Phoenixville refines 2014-15 school budget; still facing tax hike

Phoenixville Area School District

PHOENIXVILLE — With the deadline for approving a final budget steadily approaching, the Phoenixville area School Board, Community Budget Advisory Committee and district administration and staff continue to refine the preliminary one proposed in January.

As of Tuesday’s budget meeting, the budget stands at $82,782,993 for 2014-15. It carries a 1.99 percent property tax increase for district residents and businesses.

That increase would make the mill rate of 28.64 grow to 29.21, accounting for an annual increase of $76.12 for a property assessed at the district’s median value, $133,540.

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Since it was announced, the operating budget’s total has been trimmed by approximately $450,000.

Initially, the proposed 2014-15 called for creating 7.5 new positions, but that number has been trimmed down to 5.2 new teachers. That shakes out to three new full-time elementary school teachers, 1.5 high school teachers, who would handle English and special education, and a .5 strings teacher as well as a .2 music teacher.

Superintendent Alan Fegley told 21st Century Media Thursday night that the positions eliminated included special education, ROTC and music.

Potentially adding an ROTC course has been talked about in the past, but the sequestration killed plans to move forward with the Air Force.

Talks continue, however.

“We’re looking at two branches,” Fegley said.

With five teachers set to retire in the district, the latest budget calls for replacing just three of them.

The two positions which will not be filled are a physical education teacher and a communications teacher, Fegley said.

In Tuesday night’s meeting, much emphasis was given to Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) and increases associated with that.

PSERS rates are fixed at 21.4 percent for 2014-15 and are scheduled to increase to 32.08 percent by the 2019-20 school year.

From the current year to next year’s budget, the district is expecting to pay $1,232,810 more for PSERS.

As such, the school district is weighing different proposals for how to spend off a reserve created to offset the increase in costs.

The reserves are set at $2,943,900.

Another focus of Tuesday’s presentation was what is allotted in the budget was the district’s legal fees in recent years.

In 2008-09, the earlier year shown, fees were at their highest, totaling $1,094,906, with $869,907 tied to the general fund and $224,999 in construction.

After 2008-09, legal fees fell gradually to their lowest, $234,732, in 2011-12.

Fees began to climb again in 2012-13, going to $584,988, split $290,466 in the general fund and $294,522 for construction fees.

For 2013-14, to date, fees have been $641,650; just $110,043 came from the general fund and $531,607 was linked to construction.

Fegley said the majority of those fees are tied to settlements relating to past construction projects.

Currently, the school district’s eminent domain acquisition of Meadow Brook Golf Club for a new construction project is tied up in court but Fegley said those fees are “separate of building” legal fees.

Most recently, the district settled with B&J Excavating regarding the collapse of Phoenixville Area Middle School’s foundation in the early parts of its construction.

In the past five years, the Phoenixville Public Library’s funding has not been increased by the school board, though it has requested increases in at least the two previous years. The school board is still mulling their request of adding $25,416 to the budget for next school year.

Work remains to be done on the budget. Among the items not yet included in the working budget, according to the presentation, are the transportation contract with Wolfington, which Johnson said in the March 13 school board meeting will provide savings to the district over recent years, and the technology budget.

Transportation and technology are slated to be discussed in the April 22 budget meeting.

Contract negotiations with the school district’s union representing teachers’ aides and technology personnel, are ongoing and a new contract can’t be factored into the budget currently, according to the district.

Approval of the final budget is scheduled for May 22.

Check a Twitter recap of the most recent Phoenixville Area School Board meeting here.

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.