Pottsgrove OKs 2.8% Tax Hike In Tentative Budget

A larger-then-usual crowd attended Tuesday night at the Pottsgrove school board meeting

POTTSTOWN PA – With cost-saving labor agreements from the bulk of its work force approved Tuesday night (May 10, 2011), and by choosing 19 of 47 suggestions by volunteers to trim other expenses, the Pottsgrove School District delivered a 2011-2012 tentative budget that is $1.2 million less than its first draft, accompanied by what was characterized as the smallest district property tax increase proposed in several years.

Members of the Board of School Directors seemed almost aglow as they voted 7-1 to accept the tentative budget of $57.3 million, down from $58.5 million in the preliminary budget accepted Feb. 8. The new spending plan carries a proposed tax hike of 2.8 percent, for a total of 35.343 mills.

By comparison, the final 2010-2011 budget, when adopted last June (2010), was $57.6 million and raised taxes by 4.44 percent.

However, the tentative budget still includes a deficit of $175,000. Although that amount is dramatically lower than the $2 million gap the district faced only a month ago, directors acknowledged they still have work to do. A final budget must be approved in June, so the board has about a month to finish its job.

Board members said they hoped to find even more savings to reduce the difference. At worst, Business Administrator David Nester said, the district would transfer money from its fund balance – its savings accounts – to cover the shortfall.

“Between the community’s involvement, the teachers’ involvement, and the commitment of labor groups, ours is only a modest tax increase,” board President Michael Neiffer said, “and that’s a tribute to the community as a whole. Pottsgrove is far ahead of the curve in comparison to neighboring school districts,” he said.

Director Philip Keogh, the only board member to oppose the budget, said he considered the fund balance – which under the tentative budget represents $4.13 million and 7.2 percent of the budget total – more than a percentage point too high “in these economic times.” Moving even more money from the balance to the general fund, he contended, would allow the district to cut its proposed tax increase to about 2 percent.

Little of Tuesday’s good news would have been possible without labor agreement modifications from district teachers, administrators and even secretaries, Neiffer admitted.

Teachers agreed to extend their labor contract with Pottsgrove by one year, and accept a pay freeze in the interim, in return a district pledge not to layoff or demote any teachers during the same period. That saved $515,000, the district said. Administrators and the secretaries group accepted similar wage freezes, saving up to another $85,000, according to Superintendent Dr. Bradley Landis.

There could be more saved, too, if maintenance and custodial workers represented by the Teamsters’ union similarly accept a wage freeze. Their decision is still being awaited.

The board also took advantage of slightly fewer than half of the cost-cutting suggestions made during the past two months by its volunteer Community Budget Task Force. The recommendations accepted account for another $680,000 in savings, according to figures Landis provided. The group’s remaining suggestions will be more fully explored for potential application in the 2012-2013 budget, he said.

Thanks in part to task force efforts, Landis noted, “we’ve at least avoided major budget problems for a year, and maybe longer … we’re much healthier than what we see going on around us” in other districts.

Board member Jodi Adams was absent from the meeting and did not vote.

Related (to the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ May 10 meeting):

Related (to the Pottsgrove School District 2011-2012 budget):

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