Northampton Press

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

School board OKs preliminary budget

Wednesday, January 30, 2019 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Local News

Superintendent: Administration will work to lower proposed tax hike

The 2019-20 preliminary budget for Northampton Area School District has been approved.

The NASD Board of Education voted 8-1 to approve the spending plan, which proposes a 3.79-percent tax increase that would raise the average property owner’s tax bill $121.27 annually.

The budget tax hike drew criticism from three Lehigh Township residents.

Voting for the preliminary budget were school board President David Gogel, board Vice President Chuck Frantz and school Directors Dr. Michael Baird, John Becker, James Chuss, Chuck Longacre, Robert Mentzell and Ross Makary.

Voting against the preliminary budget was Director Roy Maranki.

Approved was the preliminary budget for 2019-20 with a general fund of $110,718,113, athletic fund of $251,935 and food service fund of $2,414,163.

The preliminary budget has been made available for public inspection at least 20 days prior to adoption, and public notice of the board’s intent to adopt the preliminary budget has been given at least 10 days in advance, pursuant to Act 1 of Special Session of 2006.

By a vote of 9-0, the school board authorized the administration to seek approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Education for certain exceptions allowed under Act 1, which, if approved by the department, will allow the school district to increase the rate of tax levied for the support of its schools during fiscal year 2019-20 by more than the index allowed under Act 1 of Special Session 2006. The board’s intent to seek exceptions will be advertised in a newspaper of general circulation and on the district’s website, nasdschools.org, at least one week prior to submitting the request to PDE.

The index, or the PDE allowable percentage of tax increase for the 2019-20 NASD budget, is 2.8 percent. The PDE has approved NASD exceptions in previous years. NASD has not, to date, implemented an exception.

The preliminary general fund budget has a deficit of $5,678,722.

Expenditures are $110,718,113, an increase of $3,714,808, or 3.47 percent, from 2018-19 expenditures of $107,003,305.

Revenues are $108,459,391, an increase of $1,456,086, or 1.36 percent, from 2018-19 revenues of $107,003,305.

To balance the budget, $3,420,000 would be used from the district’s unassigned fund balance, and millage would be increased 2.04 mills, from 53.83 mills to 55.87 mills.

Based on the 2018 average assessment of $59,444, the annual tax bill would increase from $3,199.87 to $3,321.14, or $121.27 annually, $10.11 monthly and $2.33 weekly.

Prior to the vote, NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik said, “There are four areas of this budget that we have no control over.”

As Kovalchik listed the areas, NASD Assistant Superintendent Robert J. Steckel Jr. wrote down the amounts on the white board in the administration building meeting room.

The four areas of the budget that Kovalchik said are state mandated total $2,193,789, and their increases and percentage of increase in the 2019-20 budget compared to the 2018-19 budget are:

Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) funding: $1,104,816, or a 7.96-percent increase

Special education: $614,918. The percent increase was unavailable because it is included in several budget areas. The total set aside for special education in the 2019-20 budget is $16.8 million.

Charter-cyber schools: $350,000, or a 10.77-percent increase. The total set aside for charter-cyber school student education costs is $3.6 million.

Social Security: $124,055, or a 3.86-percent increase

The PDE has not increased special education funding, according to Kovalchik.

“It’s been flatlined,” NASD Business Administrator Terry A. Leh said.

Kovalchik also said the district spends about $1 million annually on safety and security.

“It’s needed. I can guarantee you we didn’t spend that much five to 10 years ago,” Kovalchik said of school security.

“I can guarantee that the 3.79-percent increase won’t be there in June. I don’t know how we’ll do it, but we will,” Kovalchik said.

Mike Meyers, Paul Nikisher and Jerry Pritchard, all of Lehigh Township, spoke in objection to the proposed budget tax hike.

Meyers questioned the Lehigh Elementary School project and PSERS funding, among other matters.

“You know what happened to my retirement fund?” Meyers asked. “I get nothing.”

Nikisher questioned PSERS funding as well. Leh explained the state-required PSERS funding from NASD went from 21.42 percent to 34.29 percent.

“That’s insane. It’s strangling us,” Nikisher said.

Pritchard is concerned about the effect of tax hikes on the elderly.

Noting two elderly women who live near his residence, he said, “They have no money for heating fuel. I paid their heating bill.”

The amount was $300, he said.

After the meeting, Kovalchik said he and Leh plan to present a 2019-20 budget update at the April 8 school board meeting when an answer is expected from PDE about the request for 2019-20 index exceptions.

The budget timetable is as follows: adoption of final budget, May 6; advertising of final budget, May 31; and approval of final budget, June 10. School district budgets are required by commonwealth law to be approved by June 30.

The 2019-20 budget was unveiled by Kovalchik and Leh at the Jan. 14 board of education meeting.

The 82-page NASD 2019-20 preliminary general fund budget, 2019-20 athletic fund budget and 2019-20 food service budget is on the NASD website.

The NASD school board next meets 6:30 p.m. Feb. 11 in the administration building, 2014 Laubach Ave., Northampton.