South Western school board ties on budget vote, disagrees over tax increase

The 2018 South Western High School Commencement Ceremony at the school in Penn Township, Friday, June 1, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

South Western School District failed to pass the 2018-19 budget after a tied vote by the school board Wednesday.

The approximately $71.5 million budget includes a 0.40-             mill tax increase over the previous year, which was met with dissent from some board members. 

Jay Clouspy, who voted against the passage, was the most vocal.

"I realize the safest and most prudent thing to do is always raise to the (maximum allowed) index each and every year," he said, in thinking of serving the needs of students and employees.

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But he said he also has to think of the taxpayer, and he knows there's a large contingent of low-income or fixed-income residents in the district.

"I'm yet to hear, in my six years as a board member, the taxpayer approach me and say, 'Please raise my taxes,'" he said.

"I think we have a good fund balance," he continued. "I think we are in an encouraging position financially, and I think we've been able to do an awful lot with what we already have — and I believe we need to take a stand on doing more with less or the same."

Board President Vanessa Berger clarified that the 0.40-mill increase was not a raise to the index — which would be a 0.58-mill increase according to the district's assessed value — and Clouspy commended the board for that decision.

At the board's monthly planning meeting Wednesday, June 13, four members — James Harris, Ray Mummert, Cindy Boyer and Berger — voted in favor of the proposed budget.

Clouspy, Vice President Thomas Zimmerman, G. Paige Wingert and Clint Wright voted against the motion.

Board member Ann Rinkert was expected to call in to the meeting but could not be reached.

"Motion fails," Berger said.

The board has until the end of the month to pass the budget,  Zimmerman said, so it will be put on the agenda for the business meeting June 27 for a final vote.

"There is no improvement that could be made that would change your vote?" Berger asked of those with "no" votes.

"The tax increase," Zimmerman said.

"Would change my vote," Clouspy agreed.

Mummert asked if they would accept a lesser tax increase over no tax increase at all.

"For me personally, it's no tax increase," Clouspy said.

Budget: In Mummert's budget presentation online, he pointed out the challenges of rising costs in salaries, retirement, professional services and replacement equipment.

The 2018-19 budget accounts for about $3.5 million in new initiatives, including a more than $90,000 salary for a high school business education teacher and $2.5 million in renovations for the middle school. 

It also incorporates costs for six security guards at about $278,000.

South Western held a community forum before the board meeting to discuss the consideration of hiring armed guards from G-Force Investigations for the 2018-19 school year.

When asked what the costs of those hires would be, Berger said she did not yet have an estimate, but the district previously increased the number of unarmed security guards employed by G-Force through the 2018 contract.

More:South Western discussing possibility of armed officers in schools

More:Some support armed guards in South Western schools but ask if more is needed

Total expenditures for next year increased about $4.5 million to approximately $71.5 million.

Factored into a $2.3 million increase in revenue is $776,062 from the mill increase, bringing the total to about $67.7 million.

That leaves a deficit of about $3.8 million, which will be covered by $500,000 in PSERS retirement reserves and about $3.3 million from the general-fund balance.

The projected ending fund balance for June 2019 is about $4.9 million.