$92M Phoenixville Schools budget will raise taxes 3.18%

PHOENIXVILLE >> With an 8-1 vote, and a dizzying array of failed amendments, the Phoenixville Area School Board adopted its final 2018-2019 budget Thursday at $91.7 million that will raises property taxes by 3.18 percent.

For the average taxpayer, the budget will cost an additional $127 per year, said Chris Gehris, the district’s manager of financial reporting.

Board member Lori Broker cast the only vote against adoption of the budget.

A total of eight amendments to adjust the budget were proposed, all but one of which would have added additional spending to the budget, but they all failed and half of them on close 5-4 votes.

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But when the smoke cleared, nothing had changed. The final budget, and tax hike remained the same as what was brought before the board in the first place.

The final budget was a reduction from the preliminary budget, adopted in February, that called for spending $94 million and would have raised taxes by 4 percent.

In the end, although some positions were eliminated, no teacher or administrator was laid off, said Superintendent Alan Fegley.

Also, rather than take money out of reserves as some school boards to do reduce budget gaps, this budget puts an additional $300,000 into the healthcare cost reserve fund and another $100,000 into the general budget reserve account, Fegley said.

But many things within the structure of the district changed, not the least of which was an administrative re-organization that lowered those costs by 14 percent and saved the district about $300,000, said Fegley.

Those cuts include the elimination of the assistant principal post at the high school, and a savings of $127,000 through the reorganization of the director of facilities position, made vacant by a retirement, said Fegley.

Gehris also helped cut the budget by re-negotiating the contract with the Phoenixville YMCA for after school care — allowing costs to be allocated simply on how many days a week were used instead of a flat rate — which reduced a looming 3.41 percent tax hike down to the 3.18 percent ultimately adopted.

Still, this budget does increase spending over the current year, which budgeted $89,894,409 in expenses. Next year’s budget calls for spending $1.8 million more, or an increase of almost 2 percent.

In addition to the new administrative structure, the school board undertook a more extensive outreach to the community this year, said School Board President Lisa Longo.

In February, the school board’s Community Budget Advisory Committee held a public meeting looking for input on the budget which was attended by about 50 people, she said.

In addition to ideas for budget reduction, such a ways to save on supplies, the community also spoke out against possible reduction in maintenance of athletic facilities and increasing class size, both of which would have saved money.

In addition to getting input, the meeting also helped the public understand the process and issues involved in putting the budget together.

“One of our goals was increased community awareness and it was really a great experiment,” said Longo, who said she hopes it will be repeated.

The article first appeared as a post in The Digital Notebook blog.