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Highlands staring at $1M budget shortfall

| Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, 11:45 p.m.

The Highlands School District is facing an early estimated budget deficit of $1 million, but district Business Manager Jon Rupert said the emphasis is on “early,” since the deadline to approve a 2017-18 school budget is July 1.

Rupert updated the school board on the status of next the upcoming budget Monday night.

He said the district currently is looking at increased expenditures of about $1.8 million over this school year.

However, Rupert said the board could bring in increased revenue to offset some of that.

He said if the board chooses to raise real estate taxes, it could do so up to a maximum of 3.6 percent under state law.

That would amount to a tax increase of 0.85 mills, which would yield an additional $510,000.

Along with real estate taxes, more revenue appears likely from wage taxes. Rupert said wage tax collections appear to have increased, but he did not provide a figure.

There is the prospect of an increase of more than $100,000 in the district's basic education subsidy from the state and more than $50,000 in the state subsidy for special education.

“The bottom line is: if you take $800,000 in revenues and $1.8 million in increased expenditures, we'd be down by about $1 million,” Rupert told the board.

Among the increased expenses the district faces is $1.8 million in wages and benefits, which is due mostly to the contract reached with the teachers last year.

He said the district must deal with a $576,000 increase in pension costs through the Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System.

In addition, he said the district will have to fork over $1.3 million in payments to charter schools for district students who opt to attend them instead of Highlands.

Even the increases in state subsidies have a catch, Rupert said.

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed increasing the basic education subsidy by about 1.9 percent, which would provide Highlands with an added $149,000, while the special education subsidies would give the district another $53,000. That would amount to $202,000.

At the same time, however, he said Wolf is proposing to cut subsidies for school transportation reimbursements.

Rupert said the district would lose $90,000 there, giving it a net increase of $112,000 in state funding.

Along with the potential revenue increases, Rupert said there is about $2.4 million in district budget cuts for the board to consider, including in the areas of technology, maintenance and equipment.

“Instructionally, nothing has been cut,” he said.

Tom Yerace is a freelance writer.

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