The Red Lion Area School voted 7-2 to approve its preliminary final budget, officially putting the budget on display for public review and capping the district's tax increase for 2013-14 at 1.25 percent.
Board members John Blevins and Cynthia Herbert voted against the proposed budget, which does have a tax increase from 22.3888 mills to 22.6687 mills. A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
If Red Lion had chosen to, it could have increased taxes 2.3 percent, or 0.5149 mills, the highest allowable rate under its index.
In voting no at last week's meeting, Blevins said he wanted the tax increase "at zero percent," a feat which he thinks the district can achieve. To get there, the district would need to eliminate $900,000 worth of expenditures from its expenses, something that cannot be done without cutting programs, according to district business manager Terry Robinson.
"I think we have to consistently look at all options, all policies and programs," Blevins said. "I think we're still continuing to have those conversations."
Heated exchange: Board president Chris Seitz said the budget was still under negotiation and could change downward before the final vote.
Board member James Clark, who voted in favor of the budget, disagreed and said he thinks "this will probably be it," in terms of final expenditures, revenues and tax increase.
"No, it often goes down," Seitz countered.
In what became a heated exchange, Clark countered that the board could direct the administration to find ways to cut the "nearly $1 million" needed from the budget.
Seitz shouted him down, saying, "That's not the way it works."
Clark rejoined that the administration could find "another half-million" in the budget. "I disagree," Seitz snapped.
"Then we're going to have to agree to disagree," Clark said.
During the shouting, Herbert said she would be voting no on the budget for reasons similar to Blevins'.
"I email Mr. Robinson questions all the time. I want to see what our options are," she said.
Seitz kept interrupting both Blevins and Clark as they suggested having the administration prepare lists of what could be cut to achieve the savings necessary for a zero-tax-increase budget, repeatedly saying "that's not the way it works." He emphasized it was the job of the board to direct the budget and make cuts.
"What would be the ramifications of a zero-tax-increase budget," board member Jeffrey Fix asked. "We could cut extracurriculars, but where does the rubber meet the road?"
To Seitz, Blevins said, "In prior years, we've had a slightly different process. The administration has prepared a list of possible cuttings and reductions and the board has reviewed them and we've had a conversation about those. It's the responsibility of the board to make the decision, but we've (previously) asked the admin to make recommendations."
"I think the board should do that," Seitz said, referring to making the decisions.
"What about a menu? One from column A, two from column B, et cetera," Fix asked.
Superintendent Scott Deisley jumped in and added, "Our cost per student is the lowest in the county."
"Elimination of programs means furloughs," he cautioned.
The district's budget, which sets revenues and expenditures at $83.3 million, will be on public display for the next 30 days. The board is scheduled to vote on the budget in its final form at its June 5 meeting.
-- Reach Lauren McLane at firstname.lastname@example.org.