PERKIOMEN — A final budget failed to pass in the last regularly scheduled Perkiomen Valley School Board meeting of the school year, setting up a special meeting to potentially finalize a budget Thursday.
The approximate $94,331,593 budget carried a 2.49 percent tax increase, which is right up against the state-set Act 1 Index for the district.
It required five votes to pass but only received four.
“This budget doesn’t make me very happy. I don’t think it makes anybody very happy,” said board member Lori Snyder before the vote. “There are some cuts in here I don’t agree with at all. But the bottom line is it’s the best we can hope for at 2.49 (percent).”
Snyder, along with Board President Ann Mantey, Board Vice President Paul Smith, and Gerry Barenfiher voted for the budget.
Rich Bouher, Lynn Bigelow, Rachael Charyna and Andrea Galambos all voted against it.
Several of those board members expressed that they felt they didn’t have enough information about certain budget items to approve a budget Monday night.
Bigelow said he wouldn’t vote for a budget with a tax increase higher than 2 percent.
“That doesn’t mean the district didn’t do their homework,” on the presented budget, Bigelow said. “I just want something a little more friendly to the homeowner.”
The proposed tax increase would have raised the district’s mill rate to 30.5, meaning property owners with an assessment of $180,000 – the average in the district – could expect a $133.43 yearly increase.
Bouher said the board should have included some of the cuts it previously included for the budget.
“Everything that there’s been on the table so far goes back on the table July 1 because we have to start looking at the 2015-16 budget right away,” if the proposed budget would have passed Monday night, Bouher said.
The special board meeting to potentially finalize a 2014-15 budget will be at 7 p.m. Thursday at a site to be determined.
Board member Diane Landes was out of town and is scheduled to be for the rest of the week. However, Mantey said Landes will call in Thursday to participate in the special meeting.
Monday’s version of the budget, which Perkiomen Valley business administrator Jim Weaver estimated was at least the seventh iteration this year, included keeping the three high school teachers who were slated for cuts as well as the third grade strings program.
Elementary Spanish, also once on the cut list, was in the budget, but the exploratory language program for Perkiomen Valley’s sixth graders was pushed back to 7th grade, saving the district some money in the budget.
A pair of middle school teachers spoke against that cut, saying it would result in stunted foreign language skills in Perkiomen Valley students.
Bill McGill, president of the Perkiomen Valley Education Association, the district’s teachers’ union, said Perkiomen Valley families get a lot of “bang for their buck” due to the district being ranked ninth in the state while average teacher salaries ranked in the bottom three of Montgomery County’s school district.
“We know that the board has tough decisions to make tonight,” he said before the budget vote. “Please do not harm the students.”
After the budget failed to pass, McGill wasn’t sure what to think.
“We’re up in the air,” he said. “We don’t know what the school board is going to do. The board is in a tough spot, but eliminating teachers, eliminating programs, that doesn’t increase the educational value of the district.”
Many members of the Perkiomen Valley Education Association were in attendance Monday night.
A message posted to the group’s Facebook group urged people to come out to the meeting to voice support for district programs like the sixth grade exploratory language program.
Again, before the meeting, Mantey and Smith stood at the front of the auditorium and urged members of the public to reach out to legislators and urge change in the state’s school funding formula.
“The funding of Pennsylvania schools is broken,” Smith said. “It’s unfair. It’s unfair to the Perkiomen Valley School District.”
Per student, Smith said the average amount of funding for school districts across the state is well over $1,000 more than what Perkiomen Valley gets.
Even though their aid ratio is higher, Perkiomen Valley gets $275 less than Methacton School District per student, according to Smith.
Weaver said the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) contributions by the district take up 40 percent of the budget this year.
He expressed concerns about the continual increase of the PSERS rates.
“The entire Act 1 index is almost completely eaten up by PSERS and it will be that way for the next seven years,” Weaver said.
Smith proposed taking $200,000 from the district’s PSERS reserves to offset that cost for 2014-15, but that measure failed to pass in a 6-2 vote with Bigelow as the only other supporter.
It’s unclear what adjustments will be made to the budget Thursday, but Weaver gave the board some context if it pushed for a zero percent tax increase, saying approximately $2 million would need to be cut from the budget as it was presented Monday night.
After Monday’s meeting, Mantey was hopeful that they coould wrap up “a long budget process” Thursday.
“I’m hoping the board members who voted no bring their questions to ask (Superintendent Clifford) Rogers so they can get more information,” Mantey said. “Then, we can vote and pass a budget.”
Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.