Wallenpaupack Area School District Board, May 8th, unanimously approved a proposed, $71.8 million budget for 2017-2018.

WALLENPAUPACK - Wallenpaupack Area School District Board, May 8th, unanimously approved a proposed, $71.8 million budget for 2017-2018.

Expenditures total $71,809,897 and revenues, $70,860,754. Making up the difference is $949,143 from the Fund Balance, to balance the budget.

This was also the first draft Wallenpaupack budget to top $70 million. The final 2016-2017 budget expenditures totaled $69.7 million (the draft version totaled $69.8 million).

Proposed millage rates - subject to change by the time of final adoption - include 14.6710 mills for Wayne County, an increase of 0.3518, and 72.3522 mills (2.46% increase) for Pike County, an increase of 1.8731 (2.66% increase).

State 'guesstimate'

The budget was approved for public review. Final adoption is set for June 19. Because the school board fiscal year coincides with that of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, July 1- June 30, school districts are forced to plan their own budget not knowing what the state will do. A good portion of the school budget comes from state revenues, and the state is not always on time with their budget due June 30. A couple years ago the state budget was six months late.

“Sometimes we have to use the basic information we have from our local legislators as well as the Governor’s Office, basic projections as to where they think the state will be, to plug numbers into our budget,” he explained. “That’s not exactly the way a good business should do that, but unfortunately that’s the way we have to do it.”

The state sets a limit each year (Act 1 Education Index) as to how high school taxes may be increased, unless certain exemptions are requested- such as pension or special education needs. This year Wallenpaupack did not seek exemptions, which might have allowed them to raise taxes a little further. The limit set for Wallenpaupack is 2.5%.

Silsby pointed out that the Wallenpaupack tax millage for Pike County is the lowest of the three school districts there. In Wayne County, the Wallenpaupack school tax is second lowest; Susquehanna, a small district which serves a portion of northern Wayne County, is even lower.

He stated that while they realize no one wants to pay more taxes, Wallenpaupack has been able to minimize taxes while still providing good resources, facilities and staff to serve their students.

New revenues

New revenues, with the proposed tax increases, brings in:

Property taxes $1,201,056.
Assessed value growth $27,792.
Basic education funding $410,925.  - The Governor proposed about $100 million in new school money of which approximately $153,000 comes to Wallenpaupack. The $410K also includes state funding approved last year but was not figured in the school budget because the state had not settled on the matter by the time the school district adopted the budget.

The House Republicans passed their version of the budget which also keeps $100 million for Education; the Senate is yet to decide.

“Unfortunately there’s some things going the wrong direction lately,” Silsby said. April’s state tax revenues were 13% below estimates, or almost $500 million less revenue than projected. For the fiscal year, the state is almost “one billion dollars” short in revenue they expected. “That concerns me as a superintendent, and you as a board and the community, that we may or may not see that level of Basic Ed funding.”

Current Act 511 taxes $40,000.- These are from Real Estate Transfer Taxes, only slowly recovering from years of stagnant growth.

Special Education funding $15,673. - The Governor and Republicans both proposed $25 million; Wallenpaupack’s share would be about $15.6K.
Pension contribution reimbursed by the state, $488,733.

Pension biggest expense

The biggest expense sending the budget over the $70 million mark is pension costs. School districts are required by law to contribute a third of the employees’ pensions; the state and the employee also each put in a third. The rate is also set by the state; the school district has no control over it, Silsby stressed.

This rate is based on 32.5% of total payroll.
Pension costs for Wallenpaupack for the 2017-2018 school year are $10,514,443. This is an increase over the current school year by $979,040 - nearly a million dollars. Since 2010-2011, pension costs to Wallenpaupack have jumped $9,145,395.

Pension costs make up 14.6% of the entire school budget for expenditures.
The state reimburses the school district for about half of what the district puts in. This will total $488,733 for the 2017-2018 school year and is counted as revenue.

New expenditures

Wallenpaupack’s proposed budget anticipates these new expenditures:
Salaries $444,303 (up by 1.87%). - They have approximately 520 employees.
Pension $979,040. - Salaries drive the total pension cost to the district.
Health benefits $478,295.

New staff $228,095. - Three new Special Education teachers are being hired for next year. Two are to be hired because of programming changes including co-teaching, and the third teacher is needed to help with special-needs kids that were typically placed outside the district in specialized programs.

Co-curricular activities $76,235. - “One of the real pluses is having a great Student Body that works hard and is very successful and win lots of awards and contests,” Silsby stated. “The down side is it costs money to support them.” For just one example, 24 FBLA students went to national competition in California. “These kids did an outstanding job and the district supports that…,” he said. Money is set aside for the associated expenses of victory.

Declining revenues

The proposed budget takes into account declining federal and state revenues:

Title I - Reading First $17,495.
Alternative Education - $10,000.
Transportation - $114,664. - The Governor and Republicans proposed amounts for school transportation that equates to this reduction for Wallenpaupack.
Title II - Class Size Reduction $120,000. This federal program may be “zeroed out”.
Vocational Ed - Carl Perkins $40,000.

Savings

Utilities $26,000. - The district continues to reap savings from conversion to geothermal energy and other energy improvements done a few years ago.

Transportation $100,000. - The district is working with some of their transportation contractors about combining some of the services and save money. Declining enrollment also factors in.

Staff attrition $443,470. - This amount is saved from not replacing personnel once they retire or replacing them with new employees at an entry-level rate.

Staffing

Although three new Special Education teachers are being added, five other positions are being eliminated. This includes four teachers and one teacher assistant, due to retirement.
Health benefits for 2017-2018 are up 5.8%.
Pension costs are up 1.37%.

Altogether, revenues for 2017-2018 are expected to be $70,860,754. This includes $52,828,879 in local dollars; $17,326,875 from the state and $705,000 from the federal government,

Silsby explained in detail why Pike and Wayne county tax millages appear so different. The differences occur in the way assessed values are determined in each county. The State Tax Equalization Board uses a formula to balance it out so that the millage rate for each county, although widely different, still bring in approximately the same amount of tax revenue for a similar property.

State gaming funds- generated from casinos- are distributed by a state formula to each school district for property tax reduction. This affects 7,073 approved homesteads and 16 approved farmsteads. The tax relief per property is $192.24, an increase of $3.19 from the prior year.

To find out the tax millage impact on your taxes, take the assessed property value, divide by 1,000 and multiply the result by the millage rate.

See the entire budget presentation pages at wallenpaupack.org; go to Board of Education; BoardDocs; “Enter Public Site” and choose “Committee Agenda.” Under “View Agenda” click on Presentation.”

The next WASD School Board meeting is set for Monday, June 19 at 6 p.m. in the High School Library. A committee meeting precedes it at 5:30 p.m. Graduation is on June 16th.