Thursday, June 21, 2018

North Schuylkill Approves Budget and 1.3 Mill Tax Increase

On Wednesday evening, the North Schuylkill School Board voted unanimously to finalize their 2018-2019 Budget along with a 1.3 Mill tax increase.

During the May Board of School Director's meeting, the North Schuylkill School Board announced their proposed budget for the next fiscal year.  It gave the community 30 days to respond, as well as notify those in the district that the final vote would be made during the June meeting.

In the $29,627,835 budget, a $83,218 or 2.9% increase in estimated expenditures including a 1.38 mill tax increase was proposed.  According to the district, this would increase annual taxes for average home owners about $30.

According to Superintendent Dr. Robert Ackell and Business Manager Robert Amos, "The increase is primarily a reflection of the years of underfunded mandates placed on the district by the state legislature, specifically retirement, charter schools, and special education".

Retirement is projected to increase by $202,000 or by 5.5%, Charter Schools by $144,000 or 18.24%, while the district's portion of the state basic education subsidy will increase by only $89,274 or 1.0%.

At the beginning of Wednesday's meeting, Board President Charles Hepler opened the floor for public comment in regards to the meeting's agenda.  No public comment was given.

Under the Financial Committee Report portion of the meeting, a motion was requested to approve the "Final Budget" and was unanimously approved by School Board members.

**Editor's Note - The notes from the rest of Wednesday's meeting will be posted in a separate story
** Redaction - Original post including a "$1.38 million tax increase"  that was incorrect


The following is "Letter to the Editor" from the Members of the North Schuylkill Board of Education

Charles Hepler, President
Roy Green, Vice President
Mary Ann Woodward, Treasurer
Edward Balkewicz, Thomas Fletcher, Douglas Gressens, Suzanne O'Neill, Janine Sims, and Glenn Weist

What's Behind School Property Tax Increases?

'The $29,627,835 Final Budget of the North Schuylkill School District reflects an $832,218 or 2.9% increase in estimated expenditures over the prior year budget and includes a 1.38 mill tax increase. The annual tax increase for the average home owner would be approximately $30. The increase is primarily a reflection of the years of underfunded mandates placed on the district by the state legislature, specifically, retirement, charter schools, and special education." That's what the press release stated from our June 20th, 2018 meeting. However, people need to understand what schools are up against in meeting the bottom line.

If anyone believes that members of School Boards anywhere want to raise taxes or have a cavalier attitude doing so really don't have a clear understanding of the multitude of issues that School Districts face. Do people truly believe that we want to pay more? We are taxpayers too. Folks are quick to say that we need to live within our budget, we do have a budget that provides a framework to our spending. Unfortunately it is the mandates that we must find money to pay for while relying on our Representatives to ensure that they fund what they hold us accountable to follow.

The talk of a budget in Harrisburg on time is welcome news, however North Schuylkill's increase from State sources is estimated at one percent, or 89,724 dollars more this year. Now while happy to have an increase, our contribution back to the State coffers for the Pension plan has increased by 5.5%, or an increase of $202,000. We have not filled three positions, slashed the amount of allocation for supplies, and are creating alternate learning environments in an effort to save money on out of district placements. In the past few years we have phased out double digit positions, replaced full time positions with part time employees, changed how our health care plan operates, and have turned down some much needed programs that we believe would be beneficial in attempts to save money. We are hopeful that the fair funding litigation gets cleared of all of legal hurdles in the appeal process and schools such as ours will have the same opportunities as all others in the state.

Charter school tuition and costs to educate students who make the choice not to attend North Schuylkill have also created a financial hardship. Now, we know that people say there is a reason that families make the choice to utilize a different approach, however some of the families have never stepped into our district to see what we can offer. They simply didn't like the place they previously attended and moved into the district and that bill gets shifted onto our district. This cost has risen by $144,000 or 18.24% from the previous year. The State has allowed more than triple the amount of charter or cyber charter schools that originally allocated.

Property taxes are not a shared responsibility. But not for the reasons that you may think, we hear the complaints that those renting don't pay their fair share, but rest assured landlords aren't going to pay that on their own and they pass it onto their tenants. One of the main concerns has been that some of our neighbors continue to allow their payments to go into arrears. A few million dollars is still owed to the District, if this was paid regularly we would not have to continue to increase taxes. With that said we encourage you to look on our website,, to see the lists of delinquents.

There is a buzz about property tax reform which, if a fiscally responsible plan would come along, we would support. It would make our volunteer "jobs" much, much easier and we could focus on what we all are here for, the kids. However, ask yourself some questions before jumping all in on this topic. What happened to the gas tax monies —our roads are terrible, maybe the worst they have ever been. How about the casino money — PA's casinos have broken records in revenue however has the Homestead Act provided you with more money? Or the pension that was referenced earlier— our legislators allowed it to be unfunded for years and now have put the burden on local government to recoup the monies that they mishandled. All of this on the backs of tax payers, but they shift the focus onto the lowest form of government your school directors. We will continue to attempt to be financial stewards of the tax dollars we collect and the allocations that we are provided, however trying to provide a quality education with the dollars provided by our State versus the mandates that they expect you to fund is becoming more difficult.