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Revamped School Budget Would Ease State College Tax Increase, Includes No Layoffs

on February 21, 2012 12:11 AM

State College school administrators introduced a budget plan Monday that would ease a projected tax increase and introduce no layoffs for the 2012-13 school year.

In January, a split school board narrowly OK'd a preliminary budget that included a 3.3-percent tax increase. The fiscal plan assumed the school district would take a $500,000 hit in state funding and face a roughly $1.4 million budget gap.

But Gov. Tom Corbett's state budget proposal, released this month, includes a funding increase of more than $100,000 for the State College public schools. That has cut the projected budget gap for the district to the $1 million range.

Given the new projections, administrators have revised their budget proposal to include a lower, 2.7-percent tax increase. An increase at that level would amount to $70 in extra taxes for the median homeowner, according to reworked figures presented Monday night.

The new budget plan also would rely on $600,000 in attritional savings, achieved by leaving open some positions and refilling others with less-well-paid employees. (It's not yet clear what positions could yield attritional savings, as district employees don't have to announce retirement plans until April.)

Administrators said the district can save $100,000 more via lower unemployment compensation in 2012-13 -- that is, if the district avoids furloughs. The latest budget plan also calls for $515,000 less in supply and equipment expenses.

But it would not impose new participation fees for extra- and co-curricular activities, Superintendent Robert O'Donnell said. It would maintain a $1 million contribution to the district's Capital Reserve Fund and sustain the district's pre-funding strategy for retirement obligations.

O'Donnell said the reason for avoiding extra- and co-curricular fees is simple: "That's not going to provide a significant closure of the (budget) gap."

That said, he went on, the district should keep the fee option on the table should future budget cuts -- in later years -- threaten more core areas of the schools' educational mission.

O'Donnell said the budget numbers for 2012-13 aren't nearly as daunting as they were last year, when shortfall projections reached a few million dollars and layoffs materialized. The current proposed budget, he said, keeps a central focus on the integrity of core academic functions and the classroom.

Board members Monday appeared generally supportive of the latest budget plan. It includes a tentative, $250,000 allocation for four new instructional-coaching positions at the elementary level.

Elementary teachers have the least amount of support among the district's faculty members, O'Donnell said. Administrators said the plan should advance their professional development and, in turn, student achievement.

The new positions would be funded by budget cuts or reallocations elsewhere, O'Donnell said.

He encouraged school employees, students and the community at large to review the budget and offer their input as the process moves forward. The board is due to finalize the budget in June.

The district will host several forums on the budget. Staff and student forums are scheduled for Feb. 29 and March 1, respectively. A community forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 1 in the State High South Building auditorium, on the 600 block of Westerly Parkway.

Detailed budget documents are available via the district's official website.

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