School board members Cody Brown, Mary Passinger, Kevin Lindvay, and John Wortman listen and take notes during a budget discussion on May 20, 2024. Photo by Brian Hagberg.

School Board Approves Proposed Draft Budget, Requests 2 Mill Tax Increase Before Final Budget Approval

May 20, 2024

RUSSELL, Pa. – The Warren County School District Board of Directors approved a proposed budget during a special meeting Monday night, but requested that the final version come with a lower tax increase than proposed.

The 2024-25 proposed final budget includes a 4.2994-mill tax increase to cover the projected $4.89 million deficit. In a 7-2 vote, the board approved the proposed budget. Then, in an 8-1 vote, the board requested that the tax increase be reduced to two mills before the final budget is approved next month.

Board member John Wortman voted against both measures and was joined by Mary Passinger in voting against approving the proposed budget.

“I oppose this proposed final budget in the strongest possible terms,” Wortman said. “We as directors need to implement fiscal responsibility and restructure this district to ensure financial stability for decades to come.”

The 2-mill increase is the largest single-year increase for the district since 2012-13 (2.0058) and is just the second tax increase in the last six years. Since the 2008-09 school year, the district has raised taxes a total of 9.8371 mills.

The proposed budget comes in at $91,955,774, a decrease of $4,777,391 from the 2023-24 budget. This includes the 14 preferred cuts presented at April’s committee meeting.

Based on the millage analysis provided by Business Director Jim Grosch, a home with an appraised value of $100,000 (assessed value of $50,000) would pay $100 ($8.33 per month) more with the 2-mill tax increase. Grosch added that the average assessed value of homes in Warren County is $20,000, which would see a $40 ($3.33 per month) increase.

“This budget has to be out for 20 days advertised prior to adoption,” Grosch said.

Grosch also provided a future outlook for the district’s fund balance based on different millage increases (and assuming a zero millage increase in future years). Based on that analysis, a 4.2994-mill increase would leave a $1.36 million deficit this year and would cause the fund balance to run out sometime in the 2027-28 school year.

A 3-mill increase would leave a $1.89 million deficit, with the fund balance running out earlier in 27-28. A 2-mill increase leaves a $2.3 million deficit, with the fund balance lasting until 27-28. A 1-mill increase leaves a $2.7 million deficit, and fund balance until 27-28. A 0-mill increase leaves a $3.1 million deficit and the fund balance running out in the 2026-27 school year.

“Without structural changes, we can see what will happen to our fund balance over time and I do not believe that this will be a problem that we will be able to tax ourselves out of,” Wortman said “That’s why I’m so adamant that we need to take a serious look at what we can do to put the district in a in a stronger financial position moving forward to preserve the fund balance.”

Board President Paul Mangione added that adopting the maximum allowable tax increase every year is not a “sustainable way to run a school district in any way, shape, or form.”

“In fact, I don’t know any school districts that operate like that within the Commonwealth,” Mangione said.

Kevin Lindvay said raising taxes without restructuring the district was “putting a Band-Aid on a bigger problem.”

“I guess that’s one of the tasks moving forward that we need to do in the next six months year whatever as a board, make a decision on how we creatively control the costs from the district,” Lindvay said. “I believe as Mr. (Joe) Colosimo said when he was here last time that you know the buildings are one of the major costs that we have, that we’re putting money into brick and mortar and it’s not going to the students. If we can reduce the amount of bricks that we have, we can put the money into the students and staff.”

Passinger took issue that the district was willing to spend $900,000 on curriculum, but opted to cut a librarian.

“I look at some of the things we were doing, and I have a problem,” Passinger said. “One thing with the curriculum development we spend $900,000 on the curriculum, which is great. I’m not saying we don’t need it. We need good curriculum, but it’s also you have that curriculum but we’re not going to have the people to follow that.”

Grosch said there are only so many ways the district can adjust its revenue and expenditure streams.

“You guys have a tough, tough job in a bad situation to make decisions here because there’s only so many levers you can pull,” Grosch said. “Tax increases, increased class sizes, reduced programs, make additional cuts, or you could consolidate schools. Those are the options and the levers that you can have.”

The board will vote on a final budget approval during a special meeting on June 24.

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