Tuition for students attending cyber charter schools tripled in cost to Lewisburg Area School District, one of several factors driving a $1.4 million starting deficit for the district’s next budget.
The district annually gets an early jump on budget work, which ultimately isn’t due until June 30. A deficit is projected at the early start every year and, ultimately, often balanced with spending cuts and increases to property taxes. The school board voted to raise taxes in seven of the past nine years. Last year, the board balanced a budget that began with a deficit of $691,835 without a tax increase.
Projected revenue and expenses for the 2021-22 school year are $36,965,036 and $38,411,493, respectively. The resulting deficit is $1,446,457, according to John Fairchild, director of administrative services.
“Our beginning deficit is a little spicy right now,” Fairchild said in his presentation to board members Thursday.
“One of the major things that happened is cyber charter school tuition,” he continued. “We are hopeful as things get better that students will return.”
According to Fairchild, 74 students now attend an independent cyber charter school. That’s up from 50 at the start of the current school year and 68 as of late October, Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Polinchock previously reported.
Just 28 district students enrolled in an independent cyber charter school in 2019-20 at a cost of $370,942 to Lewisburg Area, Fairchild said.
The district pays $13,537 for regular education students and $26,145 for special education students attending cyber charter schools. Costs vary by district and many public school leaders decry established laws they say risks the future of brick-and-mortar public schools.
“Keep in mind this is one of the things we’re working against as we’re trying to dig out of the hole,” Fairchild said.
Additional expenditure issues include contracted raises for faculty and staff, a continued increase to the district’s required contribution to the state employee retirement fund, now at 35.95 percent, and restoring cuts made last year to the capital reserve and budgetary reserve funds that were approved to avoid a tax increase.
According to the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS), employers will pay in about $4.86 billion this year. The state directly reimburses school employers for at least 50 percent of the total employer contribution rate.
The retirement fund also is funded through investment earnings and employee contributions. PSERS members contribute between 5.25% and 10.30% of their pay toward their pension depending on their membership class and when they joined PSERS, according to the government entity.
The school district generates 72.2 percent of its revenue local sources, the far majority of it through real estate and earned income taxes, according to Fairchild. Local revenue totals about $26.7 million.
Fairchild pointed out that the district has $1,408,342,590 in combined assessed property values. However, of that sum, $349,181,900 is tax exempt, leaving $1,059,160,690 eligible for taxes.
Bucknell, Evangelical and Lewisburg Area School District itself are the top three holders, in that order, of tax-exempt properties, Fairchild said. He also said that nearly half of the properties in Lewisburg Borough are exempt.