The Eastern York School District won’t get into the nitty gritty of developing its budget for the next school year until after the holidays. But the board took steps Nov. 19 to signal its commitment to trying to keep taxes in the district as low as possible, passing a resolution that taxes will not increase by more than 3.9%, if at all, for the 2021-22 school year.
The 3.9% figure is the district’s Act 1 index, which is set by the state using a formula that takes into account the average weekly wages in Pennsylvania and a federal index of employment costs for elementary and secondary schools. Districts seeking to raise taxes above their assigned index must either seek exceptions to that limit from the state Department of Education, or have the increase approved by the voters in a special referendum. Exceptions may be granted for tax increases needed to cover construction debt, special education costs and retirement contributions.
By passing the resolution, Eastern York has committed to limit any tax increases to its Act 1 index. The decision came at the same time that the district is making other moves to cover $1.75 million in COVID-19 pandemic related cost overruns in this year’s budget. The board voted to assign funds from its reserves to cover this expenses.
During a meeting of the board’s Budget and Finance Committee earlier in the week, district Business Manager Teresa Weaver told the board that despite earlier concerns about the economic impact of the pandemic on tax collections, the district’s local revenues are actually trending about as projected in the budget.
State aid has been a different story, though. The district has only received partial payments for some appropriated state funding. In an e-mail after the meeting, Weaver said “the state only passed a seven month budget so we don’t know what impact or changes the state final budget will have on school districts.”
Most of the COVID-related increased costs have been due to an increase in the number of students opting for online learning. Weaver said approximately 50 more students are attending outside charter cyber schools than had been anticipated when the budget was passed in May. Those students will cost the district an additional $700,000 and an increase in the number of students attending the district's own cyberschool will cost another $200,000. The district has also had around $250,000 in technology and building costs for remote learning and COVID-19-related sanitation and protective gear and will spend an extra $150,000 for three long-term substitute teachers needed to help with remote learning.
The board also voted to assign another $1 million of its reserves to be used for future appropriations for pandemic-related costs, or other expenses such as capital improvements, technology or increased retirement or health insurance costs.
Weaver said that move was also designed to help mitigate the need for any tax increases during a time when the pandemic is impacting many businesses and families.
“The board is very aware of the effect the pandemic has had on families and with that they passed the resolution not to increase taxes above the index for the 2021-22 fiscal year,” Weaver said. “Additionally, that is why the board agreed to assign the fund balance in case of future unknowns with the pandemic effect on the district’s finances.”
The deadline to pass a final budget for the next school year is June 30. Weaver said the district hopes to be able to finalize it sooner, but that will depend, at least in part, on “the data and the comfort level of the board passing the budget with the possibility of not knowing the state budget.”