Tax hike in NASD preliminary budget
The 2018-19 preliminary general fund budget of $107.5 million for Northampton Area School District has a $6 million deficit that will be balanced by taking $3.8 million from the district fund balance and increasing property taxes by 3.9 percent.
“It’s early in the process, and there are many unknowns. The proposed percentage tax increase will come down before final approval in June,” NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik stated in an email to The Press.
Kovalchik and NASD Business Administrator Terry Leh presented the budget to the NASD Board of Education at a Jan. 10 meeting, postponed from Jan. 8 because of weather conditions.
In the preliminary budget, millage would increase 2.06 mills from 52.77 to 54.83 mills, a 3.9-percent increase, which would exceed the state-mandated 2.9-percent increase allowable for NASD.
Based on the 2017 average NASD assessment of $58,223.43 and a 2017 tax bill of $3,072.45, the 2018 bill would increase to $3,192.39, or $119.94 annually, $9.99 monthly and $2.31 weekly.
The preliminary budget has expenditures of $107,532,563 and revenues of $101,481,113 for a deficit of $6,051,450.
Use of $400,000 from the committed fund balance, $3,420,000 from the unassigned fund balance and a 2.06-millage hike are proposed to balance the budget.
A vote on adoption of the 2018-19 budget and applying for special exceptions from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to exceed, if necessary, the Act 1 Index of 2.9 is expected to be on the agenda of the 6:30 p.m. Jan. 22 school board meeting.
A copy of the 2018-19 general fund budget can be viewed under the business office tab on the NASD website, nasdschools.org.
The school board district budget timeline includes: April 9, review of exceptions; May 7, adoption of proposed budget; June 1, deadline to advertise the final budget; and June 11 (or earlier), adoption of final budget. School boards are required to approve district budgets by June 30.
And while a tax hike looms for 2018, Kovalchik envisions a year when there may be no tax hike because of residential and commercial development, expected to generate $3 million in tax revenue annually in the near term and possibly $5 million in tax revenue annually in the long term.
Of the 45-minute budget presentation, Kovalchik said, “We’re trying to give you the big picture from an academic standpoint and from a financial standpoint.”
• Enhance academic and safety plan
• Maintain and refine 1:1 digital education for grades 6-12 and expand mobile devices for grades K-5
• Reorganize district-level responsibilities
• Plan and revise grading, assessment guidelines, master schedules and graduation requirements
Regarding reorganization, Kovalchik noted, “More is demanded from our administration, teachers and support staff. We’re trying to become more efficient in every area of the school district.”
He said planning for this began in fall 2017 and is expected to be detailed sometime in 2018.
• Community outreach
• District data analysis to ensure equal access
• Plan for the new Lehigh Elementary School and review district capital maintenance
• Complete special education plan and special education audit required by PDE
Noting that NASD is 80-percent Caucasian, Kovalchik said, “We’re partnering with Lehigh University for equity assessment.”
Concerning capital maintenance, Kovalchik said, “There’s more to it than just building the new Lehigh Elementary School.”
Leh reviewed the 2018-19 expenditure summary of $107,532,563, an increase of $4,790,241, or 4.66 percent, from the 2017 general fund budget.
Instruction is $64,114,511, an increase of $3,277,518, or 5.39 percent, from $60,836,993 in the 2017 budget.
Support services is $31,281,371, an increase of $1,013,279, or 3.35 percent, from $30,268,092 in the 2017 budget.
Noninstructional services is $1,534,992, an increase of $30,664, or 2.04 percent, from $1,504,328 in the 2017 budget.
Debt services/transfers is $10,601,689, an increase of $468,780, or 4.63 percent, from $10,132,909 in the 2017 budget.
By category, the percentage of the 2018 budget, according to Leh, is as follows: instruction, 59.62 percent; support services, 29.09 percent; debt services/transfers, 9.86 percent; and noninstructional services, 1.43 percent.
Salaries and benefits in the 2018 budget are $72,712,527, or 67.62 percent.
Salaries in the budget are $42,302,276, or 39.34 percent.
Benefits in the budget are $30,401,251, or 28.28 percent.
Professional, $31,272,223, or 29.08 percent
Custodial/maintenance, $3,671,380, or 3.41 percent
Administration, $3,323,304, or 3.09 percent
Secretarial/clerical, $2,351,332, or 2.19 percent
Instructional aides, $1,684,037, or 1.57 percent
Kovalchik reviewed NASD staffing, emphasizing professional staff decreased from 403 in 2011-12 to 381 in 2017-18, and total staff decreased from 673 in 2011-12 to 647 in 2017-18. According to Kovalchik, staff has been reduced by 26 since 2011-12.
Enrollment at Northampton Area High School increased from 1,739 in 2011-12 to 1,850 in 2017-18 and is projected at 1,874 in 2018-19.
Enrollment at Northampton Area Middle School has been more level, increasing from 1,315 in 2011-12 to 1,356 in 2017-18 and is projected at 1,343 in 2018-19.
Kovalchik cautioned that some additional hiring may be necessary to keep class size from increasing to 35 students per class and to ensure course offerings are not affected.
“The average class size now is 30-ish,” Kovalchik said.
Possible hirings include:
• A part-time psychologist
• Five special education instructional assistants
• One additional high school guidance counselor
• Additions to the professional staff at the middle school
• Technology needs
Kovalchik said six guidance counselors now at the high school are each meeting with approximately 300 students.
According to Kovalchik, PDE requires school districts to devise a plan for each student who has three or more unexcused absences.
“You have to develop a plan in getting them to school,” Kovalchik said.
At this point in the 2017-18 school year, NASD has more than 70 students who have three or more unexcused absences, it was mentioned.
“We don’t have the personnel at the high school to develop those plans and meet with parents,” Kovalchik said, adding, “And that’s just the high school and not the middle school and elementary schools.”
The possible hirings are not included in the 2018-19 budget, Kovalchik said.
“We will be discussing this throughout the spring. It’s a concern. The bottom line is this: We’re going to need more teachers,” Kovalchik said.
Another factor is retirements, usually submitted before or by the end of February.
School Director Robert Mentzell asked about teachers and class size at the middle school.
“Middle school class size is in the low 30s,” Kovalchik said. “If the enrollment continues to climb, those numbers are going to continue to climb.”