York City schools budget restores programs, counts on more from state


York City School District administrators are proposing a 2015-16 budget that restores some programs and positions axed years ago during a time of painful financial belt-tightening.

Also proposed are new programs designed to enhance the quality of education in a district fighting to unhinge itself from its status as one of Pennsylvania's worst-performing districts.

District officials have long argued state funding cuts — and the resulting lack of resources — exacerbated that struggle.

The ambitious 2015-16 plan, unveiled to the public and the school board Wednesday, does not propose an increase to the city's sky-high property-tax rate.

However, if the budget is approved as proposed, it would mean a spending increase of nearly $9 million compared to the 2014-15 school year.

State influence: Superintendent Eric Holmes said he believes it is important for the district to send a message to the state that more money is needed if the district is going to accomplish its improvement goals.

This year, Holmes has a powerful politician on his side.

In his state budget proposal for 2015-16, Gov. Tom Wolf set aside about $68.6 million for the York City School District — an increase of $5.6 million compared to this year.

Legislators could significantly alter that proposal before it becomes law; Holmes said he is optimistic they won't.

Pennsylvania school districts are required to pass a budget before July 1, but officials must often guess the intentions of state-level officials — who sometimes take longer than the school districts to pass a budget.

For the York City School District, state funding represents about 67 percent of the district's total annual revenue.

Financial health: Meanwhile, the district's own financial situation has improved, business manager Richard Snodgrass reported Wednesday.

The district started the 2014-15 year with a fund balance of nearly $2.3 million. Snodgrass predicted a fund balance of more than $6.7 million when the financial calendar flips to 2015-16.

Using some of its fund balance and factoring in the potential increase in state funding to add programs and staff, Snodgrass and Holmes have calculated a budget that increases spending by nearly $9 million but still leaves the district with a fund balance of more than $4 million at the end of 2015-16.

The district — which the state deemed financially distressed in 2012 — is still working toward financial stability, but the situation has improved, Snodgrass said.

The proposal: In terms of strategy, the district has proposed a budget in line with the recovery plan approved by the school board in 2013 and known as the internal transformation model.

Holmes said he wants to continue funding academic and behavioral intervention programs, a cyber-school alternative, the high school's performing-arts program and the districtwide after-school tutoring program — all examples of initiatives born out of the recovery process.

The superintendent's list of what he wants to add next year is much longer.

On that list: expansion of Communities in Schools to all eight buildings; expansion of guidance services; social-worker services in each building; behavior specialists at each building; a career counselor at the high school; home-school liaisons in each building; expansion of pre-kindergarten classrooms; 13 staff members dedicated to ninth-grade instruction; expansion of art, music and physical education at each K-8 building; foreign-language curriculum for middle-school students; expanded gifted education; full-time technology support at the high school; five new school police officers; and centralized, bilingual administrative services.

Snodgrass said he will present a more detailed budget next month.

— Reach Erin James at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.