre County should know by the end of the week whether they’ll have to dig a little deeper into their pockets in the coming year for school taxes.

School boards in Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola are all set to vote on final 2013-14 budgets in the coming week, and property tax increases look likely in at least two of the communities.

Two other school districts in Centre County — State College and Bald Eagle Area — have already passed along tax increases.

State College Area school board voted earlier this month to approve a $119 million budget that includes a 2.7 percent real estate tax increase. The hike pushes the district’s millage rate to 38.75 mills and amounts to a $73 annual increase for the average homeowner.

Bald Eagle Area school directors gave final approval to a 2 mill tax increase in May, ahead of final budget discussions for the other local districts

District Business Manager John Gribble said the budget calls for a 2 mill tax increase, taking the overall millage rate from 48.55 in 2012-13 to 50.55 in in 2013-14.

The $27.9 million spending plan represents a 3 percent increase over last year’s budget.

Gribble said that BEA, like districts across the county and state, saw a significant increase in the amount it must contribute to teachers’ retirement plans. He said the figure increased 16 percent in the district.

BEA officials were able to balance the budget without dipping into reserve funds. The budget, however, does eliminate at least three positions of employees who had retired or resigned during the year.

Bellefonte Area school board is scheduled to give final approval to the district’s budget at a meeting Tuesday. Officials said that spending plan carries a 1.01 mill tax increase, which represents a $51.92 increase for the average homeowner.

Kenneth Bean, director of fiscal affairs for the district, said earlier this month that the budget includes increases of $500,000 for retirement costs and $600,000 for health insurance increases for teachers.

Penns Valley officials estimate the district will spend an additional $637,075 to cover increases in retirement and medical insurance contributions.

The school board there voted last month on a proposed final budget that carries an tax increase of 1.62 mills. The board is expected to vote on a final budget at a meeting Wednesday.

District officials said they planned to spend June looking for ways to close a $170,000 shortfall in the budget while trying to shrink or eliminate a tax increase. If the increase from the proposed final budget stands, the average homeowner will pay $65.80 more per year in property taxes.

“It’s real simple math,” Superintendent Brian Griffth said at the time. “With PSERS (retirement contributions) and health care nearly $700,000, even if we increase taxes as much as we can, we can’t make up the difference. That means we have to trim, and we’ll do that. We’re in this with the rest of the state.”

Philipsburg-Osceola school board heard earlier this month a proposed final spending plan that would raise taxes slightly, about $93 per year for the average homeowner in Centre County and about $63 in Clearfield County.

Some board members, however, voiced opposition of the increase. New Superintendent Gregg Paladina said he would investigate whether further cuts could be made. The board there will meet Thursday.