Spring-Ford to advertise ‘very preliminary' $137.4M budget

LIMERICK — The Spring-Ford Area School Board on Monday unanimously approved advertising a of $137,443,689 preliminary budget that district Business Manager Tim Anspach emphasized as being “very preliminary.”

“It’s a first look,” Anspach said at the meeting. “There’ll be many, many changes through the finance committee team working through the process until the final budget in June. Also, I want to mention, it’s a challenging budget. Every year it gets a little more difficult.”

The preliminary proposed budget for 2014-15 shows a shortfall of $4,891,331 that will either have to be made up of higher taxes, use of reserves or a combination of both.

Board Vice President Tom DiBello said, as it stands now, the budget carries a tax increase of between 5 and 6 percent, but an exact number was not available.


“The district has made a commitment that it will not exceed the Act 1 (index) of 2.1 percent and (the) allowable exception rate of 2.327 percent for a total tax rate of 4.427 percent,” Anspach told The Mercury via email Tuesday afternoon.

Pennsylvania’s Act 1 index is the maximum amount a school district may raise its taxes without seeking an exception from the state. The index is calculated through a formula including the average percentage increases of wages throughout the state and the federal employment cost index for public school.

This year, Spring-Ford qualified for the retirement benefits exception and the special education exception, the latter of which it did not qualify for last year. Combined, those exceptions account for $2,024,127 of the budget which could be raised through allowable tax increases.

A 4.427 percent tax increase, the highest the school board could potentially go, would mean increasing the mill rate from 29.15 to 30.44. That would account for a $172.27 increase for 2014-15 for a property valued at $133,540, the median assessment in the district, according to last year’s numbers.

Though that is the maximum increase without a public referendum, Anspach said they are looking to decrease “to a more reasonable number.”

“As stated in the presentation, this is the first look,” Anspach told The Mercury. “It’s still too early in the process and considered a working document for the administration and board of school directors. There are too many challenges and budgetary unknowns at this time and during the next five months we will work with due diligence to reduce the tax impact.”

State funding for the district is proposed to increase from the current year for next year’s budget, according to the district’s numbers, from $23,329.465 to $25,343,644, but board members feel too much still comes from local taxpayers.

“I think it’s important from a public perspective to understand that there’s some costs that we do not control,” said Board President Joe Ciresi. “It’s rammed down from the state.”

“If the state would turn around and fund what they’re supposed to fund, our kids would be educated at a much higher level, not only at Spring-Ford but everywhere,” Ciresi continued later.

“I’m not really sure what we can do. I know we can’t go to the community and ask for more money. We’ve heard time after time that the residents, the taxpayers are getting frustrated with this constant increase from a tax base,” said DiBello. “(State-level politicians) already swore off increases to the community at the state level. If there’s no increases to the community at the state level,it’s going to force the local school districts to find the money for how we’re going to pay for these exorbitant increases.”

Francella said the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) increases also enlarge the budget and create issues.

The percentage of the district’s payroll paid toward PSERS went from 16.93 to 21.4, according to district numbers, but DiBello made sure to point out that this is “through no fault” of district staff.

Board member Bernard Pettit said the public needs to appeal to their representation in Harrisburg for reform in the retirement system, which he advocated turning into a 401(k)-type plan.

“I’ve asked a couple of our state reps to consider this and I’ve just sort of been fobbed off,” Pettit said.

Another aspect that makes the budget challenging is charter school funding, according to Ciresi, who has called for a funding reform before.

“(It’s) a completely unfunded mandate,” Ciresi said. “We have no control over what the kids learn. We don’t sit on a board there like we do with the (Montgomery County Intermediate Unit) or the (Western Montgomery Career and Technology Center)...we should have a right to say what goes on in those (charter school) buildings like we do in the others.”

A significant factor which could affect the budget is a deal with the Spring-Ford Education Association, the district teachers’ union.

Salaries are currently locked in at their current level and no increase has yet been computed into the budget, said Spring-Ford Assistant Business Manager David Francella.

Federal funding of Spring-Ford is also expected to fall from $4,467,050 to $1,939,326, a 42.71 percent decrease, at least partly due to sequestration cuts, according to Francella.

Revenues rose $1,026,500, district numbers indicated, and curriculum costs increased $250,000 in the proposed budget.

A “slow recovery” from the recent recession and unknown factors such as Gov. Tom Corbett’s state budget and the Western Montgomery Career and Technology Center will also play a role in refining the budget before it is approved by the end of June, according to Anspach.

Last year’s tax increase in Spring-Ford was 1.96 percent.

“There’s a lot of unknowns right now but the one plus is there’s a lot of time to work out the kinks,” Anspach said.

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.