NEWTOWN >> In what is largely considered a procedural action under the state's Act One requirements, the Council Rock School Board on Feb. 4 voted unanimously to approve a preliminary $259.5 million general fund budget for the upcoming 2021-22 school year
In a separate motion, the board also voted to apply for referendum exceptions, which would give the district the flexibility to exceed the Act One Index without going to a public referendum.
“Please know this is very, very early in the process,” Superintendent Dr. Robert Fraser said prior to the vote, noting that preliminary adoption of the budget is purely procedural in nature and the first required step in the Act One process.
“This is a rough look at next year’s budget picture and is based on nothing more than broad strokes and assumptions,” said Fraser. “At this point it does not represent just yet precise budgeting. That will happen over the next few months. It also does not yet define our educational priorities as a school district.”
As it now stands, the spending plan includes $259.5 million in budgetary expenditures and $248.2 million in revenue translating into a $10.3 million budget deficit.
The preliminary budget assumes a real estate tax increase of three percent, which would generate $4.9 million in additional revenue for the district. If there were no tax increase, Stone said the deficit would be about $15.2 million.
“Overall our revenues are budgeted to be mostly flat when compared to the prior year,” said Bill Stone, director of business administration for Council Rock. “And the majority of the increases in the expenditure budget are due to contractural obligations as well as mandated expenditures from the state and federal government.”
Under state law, school districts contemplating raising taxes under the Act One Index must notify the public by early in the year if it will be applying for Act One exceptions. The vote does not obligate the district to take the exceptions, but opens the door to that option.
“This preserves the ability to raise the maximum amount of revenue by applying for the Act One exceptions,” said Fraser. “Certainly there are no commitments made in that regard at this juncture. We have many, many months of work ahead of us as part of the budgetary process.”
Board member Mark Byelich, during a meeting of the finance committee, asked how Fraser and the administration would begin to address the deficit.
Fraser said during the coming months the administration will be focusing on departmental budgets as it seeks to pare the budget deficit.
“We’re taking a look - soup to nuts,” said Fraser. “We will be tightening our belts and sharpening our pencils and we will be making some hard decisions. We’ll be making those decisions as far away from the classroom as possible knowing that you can’t do $10.5 million without going into the classroom. It’s just not there. We start away from the classroom and those decisions obviously get more difficult as we get closer to that $10.5 million mark.”
“It seems like we’ve been trimming the fat ever since I got on this board,” said Byelich. “I can’t imagine there’s any left. That’s a big number - $10.5 million.”
Board member Mike Thorwart noted that the district “is rapidly approaching a point where this gets hard. 10.5 is a big number. We have to get there and I’m supportive of whatever it takes to stop deficit spending.”
Board member Andy Block added that the Governor’s proposed budget is calling for more funding for schools next year. “Knock on wood, keep your fingers crossed and hopefully that will work itself out,” he said.
Longer term, the district's financial advisory committee has recommended the school board and administration look into a number of revenue-generating projects, including granting naming rights and sponsorships for district facilities; opening up district facilities for community rentals; and preparing cost analysis and scenarios for upcoming collective bargaining.
Adoption of the proposed final budget is scheduled for adoption in April with final budget passage expected in June.
Council Rock residents are invited to review the 2021-22 Proposed Preliminary Budget by clicking here. Residents are also invited to follow Council Rock budget/finance news by tuning into the district’s monthly Finance Committee meetings, which take place the second Thursday of the month.