For the second year in a row, York City School District officials are poised to adopt a balanced budget that does not hike property taxes.
If the budget is approved as proposed, the district's millage rate would remain at 33.74.
However, a huge piece of the district's financial puzzle is still missing and could drastically alter the district's plans for 2014-15.
Despite a year of negotiations, the teachers' union has not agreed to a new contract.
Details of the negotiations are private. But district officials have repeatedly said they are seeking significant wage and benefits concessions from the district's labor force, which accounts for about 46 percent of York City's budget.
Those concessions are part of the district's financial recovery plan, which is designed to return the district to financial solvency through improved academic achievement and security.
Richard Snodgrass, the district's business manager, said he is optimistic the negotiations will be resolved before the school board is scheduled to vote on the budget June 25.
"At this point we simply have to work through this next month and solve the problem as it's presented to us," he said.
The proposed budget Snodgrass put together reflects a $4.9 million deficit in next year's spending plan if concessions are not achieved. Expenses are projected to be about $121 million, and revenue is projected to be about $116 million.
State law requires school districts to pass a balanced budget by June 30 of each year.
Options: Achieving a balanced budget without concessions from teachers will be a challenge, but there are "a lot of potential solutions," Snodgrass said.
"We do not want to ... raise taxes, because they're already too high, and we don't want to hurt the students and the kids by simply cutting programs," Snodgrass said. "We're going to find some other solution to this, and there are possible solutions out there."
For example, he said, district officials expect a significant number of students from New Hope Academy Charter School — which will close in June — to enroll in the district.
Also on the revenue side, the state — which appointed chief financial recovery officer, David Meckley — could come to the district's aid with more funding.
"The state understands our situation. The state understands the efforts that we're going through to try to make this work. I believe they're supportive of that," Snodgrass said.
It's happened before.
Last July, district officials got word that state lawmakers had passed a budget that increased the district's state subsidy by $5.5 million.
That news came about a month after the school board approved a $114 million budget that did not raise taxes. However, district officials had planned to borrow about $5 million to cover expenses.
The rationale: The additional money, which brought the total state subsidy to about $61.5 million, negated the need to borrow money.
Snodgrass said he wants to avoid raising taxes next year if at all possible because the city's tax rate is already "too high."
"That is detrimental to the long-term prospects of the city and the district," he said. "Therefore, we're doing everything we can to avoid that."
Balancing the 2014-15 budget through expense cuts — such as programs or teachers — is "the absolute last resort," Snodgrass said.
"I do not want to see that happen," he said.
In fact, the district plans to add teaching positions and reopen Hannah Penn, a former middle school, as a K-8 building in an effort to reduce class sizes.
The district wants to expand its Cornerstone program — which started this year as a method of supporting students struggling academically and behaviorally in regular classrooms — to include first and second grades. The district is also resurrecting its performing-arts program, which is budgeted to cost about $300,000 next year, Snodgrass said.
"It's a question of balance, and we're trying to get this job done," he said. "We're trying to help improve the city and the school district all at the same time."
— Reach Erin James at firstname.lastname@example.org.