The Board presented its preliminary budget, which includes an increased tax levy and a number of potential cuts to adjust for declining enrollment, at their mid-March meeting.*
The budget outlines a 5.27 percent tax levy, compared to last year’s 1.75 percent levy, which represents an over $3.7 million increase in general fund spending from last year’s budget.
Board member Adam Sawicki expressed his disagreement with this tax levy increase, stating that “a 5.27% tax levy increase will result in hardships for many of our local taxpayers, especially those on fixed incomes.”
“I am philosophically opposed to a budget which is so focused on increasing the tax levy,” Sawicki said. “The budget should reflect a better balance between tax increases and reduced expenditures.”
As an example, Sawicki noted that the number of academic and extracurricular programs with fewer than 15 students has doubled at Central High School, stating that these “increased opportunities” are something to be “rightly proud of” but that “it has come at a cost.”
“Going forward, we need to be more judicious in weighing opportunities with costs,” Sawicki said. “We should be able to do a better job of containing operating expense growth, given that our enrollment continues to decline.”
Additionally, Sawicki called the tax increase “disingenuous,” referencing the Board’s commitment to “do the referendum projects in a cost-effective manner that would be less expensive for taxpayers in the long-run.”
“We stated that for two consecutive years we were able to cover all costs with under 1% increases in the local tax levy,” Sawicki said. “This included adding over $3 million to our capital reserves. The $35 million referendum passed overwhelmingly because our District’s voters trusted us to keep our commitments.”
Board member Peter DiDonato disagreed with Sawicki’s sentiments however, supporting the budget and the tax levy increase.
“I don’t know if there’s an easy way around this,” DiDonato said. “This budget is a serious thing and we have to be better at it.”
Board President Alyce Murray seconded DiDonato’s support.
“Regardless of where we go with this budget… we have to make a commitment to run this District in perhaps a different way,” Murray said. “We’re going to have to look outside the box.”
The budget additionally highlighted a number of potential cuts — in excess of $400,000, according to Smith — including the reduction of five full-time elementary school teachers, elimination of undersubscribed classes at Central High School, and a 50 percent reduction of non-mandated summer hours, to adjust for declining enrollment in the district.
“I want to make this clear – I don’t want to do it,” Smith said. “But, if we’re in a situation that we must, this is what we’re looking at.”
The budget, taken to a vote, was passed by the Board, with Sawicki as the only dissenting vote.
* Note from Editor: This article corrects, clarifies, and expands on prior MercerMe reporting on this meeting.