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Lacking State Chatter, Pottsgrove Eyes Next Budget Move

Lacking State Chatter, Pottsgrove Eyes Next Budget MovePOTTSTOWN PA – Is no news really good news? When it comes to budgets, state funding, and property tax rates, Pottsgrove School District Business Administrator David Nester isn’t so sure.

During late winters and early springs of recent years past, word from the governor and state Legislature about plans for annual education funding – or the lack of it – kept telephone lines burbling and e-mails gushing like water in Sprogel’s Run after a hard rain. Only a small percentage of the information was accurate, but it was nonetheless voluminous.

Nester has a reputation of following such chatter the way a hawk tracks field mice at meal time. He’s been known to keep the Board of School Directors abreast of state budget developments occasionally better than many lawmakers themselves. So even he sounded somewhat worried Tuesday night (April 9, 2013) in reporting to directors, during their first meeting of the month, that updates from Harrisburg this year amount to little more than a trickle.

“It’s been extremely quiet,” he said.

Quiet, maybe, but not altogether dead.

Nester noted, for instance, that talks continue over Gov. Tom Corbett’s controversial proposal for a short-term reduction in districts’ payments to the state Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS). That’s the pool of cash from which Pottsgrove teachers and others draw their retirement income. Its unfunded liability – the sum it owes retirees but hasn’t got on hand to pay – totals about $31 billion. It would grow larger under Corbett’s plan.

Pottsgrove’s $61 million preliminary budget for the 2013-2014 academic year currently includes a $550,000 payment to PSERS from its reserve funds to pare down some of its portion of that unfunded liability. If Corbett’s proposal goes through, however, and extends or increases the indebtedness, Nester cautioned directors may want to delay writing that check. “We’d be better off holding on to the money for awhile,” he said.

The district stands to benefit, too, from a separate Corbett proposal to increase other state educational funding by about $90 million overall, of which Pottsgrove might reap $172,000. “That’s still looking good, from what I can tell,” Nester reported. But legislative and gubernatorial agreement on the state’s own budget is still 80 days away, due June 30. A lot could happen in that time.

As a result, and to meet the district’s own budget timelines, Nester suggested a board vote on Pottsgrove’s “proposed final budget” (a new label for what once was called the “tentative budget”) be scheduled for its next meeting on April 23 (Tuesday). That would allow the district to comply with public advertising and other requirements, and still work to modify the spending plan right up until a state budget adoption.

It also translates, however, into possibly little or no change in the already accepted preliminary budget. With it property owners face a 3.46-percent tax increase next year – representing an average hike in annual tax payments of about $155 per household – and directors face a $119,000 deficit. They still must cut costs or find more revenue to plug that hole.

The April 23 meeting, which normally would be held in the district office at 1301 Kauffman Rd., will instead be relocated to the nearby Pottsgrove High School cafeteria, 1345 Kauffman Rd. The larger space will accommodate a bigger public audience, which is expected not for the budget vote but for a presentation on potential renovations of the high school itself.

Related (to the Pottsgrove School District 2013-’14 budget):

Related (to the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ April 9 meeting):

Photo from Google Images

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