South Fayette officials approve budget with no tax hike
Leaders in the South Fayette Township School District — one of the fastest growing districts in the state — have once again held the line on taxes.
For the third straight year, school board members in June approved an operating budget that does not include an increase to real estate taxes.
However, the 2019-20 spending plan, with roughly $62.4 million in expenditures and $58.5 million in revenues, uses $3.8 million from the district’s fund balance, said Brian Tony, director of finance.
The tax rate will remain at 26.7 mills for 2019-20. The median homeowner in South Fayette, with a property value of $150,300, will pay $4,013 in real estate taxes.
One mill in South Fayette brings in $1.36 million.
“Our board and Mr. Tony have been very responsible in trying to get the kids what they need and not go beyond it, and being conscious of the taxpayers,” said Superintendent Kenneth Lockette.
In working their way through the budget process, district leaders did review options for a proposed tax increase, Tony said. Board members ultimately decided against that and agreed to hold the tax rate.
South Fayette schools are one of the fastest growing districts percentage wise in the state, Tony said.
From the end of 2017-18 school year to the end of the 2018-19 school year, South Fayette saw an increase of 161 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, taking its total enrollment up to 3,385 students.
Leaders are projecting the district will grow by another 150 to 160 students in the next school year, Tony said.
Previously, the highest number of new students the district added in a year was 140, with the district averaging 120 new students a year for the past 10 years, Tony said.
All of this leads to the need for added staffing and other programs, like new sports teams.
The 2019-20 budget calls for an additional 8.5 teaching positions. The district finished 2018-19 with 220 teaching staff members.
The positions are needed because of growth, leaders said, and include a social worker, high school special education teacher, middle school physical education teacher, guidance counselor at the intermediate level and two secondary teaching positions.
Previously, an assistant principal was shared between the elementary and intermediate school. With the increase in enrollment and staff, the district is adding an assistant principal solely for the intermediate school.
The additional staffing alone will cost an added $1.48 million in salaries and benefits in 2019-20.
The district also saw increases in expenses in employee retirement contributions of $280,000; campus security costs of $135,000; transportation cost increases of $117,000; new textbook costs of $71,000; and costs related to new athletic teams, including salaries of coaches, of $126,400. The district also has annual debt service payments of about $7.8 million.
After the planned taking of $3.8 million from the fund balance to balance the 2019-20 budget, the district still will have roughly $20.9 million in its fund balance. However, much of that is set aside — or assigned — for projected future costs. Only roughly $1 million of that is unassigned.
That includes approximately $5.3 million assigned to employee retirement contribution costs; $7.7 million assigned to other post-employment benefits; and $6.5 million assigned for future capital projects.
The district is in the midst of a feasibility study that is set to be completed in September that will outline future options for district facilities, Lockette said.
“We’ll know more at the end of the study. We’re looking at the programming, looking at the assessment of the facilities currently, what we can and we can’t do,” Lockette said.
Prior to the feasibility study, the district had a demographic study completed to project its future growth.
“We’re trying to keep our millage rate as low as we can. We’re trying to use some of that fund balance to hold the line. We also know that we’re probably looking at capital projects in the next two to three years,” Tony said.