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Districts forced to vote on budgets

By law, school districts must approve their budgets by June 30 even if the state has not finalized its education subsidies

By law, school districts must approve their budgets by June 30 even if the state has not finalized its education subsidies

June 21, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

Franklin County, Pa., school districts that have put off passing their budgets until the state hammers out its own funding plan must vote on their proposals next week - regardless of what the state does.

Chambersburg, Waynesboro and Tuscarora school districts have held off on budget approval to see if the state comes through with an additional 1 percent funding for education. That money could mean not dipping as far into reserves or smaller tax increases.

By law, they must approve their budgets by June 30.

But the state has not passed its budget yet and probably won't until Wednesday at the earliest, Rep. Patrick Fleagle, R-Franklin, said Thursday.

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"I think there seems to be a consensus there will be at least one more percent raise in the education subsidy to 2 percent across the board," he said.

Rep. Jeff Coy, D-Franklin, said balancing the state budget, which has more than a $1 billion deficit from the current fiscal year, has been the sticking point.

"We have to come up with money to plug that hole," he said.

The delay is causing problems for the Chambersburg Area School District, which became accustomed to the state setting its budget in May, Superintendent Edwin Sponseller said.

The board was to vote on a proposed $66.2 million budget on June 12, but officials postponed the meeting until Wednesday, he said.

"My recommendation will be if we do not have a state budget that we will go ahead and act on our budget," Sponseller said. "At that point we would hope there wouldn't be a dollar-for-dollar lowering of local real estate."

The district must have its tax notices ready July 1, and officials fear any state increase in funding would require corresponding tax reductions. That would mean the district would have to spend money mailing corrected notices and refunds, he said.

Sponseller said the district also can't act on appointments to fill 30 professional vacancies until there is a budget in place.

"Candidates can get nervous and accept employment with other districts," he said.

The Waynesboro Area School District has set Tuesday night for the vote on its final budget, and the Tuscarora School District in Mercersburg, Pa., plans to vote on a $21.6 million budget Monday.

Internally, the delay is causing headaches with doing the year-end "roll-over" and preparing the payroll, which is due July 3, said Dick Lipella, business manager of Tuscarora schools.

"It makes things more difficult," he said.

He said he does not anticipate the state forcing the district to make a refund, so any additional funds would probably go to building up the reserve fund.

Greencastle-Antrim and Fannett-Metal school districts have already approved their budgets.

Dana Baker, superintendent of Fannett-Metal, said the district's $4.9 million budget approved Tuesday did not include a tax increase, and any additional state funds would go toward its $3 million building project. He said he does not anticipate the state requiring corresponding tax reductions.

"If worse comes to worse and they pass an increase and we had to do a dollar-for-dollar rebate, we would print new tax notices if we could in time or work out a rebate," he said.

Greencastle-Antrim school district passed its approximately $22 million budget in the first week of June.

"There was no clear indication I could get from our legislators or the state that they would even have a budget by June 30," Superintendent P. Duff Rearick said.

Coy said Thursday he doubts the legislature will pass the budget until late next week.

He wants to see more money for schools, but he is uncertain whether districts will have to cut their local taxes in return.

"More money from the state should not be an absolute windfall for school districts. But school districts have been dealing with inadequate funding for the last eight years and they need more revenue," Coy said.

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