The Shippensburg Area School Board approved the 2019-20 final budget of $52,092,794, with no tax hike Monday with a 6-2 vote.
Directors Charles Suders and Dr. Geno Torri cast the two dissenting votes, and Director Dr. Nathan Goates was absent. The board did not have any discussion prior to the final vote of approval.
Since the preliminary budget was approved April 23, Business Manager Cristy Lentz said there were no other finance meetings scheduled, and no changes made to the final draft.
Administration previously said it recommended no tax hike because of an increase in property values, accrued bank account interest and the expectation of receiving 100 percent of what is recommended in state funding coming out of Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed budget.
Although the board did not decide to increase taxes for the 2019-20 school year, the market value of taxable properties changed between the counties. As a result, the Franklin County millage rate increased by 1.2 percent, from 97.82 to 99.00, and Cumberland County millage rate dropped 1.03 percent, from 11.91 to 11.78.
The average Franklin County taxpayers will pay an additional $23.87 in real estate taxes this year, while the average Cumberland County taxpayer will see a subtraction of $21.70 from their real estate taxes this year.
The administration could have recommended as much as a 3 percent real estate tax increase, which is the most allowed by state law.
The district will balance its deficit of $1,188,992 using dollars from its fund balance to cover expenditures, including its $425,000 committed payment to the state’s pension fund, Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS), as well as $178,000 to pay for assigned Capital Technology Expenses and $525,000 to pay for assigned Capital Maintenance Expenses. The remaining $60,992 comes out of its unassigned fund balance.
The paving of district parking lots is the most expensive of the capital maintenance projects for the 2019-20 school year, estimated at $300,000.
The administration projected revenues totaling $50,903,802 for 2019-20, with $21,801 being generated from the real estate tax.
Superintendent Dr. Jerry Wilson commended the board’s approval on social media for two new 6th grade teaching positions, a Co-Op high school teacher, an Elementary Intervention teacher and investments in school security and security cameras.
The Co-Op teacher, which is a position intended to better the career readiness of its students, will cost an estimated $72,903 for 2019-20. The two teachers at the middle school are projected to cost a combined $145,806. The intervention teacher is projected to cost $70,061. The district also decided to allot $100,000 for the potential hiring of a school resource officer, as well as additional funds in its budget for security cameras in all of its buildings.
Suders felt they should have either raised taxes to cover the increase in expenditures for 2019-20, or decided not to add the new positions to the payroll. Budgeted expenditures of $49,461,235 were approved for the 2018-19 school year, which is about $2,600,000 less than what was approved for this upcoming year.
“Last year was $49 million, and next year they just put in $52 million with no tax increase,” Suders said after the meeting. “It's all going to come out of the savings account, and a lot of it is going to be recurring debt for new positions. I don't know where the money is coming from.”
He added, “We could have done the tax increase. We could have not hired so many people. We could have worked with what we had before. We don't have anymore students than we had last year, and it's basically the same ones coming in. And, we graduated about the same number.”
After the approval, Vice President Susan Spicka said she was proud of the board and administration for their work on passing the budget, calling it a win for taxpayers and students. She noted the hiring of the intervention specialist, two 6th grade middle school teachers -- to help reduce class sizes to give more personal attention -- and the co-op teacher in the high school as positives. She also added they are responsibly using their fund balance.
“There is no point in sitting on $10 million when we have really critical, urgent needs in the district. We are spending money on security cameras for every building. We are redoing the auditorium, which hasn't been pretty much touched since the 1970s, and we are redoing parking lots, and if anybody's been looking at the parking lots, they are very seriously degraded, and it really is something that we need to do,” Spicka said.
She added her appreciation for the work of Wilson, Lentz and Special Education Supervisor Peggy Crider, especially for their work in being able to educate more special education students in the district, rather than needing to send them outside the district to cyber charter schools.
Resident Aaron Dobbs spoke during the public comment period about some of his worries associated with the tax breaks given to some of the large corporations in the area.
“What troubles me is we've had a pattern, until I think this board, or possibly the last board, of granting fairly major variances to the tax rate for incoming businesses such as Procter & Gamble,” Dobbs said.
He described these variances, or abatements, as money invested, and said the public should have access to the information pertaining to these abatements for these businesses. He wants to be reassured that all the businesses are paying their “equal weight” across all the different taxes.
“As you plan toward the future, I encourage all of you, especially people that are going to be on future boards, to really minimize giving away money that may cause existing taxpayers' rates to go up.”
The district entered into Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA) agreements with Procter & Gamble, along Olde Scotland Road in Southampton (Franklin) Township, and Prologis Park, along Walnut Bottom Road in Southampton (Cumberland) Township, in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
According to information provided by Lentz, Procter & Gamble will pay full taxes starting in 2025, and Prologis Park, currently housing Georgia-Pacific Corp. and Ryder, will pay full taxes starting in 2021. Suders was the only current board member on the board at the time of these resolutions.