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Quaker Valley School Board OKs Budget, Tax Increase

School directors vote 7-1 Tuesday night to approve a 2011-12 budget that raises the real estate tax rate by 0.25 mills

Acting before the state approves its final budget, the School Board on Tuesday night approved a $39.8 million budget for the 2011-12 school year that includes a 0.25-mill tax increase.

The final budget passed in a 7-1 vote, with school Director Danielle Burnette voting against the measure. Director Kay Wijekumar was absent.

The budget calls for  Quaker Valley's tax rate to increase from 20.70 to 20.95 mills. This means a homeowner with an assessed value of $156,000 – the median home value in the district -- will pay $39 more per year, or $3 a month. The 0.25 mills will generate $339,116 in revenue for the district. 

The board also approved the "homestead and farmstead" exclusion resolution, which provides eligible homeowners with $190 in property tax relief next year.

Superintendent Joseph Clapper, in a presentation on the spending plan, called this budget season a "tough" and "intense" one.

“I think we’ve done a good job of delivering a responsible budget to the taxpayers of Quaker Valley,” Clapper said.

Quaker Valley struggled at the beginning of its budget process with a $2 million deficit due to higher expenses and a drop in revenue. Although district officials have frequently communicated with legislators, Clapper said, it’s been hard to get a clear answer if the outlook on state funding will get better. But he also acknowledged that the district is in better financial shape than many others in Pennsylvania.

“As difficult as it’s been for us, it’s been a lot easier for us than it’s been for a lot of other places,” Clapper added.

Officials previously eliminated 13 faculty, administrative and support staff positions, mostly through attrition,  but also with two furloughs. The board on Tuesday voted to lay off a custodial supervisor and accepted resignations from a part-time special education teacher and a retiring mechanic.

Budget cuts also affected other areas, including computer-lease plans for ninth-graders and external professional development activities.

Outsourcing transportation in the 2008-09 school year has helped Quaker Valley realize huge savings, Clapper said. If the district had not done so, Clapper said, its costs could have been about $2.177 million, rather than the $1.675 million it will spend. The board also approved a five-year contract extension with Monark Student Transportation Corp.

Board member Robert Riker thanked administrators for getting through a difficult process and “finding opportunities to save money, and creative ways to keep this budget under control under very difficult circumstances.”

Gianni Floro, another board member, said the public and the board should be very supportive of this budget. He said administrators kept in mind the residents expect from the schools, adding that nothing else could be cut.

“We're running out of belt loops, and I think that's very clear," Floro said. “... I think it’s the best we could have done."

Burnette, who voted against the budget, also commended administrators for their work  but said she was concerned the board was raising millage too much. She pointed out that school officials last week said the district could essentially manage with a 0.19 increase in the tax rate.

“I don’t ever see us coming to a year where we're not raising millage,” Burnette said.

With a looming crisis in state teacher pensions, many on the board felt it prudent to begin putting money away now to support the obligation.

“It’s a mandated deal from Harrisburg, and it’s a struggle for not just Quaker Valley, but all school districts across the commonwealth,” Clapper said.

Clapper said administrators already were looking to the 2012-13 school year and are considering future budget scenarios for three years or more down the road.

School districts have until June 30 to approve a budget that includes education funding, but board members said it would have been pointless to delay Tuesday’s vote until next week with no certainty that Gov. Tom Corbett’s state budget plan would be approved on time.

While the Corbett plan calls for , the state’s Republican-controlled House on May 24 approved a plan that maintains the governor’s $27.3 billion bottom line but shifts money earmarked for public welfare programs to public education.

The budget now is in the hands of the state Senate, with a deadline set for June 30. Senate leaders have said the budget could be sent back to the House for approval by the end of this week. The state’s new fiscal year starts July 1.

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