'Smooth year' for Dallastown with balanced school draft budget, no tax increase

Dallastown Area Middle School in York Township, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Dallastown Area School District is proposing a 2019-20 draft budget with no deficit and no tax increase.

Estimated expenditures are about $109.7 million — identical to the proposed revenue — meaning the budget is fully funded with no deficit, according to a March presentation.

"There has been what I believe to be reasonable but conservatively estimated revenues, and expenses have been calibrated to meet those revenues," said school board President Ronald Blevins at an April 11 budget workshop.

It would be the second consecutive year in which the board would choose not to raise taxes — leaving millage at 23.66 for a projected tax revenue of about $67.46 million next year. 

The high real estate tax revenue — $806,177 more than what's projected for 2018-19 —aided in part by new properties, helped the district avoid raising taxes, said district business manager Kurt Rohrbaugh.

An increased aid ratio — the state's calculation of a district's poverty equated to the market and compared to other districts — also enabled Dallastown to receive additional resources from the state.

"This was a very smooth year," said board member Sue Heistand, noting that there were few questions from the board that needed to be addressed in the workshop.

Revenue increased about $1.4 million from 2018-19 year-end estimates, with a similar increase of about $1.44 million in expenditures.The projected 2018-19 budget is expected to deliver a $16,202 surplus.

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Board member Michael Noll Jr. said although a balanced budget is great, it might be good to start showing the public future year projections — because when the board takes hard positions on some budget items, they might not understand why.

"If we don't remind the public that it's not peaches and cream looking out year over year over year, I think at some point we lose that message," he said.

Doing at least a three-year projection would help the board as well, said board member Michael Jones, because members could factor in upcoming costs that would require them to do more than just balance the budget each year.

Expenses have risen about $20.4 million in 10 years, the majority of which came from increases in Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) contributions, salaries and health care, according to the March presentation.

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The district's online budget book shows expense drivers for 2019-20 include an approximate $493,000 increase in medical premiums from a 10% rate increase and an increase of about $179,000 in PSERS contributions from a 3% rate increase.

A $222,144 increase in special education service costs includes an estimated $164,000 increase in Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12 costs. The remaining increase comes from outsourcing substitutes.

The district decided to outsource through Substitute Teacher Services (STS) for general and special education, which afforded an approximate $659,000 decrease in general education salaries offset by salary raises for a net decrease of $523,806.

Service costs for general education STS also increased by $752,300.

Blevins said the driver behind going with STS was to improve fill rates for substitutes, which ultimately raised the cost to the district, but with other cost benefits it would end up being a net neutral if rates remain at the same level.

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Another benefit to using a third party service is the option to use experienced retirees who know the students and material, Rohrbaugh said.

"You'd be amazed at how many want to come back," he said of the district's retired teachers, adding that many want to stay involved without the burden of full-time hours.

The proposed budget will be up for board approval on May 9. If approved, it would be available online for public review prior to scheduled adoption June 13.