Tax increase anticipated for 2011-2012

Following discussion of proposing a .58 mill tax increase for next year, St. Marys Area School District Superintendent Ann Kearney will present a balanced budget next month which will include the proposed tax increase.The SMASD Board of Directors gave their approval for the increase during their regular monthly meeting held Monday evening.The 2011-2012 budget projects a deficit of $136,335 without a tax increase. The .58 mill increase is the highest allowed by the state under the Act 1 index. Any larger increase must go to a public referendum vote, which is a rare occurrence. The proposed increase would result in an additional $14.50 being paid by residents owning a property appraised at $50,000. These residents currently pay $794.50 per year in school real estate taxes. Money from the tax increase would allow the district to balance next year's budget, projected at $23.5 million.According to Kearney, the district has cut its budget by $500,000, with administrators at each school decreasing their budgets by 10 percent. Among the items costing the district are reimbursements for cyber school students, which will be completely cut out next year. This results in a $66,000 loss for the district. Educational Assistance Program (EAP) funding, used to pay for tutors, will no longer exist next year if the governor's proposed budget is enacted. Neither will Accountability Block Grant funding, to the tune of $227,000. This money is currently used to pay the salaries of the district's all-day kindergarten teachers. Many school districts have chosen to go to half-day kindergarten or have completely eliminated their kindergarten program."All-day kindergarten is a step in the right direction. It is very valuable and we have had great success with it here in St. Marys," Kearney said. "Cutting this program would put a burden on our local taxpayers."Also on the chopping block is funding used for the Classrooms of the Future program. This district has not received funding for the program last year or this year.Kearney noted the district plans to retain its technology coach, Terry Surra, by utilizing him more in the classroom. She added there is no money in the budget for new equipment, as 48 percent of the budget is used for salaries and 18 percent is for benefits.Special education costs continue to increase each year, specifically due to strict state and federal mandates being placed on the district.Kearney emphasized that she does not want to cut the student activity portion of the budget, which allots for two percent of the overall budget."This is such a small percentage of the budget, but it is a huge part of a child's life. These activities help make for a more well-rounded student," she said. "These budget problems are not new, we just have to be creative in using our money. I have a positive attitude that things are going to work out."On a positive note, she said, several Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) properties will be coming back onto the tax rolls next year. This accounts for an additional $100,000 in real estate taxes benefiting the school district.