York City could ax 44 jobs amid budget crisis

York City acting Superintendent Andrea Berry

York City School District is considering furloughs, salary freezes and program cuts to balance its 2020-21 budget — a task even more difficult for a district already in financial recovery.

"The pill that we are putting before you is certainly a tough one to swallow," said Superintendent Andrea Berry at a May 11 board meeting. "They are extremely difficult recommendations and certainly have people attached to them, as well as programs that we hold dear."

Berry said administration wants to show the district can manage finances without being under state recovery, which was supposed to be a short stay, not a "life sentence."

And that could come at a heavy price — 44 position cuts and salary freezes for most employees, which would reduce spending by $4.4 million, under proposed budget recommendations. 

Salary freezes would apply to cabinet, administration and teachers alike.

Under the proposed spending plan, another $1.8 million would be cut by elimination or reduction of budgets for several programs. And the plan could still require the maximum allowable tax increase, returning $900,000.

The Cornerstone and restorative justice behavioral programs up for elimination are not running as optimally as they could be, and programs such as the pride rooms for behavioral support or departments such as physical education and art can be run at a reduced cost, officials said.

The district's school board is expected to adopt a preliminary budget, which could include these cuts, Wednesday night.

"The biggest factor that is front and center — hint hint hint — is recovery exit," Berry said.

The proposed increase would be 4.2%, the maximum allowed increase under the district's c index, which is the highest in the county.

It would mean about $113 more annually for residents, based on the district's median home sale price of $79,950, according to data from January to April from the Realtors Association of York and Adams Counties.

In budget projections, revenue would equal expenditures at about $153.9 million, and the fund balance of about $6.9 million would not be touched.

"This pains my heart," said board member Diane Glover Brown, who said the district was in a similar position of having to cut programs when it first went into recovery in 2012.

Berry agreed and said it wasn't an easy decision, but "in order to sometimes move forward, you first have to take a couple of steps back," she said.

The district spent more than $6 million of its fund balance this year to maintain programming under its state-mandated recovery plan, and now officials need to find that money elsewhere to exit recovery.

The amended York City School District recovery plan includes a graph of many of the district's priorities plots them by urgency and ease of implementation.

York City was expected to exit recovery last summer, but one of the reasons for the state's denial was that revenue did not equal expenditures.

More:Here's why state didn't release York City School District from financial recovery

Now officials are tasked with demonstrating fiscal responsibility in offering a balanced budget, while also dealing with unknown impacts to local, state and federal revenue brought on by COVID-19.

Charter tuition — which saw a $2.5 million increase based on the district's large 2019-20 budget — expanding district academies and about $2.3 million in health claims are big cost drivers for the 2020-21 budget.

The district also needs to concentrate on adding more devices and technology staff to continue remote learning, Berry said.

More:York City district aims to recover 75 students with 'aggressive outreach' campaign

Though local revenue is only about 25% of the district's budget — much less than the statewide average of 57.6% — Berry said a tax increase would be necessary to keep costs down.