Facing a shortfall of $3.9 million, the Dover School Board is facing serious choices about what to cut and where to trim its budget in order to close the gap.

Even if the district maxes out its allowable tax increase - 2.3 percent - because the revenue an average mill in the district generates is already so low, that increase will only get the district an additional $606,000 in revenue, Superintendent Robert Krantz said Monday night.

The district's millage rate currently is 21 mills. A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

A 2.3 percent increase would raise the millage rate to 21.48 mills, which equates to a $48 increase in the tax bill of a $100,000 house, business manager Belinda Wallen said. About 82 percent of the district's tax base is residential, and the average assessed value is less than $100,000, Krantz added. Even with increasing the taxes, the district can only garner so much revenue that way.

The board now must make hard decisions about where it's going to come up with the rest of that money, and nothing is off-limits from being cut.

Already axed are replacements for seven teachers who are retiring at the end of the school year. Known as savings through attrition, the practice means not replacing teachers who retire, thus saving the district the cost of their salary and benefits. It also means, however, that there are fewer teachers teaching as many, if not more, students.

Currently, the district has between 3,650 and 3,700 students but has only 230 professional staff - teachers, counselors, administrators. Classroom sizes are larger than at other districts in York County, with elementary classes at approximately 25 students and high school classes at 35 or more. With savings through attrition, those numbers could rise to 35 in elementary schools and 45 in high school.

Not hiring teachers to replace the seven who are retiring would save the district an additional $745,508 in salary and benefits. Other considerations on the table include, among others, deferring library book purchases for one year, which would save an estimated $39,963; deferring athletic uniforms purchase for a year, which would save an estimated $41,716; eliminating JV extracurriculars, which would save an estimated $65,197; and deferring vehicle replacement, which would save an estimated $35,000.

Even if the district takes the maximum tax increase, and if it takes all the savings options suggested, and if it uses $1.5 million from its unreserved fund balance, it will still be more than $717,000 short, leaving it with the options of taking more money from its unreserved fund - which has a balance of about $3.2 million - or using reserve money from the PSERS (Pennsylvania State Educators Retirement System) fund to balance the budget.

Taking the final choice, of borrowing from PSERS, could put the district in a tricky financial position.

"We've been putting every dollar we could into PSERS, knowing that it would go to 25, 26, 27 percent," Krantz said. "What we didn't know about were the changes in the health care," he added.

- Reach Lauren McLane at news@yorkdispatch.com.