Freeport School Board OKs preliminary budget with option to seek tax increase
The Freeport Area School Board on Wednesday approved a preliminary 2014-15 budget in order to apply for exceptions that will allow the district to increase taxes beyond a state set percentage.
Freeport Area's limit, referred to as its index, is 2.8 percent. The $27.7 million spending plan includes about an 8 percent increase in expenses and a 7 percent increase in revenue, Business Manager Ryan Manzer said.
“The 2014-15 preliminary budget has been prepared solely to fulfill a Pennsylvania Department of Education requirement … to indicate that a local tax increase above the district's index of 2.8 percent may be necessary,” Manzer said. “This is no way reflects what your actual budget will look like.”
To balance what board member Mark Shoaf referred to as an “imaginary budget,” taxes in the Armstrong County communities of South Buffalo and Freeport would rise by 4 percent and increase by 6 percent in Buffalo Township, Butler County.
The difference results from a state formula that equalizes taxes in school districts that cross county lines.
To develop the budget, Manzer said he used projected numbers based on the previous six years.
It does not include education funding proposed in Gov. Tom Corbett's budget, he said.
“Hopefully when we start working on the budget process, we can reduce some of these costs,” board President Dan Lucovich said.
Shoaf noted that the district chose not to raise taxes beyond the index in two of the three years that it applied for exceptions.
Exceptions can be granted for several items, including increasing expenses due to special education, retirement contributions payments or school construction.
“It would be irresponsible not to request it when we don't know what we're getting (from the state),” Shoaf said. “We don't have to use it.”
The largest expenses, as is typical, include salary, health insurance, retirement contributions and debt service, Manzer said.
The district plans to hold a public budget workshop at 6 p.m. March 5, in the high school audion, 621 Route 356, Buffalo Township.
The district expects to pass a tentative budget on May 7 and a final budget on June 11.
Board hires school cop
The board hired a retired major of the state police as its director of school safety.
Robert Lizik has 30 years of law enforcement experience, Lucovich said. He worked out of the East Franklin state police station. He will be paid at a salary of $27 an hour.
Lizik was selected from six applicants, Lucovich said.
“He'll develop programs for each individual classroom and teacher so if there is a situation they'll know how to react to it,” he said.
The cost of the full-time post will be paid for with a $39,500 school safety and security grant from the state.
The two-year grant would provide additional funding for Lizik's job in the 2014-15 school year. At that point, the board will re-evaluate its school safety program, Lucovich said.
Freeport Area, along with many other Alle-Kiski Valley school districts, have been evaluating their school safety and emergency plans since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012.
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or email@example.com.