Proposed Average School Tax Hike Now Stands at $59
Board OKs latest budget version; more changes expected in next month.
The Bensalem Township Board of School Directors on Wednesday adopted a proposed final 2012-2013 budget that would raise the tax bill of the average homeowner by about $59, or 1.9 percent, down from an initial estimate of $89.
But the tax rate could change as administrators continue to make adjustments before the board adopts a final budget June 13.
The board recently requested that reductions translate to only a $50 average tax hike, which is equal to about $1 million. But Wednesday night the directors heard from impassioned supporters of the district's longstanding Students At Risk program, reacting to the fact that the two employees currently running the program were cut from the latest spending plan. As a result they unanimously approved a motion to reconsider that reduction.
Director of Business Operations Jack Myers said the planned cut would save the district $159,600, which he explained is equivalent to $5.50 on the average tax bill.
If the program were to be restored and no other changes are made, the average tax hike would be $65. Myers explained that the average tax hike can not rise above the $89 figure included in the initial proposed budget.
As it now stands, budget expenditures total $121.48 million, which Myers said is only $403,000 more than the current school year. Revenues are set at $119.5 million. To close the gap, the district would use $1.95 million in fund balance monies. That would leave the district's uncommitted fund balance at about $7.2 million.
Universal full-day kindergarten has been included in the budget for the first time with a cost of about $600,000. Responding to a question from a resident, Myers said he believes the cost will eventually be neutralized by the number of students who enroll in the district program rather than at a charter school. The district spends $10,500 for each township student who attends a charter school.
Myers said eight teaching positions are being added as a result of the full-day kindergarten expansion, and the current budget represents a net increase of seven teaching positions. He added that at least 20 expected retirements will likely help the district avoid any furloughs.
The proposed final budget, however, would eliminate the STAR program which has helped students with drug and alcohol and mental health issues for more than 20 years. And that brought out the two district counselors who run the program -- Joan Redeyoff and Jeff Szczepaniak -- along with many supporters who asked the board to reconsider.
"The children we see have fallen through the cracks," Redeyoff said. "We may be the last life-saver for some of them."
Dr. Timothy King, a clinical psychologist and district consultant, added: "This is not a superfluous service. This is not a fluff item."
Assistant Superintendent Monica McHale-Small explained that if the program were eliminated, the services would still be provided with different employees taking on different responsibilities.
After being directed two weeks ago by the board to get down to a $50 tax hike, Superintendent Baugh asked administrators to suggest cuts, including to their own departments, and a list was compiled.
Board member Matthew Grodsky said Wednesday that while he supports holding the line on tax hikes, he has had personal family experience with drug addiction and "this is probably not the right place to cut." Colleagues Kim Rivera and Ralph Douglass agreed, and no board members indicated they support the program elimination.
Board President Heather Nicholas said the STAR elimination was proposed by the administration, not the board, and that it can be restored before the final budget adoption.
Superintendent David Baugh added, "No cut is made happily or easily and in no way do we mean to imply that we don't respect, honor and value the work that Joanie and Jeff have done with their colleagues for the children."
Prior to the board adoption of a final budget June 13, it will hold a public question-and-answer session May 23.
Information provided by the Bensalem School District.