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Quaker Valley could raise taxes beyond state limit

| Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, 11:00 p.m.

A first look at the 2018-19 Quaker Valley School District operating budget indicates district leaders could raise taxes beyond the state issued limit and tap into the district's reserve to balance the $50 million spending plan.

The preliminary budget, approved by board members in an 8-0 vote Feb. 13, calls for an increase to the district's tax rate to 18.9090 mills, granted state Department of Education (PDE) approvals are given on referendum exceptions.

Board member David Pusateri was absent.

However, the district still does not know how much it will be allowed to raise taxes beyond its state issued index of 2.4 percent, which sets the limit for a tax increase in Quaker Valley at 18.8425 mills. Scott Antoline, director of finance and operations, said he estimates the district will be allowed to go above the index by anywhere from 0.07 mills to 0.10 mills.

The tax rate in Quaker Valley was set at 18.4009 mills for 2017-18. One mill in the Quaker Valley School District in 2017-18 brought in about $1.8 million.

District leaders also currently plan to use about $800,000 from the unassigned fund balance, Antoline said.

The preliminary budget in Pennsylvania school districts is a first look at district's operating budgets that often changes throughout the year prior to their June 30 mandated passage.

Quaker Valley's preliminary budget does not include cuts to staff or programs, Antoline said. It includes a 3.37 percent increase in expenses from 2017-18, that primarily can be attributed to rising salaries and benefits outlined in contracts, mandated increases to the state employee retirement system and special education and charter school costs, he said.

Pennsylvania school districts, under Act 1 rules, had until Feb. 14 to adopt a preliminary budget. Board members also had the option to pass a resolution indicating they would not raise taxes above the state-issued index.

If a school district wants to raise taxes above the state-issued index they must apply for and receive approval from the state for referendum exceptions.

Quaker Valley has sought referendum exceptions to go above that limit for special education expenditures and retirement contributions.

The district does not know at this point which will be granted, however, Antoline estimates that number will be between 0.07 and 0.10 mills. All of this is pending state Department of Education approval and “determination of need in the final budget,” Antoline said.

Pennsylvania school districts have until March 1 to seek referendum exceptions. The PDE then has until March 22 to rule on those requests.

Quaker Valley's proposed final budget is tentatively set for approval April 17, with the final budget scheduled to be brought before the board May 21 for a vote. However that timeline can shift if needed, Antoline said.

“It is too early in the process to predict what changes may occur,” Antoline said of the budget between now and then.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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