York City School Board, grappling with another double-digit budget deficit, approved a budget Wednesday with the highest property tax hike in York County in at least half a decade.
The board approved a $108 million budget that preserves some sports teams and some art and music teachers, after an earlier version called for eliminating them in their entirety. The district entered the budget with a $19 million deficit.
But not everything was saved. All but two guidance counselors were cut, as well as the gifted seminar position. The only sports saved were basketball, football and volleyball, and the athletic director position was cut.
At least 50 teachers were furloughed, and Hannah Penn and Edgar Fahs Middle Schools were closed as the district moves to a K-8 model. The switch from an elementary and middle school model meant 28 K-6 teachers, nine other professional positions and the middle school principal positions were eliminated, saving York City about $3.2 million.
The central office was affected, too. Two assistant superintendent positions were eliminated as well, and central office staff took a wage freeze.
The board also decided to push off about $3 million-$5 million in debt payments until 12 years from now, saving $1 million next year but forcing a school board down the road to handle the debt incurred now, according to the district.What drew comments of dissenting board members in the 6-3 vote, though, was the thought of a 17 percent tax hike that brings in $4.7 million in revenue but takes the mill rate from 31.08 to 36.39 mills. The board used exceptions from the state to go over its 2.7 percent tax cap.
For a $50,000 homeowner in York City, that's about a $265 tax hike; for a $100,000 homeowner, that's about a $530 tax hike.
"I can't support a 17 percent tax increase. It's not fair to the homeowners," said Sandie Walker, the chairman of the finance committee.
"We're going to push people right out of this city," added Gary Calhoun.
Those two and board member Beverly Atwater opposed the budget; member Gregg Nelson supported the budget but voted against the tax hike in a separate resolution. Board President Margie Orr said the district had no choice.
"I don't relish having to vote for voting up taxes," Orr said.
Who's to blame? Walker said a lack of proper state funding is mostly to blame for the tax hike, as charter school tuition reimbursement, kindergarten grant funding and other sources have dried up under Gov. Tom Corbett.
"All he has done is push the burden on local municipalities," Walker said.The district, though, also entered the 2012-13 budget year in a precarious budget situation, according to its former business consultant, James Duff. York City has barely any surplus left and had too many teachers, considering enrollment has declined by thousands of students in recent years.
And the district failed to budget for charter school payments to one of its charter schools in the past year or budget for unemployment costs for the 100-plus furlough employees it had, leading in part to a mid-year deficit, according to Duff.
York City also decided not to raise taxes from 2008-2011, instead using surplus to make up for forgone tax revenue.
After blazing through more than $10 million of its fund balance, Duff said the district won't be able to handle any unforeseen circumstances next year.
According to budget documents, York City will have $413 in its fund balance.
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