Spring-Ford School Board finalizes budget with 1.96 percent increase

ROYERSFORD — The Spring-Ford Area School Board approved a budget for 2013-14 which carries a 1.96 percent tax hike, with one board member taking Monday night’s vote as an opportunity to make a statement against state legislators.

“It’s gotten to the point where I can’t support this budget this year because it’s not driven by this district, it’s not driven by this board and it’s not driven by this administration,” said Board President Tom DiBello at Monday’s board meeting. “It’s driven by the state and they’re not taking responsibility for it and I’m done taking responsibility for that.”

The school board approved the budget by a vote of 7-1, with DiBello dissenting and Edward Dressler absent.

“At some point, districts are going to have to stand up and take a position,” DiBello said, citing a lack of property tax or pension reform, among other state-level issues.

Under the finalized $131,525,858 budget, property owners in the district will see rates increase from 24.769 to 25.254 mills, constituting a $48.50 yearly increase for properties assessed at $100,000.

The 1.96 percent increase is a hundredth of a percentage point below last year’s hike, 1.97 percent.

Pennsylvania’s Act 1 index restricts school districts’ tax increases without exceptions to a certain number. For Spring-Ford in 2013-14, that number was set at 1.7 percent, but the district qualified for a retirement exception, allowing the increase to 1.96 percent.

Throughout recent years, Spring-Ford Business Manager Anspach and board members decried the state’s current retirement program, the Public Service Employees Retirement System, which has steadily increased rates.

For 2013-14, the PSERS rate will increase from 12.36 percent to 16.93 percent, costing Spring-Ford $1,385,942 more than in 2012-13.

The budget approval also came about with the backdrop of news that the school’s teachers’ union, the Spring-Ford Education Association, twice rejected the district’s latest offer recently, according to board member Bernard Pettit.

The teachers’ contract is set to expire June 30, several members of the school board said.

“Since we don’t have a teachers’ contract (after June 30), where does that leave the budget?” Board Vice President Joe Ciresi asked Anspach. “That makes it a little difficult moving forward, doesn’t it?”

“Not knowing exactly the numbers? Absolutely,” Anspach replied.

Among the things clearly defined in the 2013-14 budget is a new administration position: assistant direct of curriculum and instruction.

The hiring search took several months but the board hired Kimberly A. Bast by a 6-2 vote.

DiBello and Dehnert were the “no” votes, with DiBello saying he approved of the position but voted against it as part of his protest against the budget.

Bast’s salary is set at $102,000. According to multiple online sources, Bast is currently serving as a supervisor of curriculum in the North Penn School District.

“We have pushed for this for a long time,” Ciresi said. “We are burning out directors of curriculum...For a district of this size to not have this position is a failure.”

Bast will assist the district’s current director of curriculum and instruction, Keith Floyd.

The assistant director position is needed for the district to make the “next jump,” according to Ciresi.

In January, the board approved an initial preliminary budget of roughly $132 million which carried a budget shortfall of $2.5 million and a tax increase that was never specified but Anspach said was under the 3.1 percent of possible allowable exceptions.

DiBello said the board and administration worked hard to bring that budget down to a more acceptable level but that they need help from the state.

“What’s really heart-breaking is when you see legislators talk about how they’re not raising taxes at the state,” DiBello said. “We, as a board, over the last couple of years, worked really hard together to minimize as much as possible those tax increases, we’re still forced into doing it.”

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.

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