By Jamie Wiggan
While the preliminary 2021-22 budget passed by the Sto-Rox district forecasts further losses for the struggling district, preliminary spending plans approved by Montour and Carlynton point to a post-pandemic recovery.
The provisional spending plans call for Montour to hold the line on taxes, while Sto-Rox and Carlynton plan to increase tax rates by 0.91 and 0.95 mils, respectively.
The increases are the first in many years for Sto-Rox while it will be the seventh increase in a row for Carlynton.
Despite raising taxes and factoring in more than $4 million in one-time federal relief money, the Sto-Rox school district is on course to increase its negative fund balance by more than $1.5 million during the next 12 months.
Approved May 20, the preliminary spending plan forecasts total revenues of $31.5 million and total expenditures of $33.1 million. The resultant $1.6 million deficit will extend the district’s negative fund balance to $9.17 million by June 2022.
Sto-Rox officials have been increasingly vocal about the district’s dire circumstances since passing a budget for the 2020-21 school year that sank it more than $3 million deeper into the hole.
“Over the course of years, our expenditures every year are exceeding our revenue,” said Eric Brandenburg, business consultant. “It’s just impossible with what we’re getting with our state and local revenue.”
In passing the preliminary budget, directors also approved a tax hike of 0.91 mils, bringing the new rate to 25 mils.
This means, for a property valued at $100,000, homeowners will owe the district an additional $91 each year.
At a millage rate of 25, homeowners owe $2,500 in school taxes for every $100,000 of property they own.
Officials at Montour meanwhile celebrated the district’s financial success while passing a $75 million preliminary budget May 20.
“We’re in a really good financial state,” Business Manager Anna Borsos said while presenting the plan to the school board.
The spending plan forecasts a surplus of approximately $500,000, maintained while also paying off long-term debt, investing in classroom facilities and additions to the bussing fleet during the 2021-22 school year.
Borsos said the district prepared for the worst in passing the 2020-21 spending plan while the pandemic raged on this time last year, but ultimately recouped more in revenue than predicted.
Between the two years, total revenue forecasts grew by nearly $5 million.
Borsos said the district went through some “lean years” prior to the pandemic, which the numbers in the latest spending plan show are now well behind them.
Montour’s millage rate will stay at 17.9 mils or $1,790 per $100,000 in property value in annual taxes.
In a preliminary budget passed May 18, Carlynton officials are proposing a tax hike for the seventh consecutive year, projecting a new millage rate of 26.74.
While outlined in the budget, the 0.95 mil rate hike was not approved during the meeting but is on the agenda for the board’s scheduled meeting in June. Once in effect, residents will owe $95 in additional annual taxes for every $100,000 of property owned.
The approved budget forecasts income and expenditures of $30.9 million throughout the upcoming school year – an increase of about $950,000 from the prior year’s projections.
Directors did not discuss the spending plan while approving it May 18. During a May 11 finance committee meeting where the plan was presented, Superintendent John Kreider said “the goal of the district is to be academically competitive in spite of financial challenges,” according to minutes posted online.
As with Montour, Carlynton directors approved a 2021 budget with lowered revenue expectations in light of the pandemic, and later recouped some of the losses.
The budgets passed by all three school districts are preliminary in nature, and therefore subject to change until final spending plans are approved before the state’s June 30 deadline.