Shaler Area approves preliminary budget
Shaler Area School District board members approved a preliminary budget that currently includes a $2.4 million deficit, along with some questions from the public.
“We do have some work to outline before June,” said Charlie Bennett, director of business affairs. “We'll be whittling this down between now and the June meeting. Hopefully we'll have a balanced budget by June 19.”
The $74.7 million budget has the largest increases — $1.8 million and $626,000 — for regular instruction and special-education instruction, respectively.
Bennett said the majority of the budget's increases stem from the rising costs of the district's mandatory Pennsylvania School Employees' Retirement Systems, or PSERS, contribution rate and health care.
PSERS contribution rates will increases from 12.4 percent of payroll to 16.9 percent for the 2013-14 school year and to an anticipated 30 percent by 2018-19.
High School teacher Jim McDermott asked how the district estimated the regular-instruction line item when the district currently is going through contract negotiations. Shaler Area teachers have been working under the terms of the previous contract since it expired Aug. 15, 2011, and the Shaler Area Education Association, the collective bargaining unit, and district officials have been trying to negotiate a new contract since January 2011.
Bennett said there always are questions about the unknown values within a budget, but his office generally looks at trends.
“It's not an exact science,” he said.
Parent Chris Weaver questioned the district's allocations of funds for future capital projects and the PSERS contribution when the teachers are working without a new contract.
“I feel the money is being put toward the future, but we're not taking care of the present,” Weaver said.
School Board President James Giel said the board is aware of the district's future responsibilities to the teachers and taxpayers, which is why the district is being conscientious about use of its available fund balance.
“We are planning for the future so we don't have to overburden the taxpayers,” Giel said.
The district's PSERS contribution rate will increase to 25 percent of payroll in two years.
“For teachers, as their salaries increase so does that 25 percent,” Giel said. “We know we're going to have a 25 percent contribution. … We're trying to forestall the higher tax increase.”
The school board finance committee will discuss the budget in more detail at its meeting on Wednesday, May 29, before bringing the budget before the Committee of the Whole on Wednesday, June 12, for review.
Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.