School districts look ahead to budgets for 2015-16

Only four months ago, local school districts were finalizing budgets for the 2014-15 school year.

Two now are getting a jump on the future.

At a joint school district gathering Wednesday night at Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science & Technology, Bellefonte and Penns Valley area school boards laid out their timelines for 2015-16 budget talks.

Penns Valley held a meeting, but Superintendent Brian Griffith said he advised board members that they need to consider the budget timeline when determining their board meeting dates for next year.

The Bellefonte board is in a similar situation.

The Bellefonte board will have a reorganization meeting next month to tweak the board’s meeting dates between January and June to accommodate budget discussions and deadlines.

Ken Bean, district director of fiscal affairs, said he expects the rest of the board meetings — until June — to focus on the 2015-16 budget.

Bean said that by Jan. 29, the board must pass a resolution that it will not raise taxes more than the index — 2.4 percent for next year — or vote to proceed with a preliminary budget.

If the board decides to go with the first option, then the budget process would “proceed to the normal May 2015 proposed final budget,” and then the June 2015 final budget vote, Bean said.

If the board votes to go with the second option, then it would have to approve a primary budget by Feb. 18.

In that case, the board would then need to advertise its intent to file for exceptions by Feb. 26, and file with the state Department of Education by March 15, Bean said.

“As we have done in the past several years, the board could decide to file for exceptions, but not use them,” Bean said. “Bellefonte never has used the exceptions even though we have been approved to use them if we so choose.”

Either way, the board’s goal is to have a final 2015-16 budget passed by June 23, Bean said.

The state budget will be announced the first Tuesday in March under governor-elect Tom Wolf. But that would just be the governor’s “proposed budget with final approval hopefully coming by the end of June 2015,” Bean said.

Board member Robert Lumley-Sapanski said he’s “hoping things will change” with education funding under Wolf.

The state education budget remained unchanged for the 2014-15 school year, while all Centre County school districts saw increased budgets.

Bald Eagle and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts have not publicly announced budget plans yet.

Randy Brown, business administrator for the State College Area School District, said the board would have its first budget discussions 7 p.m. Monday at its administrative offices on West Nittany Avenue.