York City School District approves STEAM school
The York City School District proposed a budget that projects a slight deficit and no increase in property taxes for a fifth year and approved the reopening of an old school for a new STEAM academy during a board meeting last week.
District Superintendent Eric Holmes said the budget will allow the district to “continue everything we have started over the last few years” since the district began its status as a district in financial recovery in December 2012.
During the voting session, the board unanimously approved the Edgar Fahs Smith STEAM Academy proposal presented the previous week. During the presentation, Holmes called it an innovative school that will help keep students in the district and away from charter schools.
The budget: The budget projected expenditures at $137.8 million and expects revenue of $135.8 million. The budget will leave the district with a deficit of $1,905,064 that will be taken out of an unassigned fund balance, which is projected to stand at $14.6 million by the end of the fiscal year ending June 30.
The district’s 2016-2017 school year budget had a surplus of nearly the same amount, at $1,908,329. With the new budget, the general fund balance is projected to stand at $12.67 million by the end of the next fiscal year.
For the fifth year, the York City School District is proposing no increase in property taxes for residents. The real estate millage rate will remain at 33.376 mills. York City’s millage rate remains the highest in the county and among the highest in the state, according to district business manager Richard Snodgrass.
Snodgrass explained his recommendation not to raise taxes by comparing financial status of the district to other school districts in the county, saying more suburban districts have a “usually growing” tax base that allows those school boards to incrementally raise taxes each year without placing an undue burden on residents.
“We don’t really have that luxury,” Snodgrass said.
Budget makeup: York City heavily relies on state assistance for its revenue funding. According to Snodgrass, 68 percent of projected revenue, or $92.7 million, will come from the state.
Local revenues amounted to $35.5 million, or about 26 percent of the budget.
The largest portion of expenditures in the budget is salaries and benefits of district employees, which represent about 53 percent of the budget, according to Snodgrass.
The second-largest portion of district expenditures is funds going from the district to charter schools, including Helen Thackston Charter School and York Academy. About 20 percent goes to these schools.
Funds going to other schools, such at the Lincoln Intermediate Unit and York County School of Technology, amount to about 6 percent of the budget. The other 21 percent goes toward debt service payments and other costs.
Proposals: Some of the programs include the district leadership teams, the bilingual centralized intake center, the high school freshman academy, special subject areas and career counseling, among other initiatives.
“The purpose of the recovery plan was to improve our finances, and the way we decided to do that was to reduce the number of students leaving the district,” Holmes said. One of the ways to combat students leaving the district was to help make the school district safe and to raise test scores, according to Holmes.
Part of that solution is the now-approved STEAM academy at the former Smith Middle School, which was proposed during the April 10 board meeting. Holmes cited the success of STEAM academies in other urban school districts, such as Philadelphia, at that time.
The estimated first-year cost of the STEAM school operation is $2.57 million.
Along with his belief in the benefits of such an academy to district students, Holmes said the academy can help in other ways.
“As part of the goals of the recovery plan, (we hope) to keep students here in the school district and draw students back,” Holmes said.
Reaction: Board president Margie Orr said she was pleased with the budget proposal and hopes the proposed budget revenues from the state will come to pass.
Snodgrass said he was satisfied with his budget presentation.
“You have to budget for things you may not expend because there are a lot of uncertainties,” he said, although he said he is optimistic much of the state budget as proposed by Gov. Wolf will come through.
Carol Saylor, the recovery officer for the school district, was asked by board vice president Michael Miller for her opinion on the budget.
“I agree,” she said.