KCSD approves 2012-2013 ‘Status Quo’ budget, outlook dubious

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Kennett Consolidated School District Board passes budget, calls for 3.89% tax hike

By P.J. D’Annunzio, Staff Writer, KennettTimes.com

KENNETT SQUARE —  With proposed changes in state education funding system and the elimination of the Accountability Block Grant by Gov. Tom Corbett  — some school districts were hit harder than others.

While neighboring Unionville is feeling very little in way of changes in state education funding, the Kennett Consolidated School District is struggling to cope with a second straight year of cuts in state funding, coupled with a decline in local property valuation. In short, it means less money coming in from virtually every funding source.

District taxpayers will face an increase of 3.89% — the maximum allowed under the state’s Act 1 Index (1.7%), with exceptions for pension costs and special education.

With next year looking worse — projections already suggest further state funding cuts and a large increase in pension costs — the district is hoping to maintain services as is for at least one more year.

Recognizing the grim financial outlook, The KCSD Board of Education decided to press forward with what the administration calls “the Status Quo Budget.” This budget promises to sustain existing programs for 2012-2013, uphold existing instructional budgets, allocate fund balances at the 2011-2012 level, all while granting no furloughs, adding no additional personnel or programs (with the exception of the privately funded STEM program), no additional allocations, and the incursion of no new debts.

“Our District used a ‘zero-based’ budgeting methodology, which means we start every cost center with a zero-amount, and scrutinize every request for appropriations, then measure them against established benchmark ratios,” Finance Committee Chairman Michael Finnegan said, explaining the derivation of the budget’s numbers. “We do not just add or decrease cost centers by a percentage against last year’s budget. What we do is a more tedious process, but it ensures that we review and justify every penny that we spend.”

Currently, the district spends 42% of its approximately $72 million budget on salaries and an additional 19% on employee benefits; 14% is spent on contracted services, 11% on debt service, 8% on professional services, 3% on property services, and 3% on supplies and equipment.

In terms of income, KCSD derives 92% of its revenue from Real Estate taxes, 6% from the Earned Income Tax, and 2% from various outside sources. Take into account the continuously eroding tax base in the region, and the district could be facing long-lasting repercussions for years to come.

“Under Act 1—the taxpayer relief act—we are restricted from increasing taxes above the annually established index for our district, established by PDE. For this budget the index was set at 1.7%. We can apply for exceptions from this index for programs and expenses that are mandated by the state, and whose expenses are not in our control—we did apply for exceptions for mandated special education costs and costs for the mandated Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement contribution fund,” Finnegan said.

Although the cuts in state funding have hurt the district — state funding is now only about 20% of revenue — the big hit has been declining local real estate tax revenue, caused by lowered property valuations and a sharp drop off in transfer and interim taxes, the latter two tied directly to home sales and new development, both of which have stalled. According to district officials, Kennett has been hit hard and has lost more revenue than any other district in Chester County.

“Even with keeping all expenses that our under our control to or reduced from last year’s budget, the expenses of mandated special education, medical benefits, and retirement funds have consumed our entire permitted 1.7% tax increase index,” Finnegan said.

“To make up for our lost revenue and some contractual obligations of existing collective bargaining agreements, we have once again—for the third year in a row—drawn more than $1 million from our reserves,” he continued. “This is like paying your bills with your savings account, not your paycheck.”

As the district is forced to retrieve money from its savings account, a new disturbing trend is developing at KCSD.  According to the board, this trend, if perpetuated, can only lead to cuts in curriculum and faculty.

“Even with drawing from out savings, we very reluctantly need to have a tax increase of 3.9% just to stay even and not eliminate programs and staff,” Finnegan said. “We will not be able to avoid these painful cuts next year.”

To view the budget in its entirety, visit http://kcsd.org/

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