Schools thinking about next budget

It may be over six months away from when the budget for the Warren County School District has to be completed, but it isn’t too early to start talking about it.

WCSD Business Manager Jim Grosch provided a “very high-level viewpoint of what is coming up in the very near future” regarding the budget to the school board’s Finance Committee during a Monday evening meeting at the Warren County Career Center.

Grosch said that a proposed preliminary budget will be presented to the board on Jan. 13.

At that point, the board will have to decide whether it wants to reserve the option of raising taxes higher than the state-permitted index. That leaves open the option for the district to pursue special exceptions, for the state retirement system or special education, or raising taxes above the index, which would require approval via public referendum during next spring’s primary election.

Grosch informed the committee that the Pennsylvania Department of Education has released the index for 2014-2015, which allows the district to raise taxes by 2.1 percent. The adjusted index, which takes into account the district’s state funding, adjusts the district’s allowable increase up to three percent.

“The board could increase taxes on the current millage of 59.658 mills (by) 1.53 mills,” said Grosch. Such an increase equates to “approximately $612,000.”

Of the budget to be presented next month, he said, “This is a very preliminary stage for us. (We) don’t really know what the state budget is going to be.”

Without knowing state budget figures, the district cannot be sure what state education funding will look like in 2014-2015.

He explained that approving the possibility of exceeding the index allows the district to explore the exceptions that the state permits as well as “gives us flexibility and it buys us time.”

Last year, according to Grosch, the district applied for the exceptions but ultimately did not utilize them and passed a no-tax increase budget.

“Budget development is all about style, how you want to take a look at that,” Superintendent Dr. William Clark said. “We’ve had many discussions about the budget.”

Clark’s experience will likely lead to a different budgeting process this year but he is working with Grosch to build on work done in past years.

“We’re trying to have a healthy dialogue to see where we can come together,” said Clark. “(It) might be a little different spin as to what you have seen” he said to the board.

He emphasized that the district will adhere to state-suggested guidelines. He also said that, at the building level, budgets will be based on actual expenditures, instead of the zero-based approach used in past years where administrators start from scratch and develop budgets based on expected need.

Grosch said that he will be coming to the January committee meeting with much more detail after the proposed preliminary budget has been approved.

According to the PDE timeline, the district is required to approved the preliminary budget and declare whether it will or will not raise taxes above the index by Jan. 30. The budget is required to be in place by June 30.