Finance Committee holds special meeting on budget

By Gary Weckselblatt


The Quakertown Community School District’s administration held an informational session with School Board members titled “QCSD Budget 101” in a special meeting of the Finance Committee on Wednesday, April 21.


Committee Chair Keith Micucci called for the meeting to have Directors informed of where things stand with the 2021-22 budget prior to the School Board’s May 13 vote on the Proposed Final Budget. On June 10, the School Board votes on the Final Budget. Property taxes could rise a maximum of 3.5 percent under the Act 1 index, the state’s property tax law. There was no tax increase in the 2020-21 budget.


Chief Operating Officer Zachary Schoch and Finance Director Lynn Routson provided the nearly two-hour briefing, with topics that included: 2021/2022 Budget Updates; Budget Timeline; Expense Pie Chart - Required, Mandated, Discretionary; Cost Driver Trends; 2021/2022 Cost Drivers; Budget vs Actual Analysis; Future Cost Drivers - Short to Long Range Planning; and Scenarios for Future. Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lisa Hoffman and Director of Pupil Services Janet Pelone also responded to Committee questions.


With COVID wreaking havoc on budgets across the country, QCSD has not been immune. However, numbers are trending in a positive way. While the year began with a $7.2 million deficit, it has been whittled down to $3.4 million. And since $2 million of the deficit was created by using proceeds from the sale of Milford Middle School and Tohickon Valley Elementary School, the Operational Deficit is actually $1.4 million. Most of that has come from personnel reductions through resignations and retirements.


At recent meetings, Directors have considered allocating funds for a full-day kindergarten program, renovating Quakertown Elementary School, and constructing a baseball field. These potential expenses could alter the look of future budgets.  A proposal for pushing back School Start Times would add to transportation costs.


“I would love to have everything if we could figure out a way to afford it without going after taxpayers,” Mr. Micucci said during the Special Meeting. “But it’s got to be a balancing act. We have to make sure we understand what the long term ramifications are. The more we spend, there may come a time we have to get rid of a program. I worry about that. I don’t mind raising taxes to benefit the students, but we can’t have everything.”


The conversation included cost drivers, Food Service Fund losses, professional services for special education, capital projects, software and charter school tuition leading the way on a percentage-increase basis. Also discussed was the lack of discretion the Board has in spending as nearly $106 million of a $118 million spending plan, or about 11 percent, is mandated by the state and federal governments or contractual in nature. 


As the District’s Fund Balance has increased, some Members said they were uncomfortable with its growth while taxes were raised. Mr. Schoch explained that Moody’s Investors Service, a bond credit rating company, prefers Districts to have at least two months of spending in savings. That means QCSD should be at a minimum of $20 million. The District expects to have $23.4 million at the end of the school year, Mrs. Routson said. The fund balance allows QCSD to maintain its credit rating and borrow money at lower interest rates. 

 

Members also asked why spending would need to increase while students enrollment is down. Mr. Schoch explained that the Administration and Board have closely managed full-time employee numbers to capture savings through declining enrollment. However, the Pandemic is part of the reason costs have risen.


Mr. Schoch said custodial services increased by nearly 16 percent and nearly $150,000; food services will lose $500,000 this year and is projected to lose $200,000 in 2021-22; and losing students to charter schools cost another $1.7 million. None of these costs correlate to declining enrollment. In addition, should the Board move forward, there will be costs associated with a full-day kindergarten program, renovating Quakertown Elementary, and building a baseball field. 


Click here for a link to the “QCSD Budget 101” presentation. Click here for a video of the meeting.


Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or gweckselblatt@qcsd.org.


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