‘Grove OKs Draft Budget, Which Means Little (It Says)

Preparing Tuesday for the Pottsgrove school oard meeting were, from left, Asistant Superintenden Dr. William Shirk and directors Dee Gallion, Patti Grimm, and Diane Cherico

Preparing Tuesday for the Pottsgrove school board meeting were, from left, Assistant Superintendent Dr. William Shirk and directors Dee Gallion, Patti Grimm, and Diane Cherico

POTTSTOWN PA – A preliminary budget that currently calls for the Pottsgrove School District to spend more than $63 million during the 2014-2015 academic year, raise property taxes by 3.85 percent (about $170 per household), and find additional money to cover an almost $800,000 deficit was approved 6-1 Tuesday (Feb. 11, 2014) by the district Board of School Directors.

None of it means a thing, Pottsgrove administrators quickly acknowledged.

“Frankly, this doesn’t commit you to anything,” district Business Administrator David Nester patiently advised board members. “We’re simply complying with a state budget calendar” that demands Pottsgrove authorize a preliminary budget before Feb. 20, he cautioned. “We’ve still got four months of debate left” before final budget numbers are required, Nester later added.

The work-in-progress spending plan calls for Pottsgrove to levy the maximum standard tax increase the state will allow, 2.7 percent, plus an additional 1.15 percent for state-permitted exceptions. It draws down one of its savings accounts by $550,000 to help pay off mounting teacher pension bills. It includes anther $790,000 in costs – for computers, new staff, teaching initiatives and other items – the district has yet to determine how it will cover.

A final budget, however, isn’t due until June 30. Board members agreed there were hard choices to be made ahead, but “we’re just voting to continue the process,” director Dee Gallion observed.

Director Rick Rabinowitz, the lone dissenter, was visibly disappointed. “I simply can’t vote for this,” despite the document’s temporary nature, he said. He preferred making immediate changes if only to set the tone of budget-cutting to come. “We’re adding $3 million more in spending over last year,” Rabinowitz charged. “We need to find some offsets.”

“That’s typically done a little later in the budget,” Superintendent Shellie Feola replied. “We can find alternatives to the spending plan,” Nester agreed. “If you give us a threshold you don’t want to exceed, we can come up with a list of cuts to make. But we need that input from nine of you,” he said, looking around the board table.

Directors Kelley Crist and Ted Coffelt were absent from the meeting and did not vote.

Nester also said he was “cautiously optimistic” about how Pottsgrove might fare in the state budget described last week by Gov. Tom Corbett. It has the potential to significantly increase the district’s state revenues next year, maybe even enough to wipe out half or more of the preliminary budget deficit, “but we really don’t know what strings are attached,” he said.

Potential does not equal promise, either, Nester warned. The governor’s proposed budget includes money the state anticipates but hasn’t received. It relies, too, upon one-time infusions that won’t be “sustainable” in future years, he noted, “so it may be only a short-term shot in the arm.”

Related (to the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ Feb. 11 meeting):

Related (to the Pottsgrove schools’ 2014-’15 budget):

Other coverage:

Photo by Joe Zlomek for The Post Publications