EMMAUS, Pa. — The East Penn School Board gave final approval to a 2023-24 budget that raises taxes but not to the level initially proposed.
The board Monday night also approved the district’s long-range fiscal and capital plan update, and changes to the middle school calendar.
In the wake of celebrating 703 seniors graduating from Emmaus High School over the past week, all board members voted for the budget except Paul Champagne, who was not present for the meeting.
- The East Penn School Board gave final approval to its 2023-24 budget
- It calls for a 2.51% tax increase
- The new spending plan includes seven reading interventionists and greater special-needs staffing, as urged by the administration
Property taxes will go up by about 2.51% in the new fiscal year, with an increase from 19.6766 mills to 20.1700 mills.
That’s down from an initially proposed 3.92% property tax increase. A further reduction brought it to a 3.55% increase in the preliminary budget approved in May, with the board making comments wary of the potential rate hike.
A mill equals $1 of tax for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. So under the final budget, the owner of a property valued at $100,000 for tax purposes would pay $2,017 a year in property tax — up $49.34 from $1967.66 this year.
The final budget lists a total estimated revenue of $202,321,076, with real estate tax collections — the largest chunk of revenue — bringing in an estimated $111,050,709.
While the change to the lower millage rate loses the district over $1 million in real estate tax revenue, estimated increases from investment earnings and anticipated state funding boosts led the district administration to confidently recommend lowering the rate.
“I do not at all, at that time, anticipate where we would end up where we are at this time,” said district Business Administrator Robert Saul.
“A reasonable question would be ‘OK, but what if we don’t receive the full amount that is in the governor’s budget?’ You know, I believe that we can weather that storm.”
Business Administrator Robert Saul
He said after speaking to legislators and referencing proposals related to the state funding, the district anticipated greater state contributions in the BEF – Social Security Reimbursement and Special Education funding. Saul also said that if those increases don’t exactly meet expectation, the district can still make ends meet.
“A reasonable question would be ‘OK, but what if we don’t receive the full amount that is in the governor’s budget?’ You know, I believe that we can weather that storm,” Saul said.
Other adjustments made for the final budget, he said, were “housekeeping items” related to having a better knowledge of federal funding and refining other estimates in the budget.
Expenses for the district are set at $188,035,431, a 6.3% increase from this year’s $176,867,458.
Saul told the board in February that American Rescue Plan funds, used for different initiatives throughout the district including reading interventionists, are expected to be fully spent by the end of the current fiscal year.
Budget increases culminating in less than $1 million each were made in salaries and employee benefits from the current budget.
An 11.5% spending increase on special programs was marked, including a 9.1% increase in personnel salaries and a 9% increase in benefits spending for that same group.
A small reduction in district debt was projected, moving from estimates of $70,611,907 to $67,385,618 from June 2023 to June 2024.
In the current budget, the ending fund balance is expected to grow 13.5% from the prior budget’s estimated ending value of $20,599,122 to $23,389,836 at the end of the 2023-2024 school year.
In a separate motion, the board committed $3,407,605 for the next school year specifically to address learning loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The board also approved a further readjustment of the long-range fiscal and capital plan to be in line with the current budget outlook, and approved homestead and farmland real estate tax reductions for the following year. That makes $2,289,194 available, for a maximum real estate tax reduction for each approved homestead or farmstead of $152.55.
The district’s property tax rebate program also will continue, with income eligibility of claimants with a total household income receiving rebates on the following scale:
- $0 to $10,000 receiving a maximum rebate of $650
- $10,001 to $15,000 receiving a maximum rebate of $500
- $15,001 to $18,000: Maximum rebate of $300
- $18,001 to $35,000: Maximum rebate of $250.
Administration priorities retained
Seven full-time reading comprehension interventionists for elementary schools at a proposed cost of $800,000 were included, along with other administrative budget priorities established at prior meetings. That is in response to continued reading achievement concerns lingering as impacts from pandemic shutdowns, and an urgency related to key learning benchmarks for elementary school students.
Also, $700,000 was earmarked at prior presentations for what Superintendent Kristen Campbell says will be six special education staff positions. Added will be two additional learning support positions — one for both Alburtis and Jefferson elementary schools; two learning support teachers at the high school; and an autistic support staff member and emotional support teacher at the high school.
Another $50,000 was included in for an academic support assistant focused on the English Language Learner Program, and another instructional assistant position for supporting the district’s VESPA students and high school students in the transition program.
An additional $200,000 was requested for safety and security improvements at middle levels of instruction, possibly for support personnel whose role it would be to enhance school safety. The final recommendation for these funds would come before the board in the future for public approval.
Originally proposed, the new budget priorities reached $1,750,000, which the district administration said would be covered by tax increases included in the approved budget.
“I think it was really critical that we get administration’s priorities this year,” board member Jeffrey Jankowski said. “I think that’s critical for the benefit of our students, as well as our teachers and staff, that we have these additional resources, while at the same time lessening the impact on the community.
“Obviously, no one wants to pay taxes. Unfortunately, it’s the cost of doing business. And I think the outcome this year, is a great outcome.”
“I don’t know how we could do something about reading at the elementary level, given the numbers that we’ve seen, that’s not addressing that problem,” said board member Alisa Bowman.
“It’s just not something that I think many of us would be comfortable with, given the ramifications year after year after year, all the way into the future where you have 40% of your graduating class below reading level, going out to the community and not being able to really get the kind of jobs that they deserve.”