Temper expectations of even mild increases in state education funding over the coming two years, Kathy Swope warned fellow directors at Thursday’s meeting of the Lewisburg Area School Board.
The first look at the 2019-20 school year budget included a 2 percent increase in state education dollars — a “conservative” increase, as described by John Fairchild, director of administrative services, and one matching projections from years past. Early revenue projections are set at $35,783,210 with $9,419,418 coming from the state.
The current year’s spending and revenue is balanced at $35,150,290.
“The word on the street is that the next two years in the state budget is going to be incredibly tight,” said Swope, a member of the governing board of the Pennsylvania School Board Association. “That may be a number that changes not in our favor,” she added about the projected increase.
Spending for next school year is projected at $36,438,642, putting Lewisburg Area at a $655,432 deficit at the start of the budget process. Last year, the district’s beginning deficit topped $880,000, Fairchild said. It was balanced without a tax increase.
Driving factors in increasing spending include rising retirement contributions, special education expenses and contracted employee raises.
“Our enrollments are growing and our needs are growing so we need to be prepared for that,” Fairchild said of special education, adding that state funding allocated for special education hasn’t budged the last five years.
Public schools must contribute 34.79 percent of a teacher’s salary towards the teacher retirement fund, up from 35.43 percent. Teachers put in between 6.5 percent and 10 percent themselves, Swope noted.
“That’s also something a lot of people don’t realize, that they too are contributing to this out of every paycheck,” Swope said.
Swipe said the school board would work to avoid a 2.7 percent tax increase when balancing the next budget. The percentage is the maximum allowed under state law without a voter referendum or state-approved exception.
“Absolutely, I will look under our couch cushions for every quarter,” Fairchild said.