Board considers tax hike to counter pandemic

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The Erie School District’s state-mandated financial improvement plan, approved in 2019, recommends annual tax increases of 2.46 percent to balance the district budget and maintain district solvency.

However, the plan did not contemplate a global pandemic, a point several members of the Erie School Board raised as they considered passing a 2022-23 budget with a 4.45% tax increase.

These principals support the increase, which Erie Schools Superintendent Brian Polito recommends.

They see the big tax hike — it would be the largest for the Erie school district in nearly a decade — as necessary to increase the district’s budget to continue paying for additional student support services once the Tens of millions of dollars in federal pandemic aid will run out. for the district in September 2024.

Supports – which pandemic aid is currently funding – include adding 15 mental health specialists, summer and after-school programs and adding teachers to reduce class sizes. The programs added during the pandemic are designed to help students who have suffered academically due to the lack of in-person instruction during much of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Whether the 4.45% increase will come into effect for 2022-23 is expected to be debated at the school board’s regular monthly meeting Wednesday at 6 p.m. Eastern College. On the agenda, the vote on the 2022-23 budget, estimated at $250 million, including the 4.45% tax increase.

The board must adopt a final budget by June 30, the end of the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Superintendent’s Proposal:Proposed 4.45% tax increase to retain Erie School District programs added during pandemic

Effect on property taxes

The proposed tax hike would increase school property taxes by $78.85 for the owner of a home valued at $100,000. A 4.45% increase in taxes would also generate approximately $2.3 million in additional revenue in 2022-23.

Polito said the real effect of a 4.5% tax increase on a home valued at $100,000 would be closer to a $10 hike due to additional relief for homeowners enrolled in the program. property exemption. The state grants exemption reductions on homesteads using gambling revenue. Owners must request exemptions for their primary residences.

A 4.5% tax hike would still be the district’s largest since a 7.3% hike in 2013, when the district was trying to make up a multimillion-dollar deficit in a failed attempt to delay what was to come. is transformed into a protracted financial crisis.

The 4.45% increase is also two percentage points higher than the district state’s minimum recommended 2.46% increase. financial improvement plan. The district approved the plan in May 2019 on the condition that it receive $14 million in additional annual public assistance to remain solvent and end its financial crisis. The State General Assembly approved the additional funding in 2017.

In November, Polito asked the state Department of Education to remove the Erie School District from the financial improvement plan, citing the district’s financial stability. The request is pending.

The School Board increased taxes by 3% a year ago, for the 2021-22 budget. In June 2019, dealing with its first budget under the Financial Improvement Plan, the School Board approved a tax increase of 2.46% for 2019-2020. At Polito’s request, the Board in June 2020 did not approve any tax increases for 2020-2021 to ease residents’ financial burdens due to the pandemic.

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Budget debate

In May, at its regular monthly meeting, the Black board unanimously approved the initial budget 2022-23, with the tax increase of 4.45%.

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The nine-member council discussed the budget again during its monthly non-voting study session this last Wednesday.

School principal Leatra Tate said she supported the higher increase.

“I can’t imagine that (the) 2.46% represented COVID and the impact that (it) would have,” Tate said.

Two school principals expressed qualms about the 4.45% tax increase.

School principal Rosemary Sheridan said the issue is complicated because the school district does not yet have data on the effectiveness of new support programs. Polito responded that the district could modify the programs once the data is available.

“If we find that they are not effective, we will adjust accordingly,” Polito said.

Sheridan also raised the concerns of an Erie resident who spoke at the study session, Richard Gorski, who said the 4.45% increase would weigh on retirees like him.

“The citizens of Erie can’t afford it,” Gorski told the council.

School board vice president John Harkins said he liked the reasoning behind the proposed 4.45% increase, but said he was more inclined to vote for the 2.46% increase. . Harkins suggested the council wait to vote on the budget until the state passes its budget for 2022-23.

Harkins said the new state budget, also effective July 1, could include enough funding for the Erie School District to set aside future funding for support services and still approve a tax increase of less than of 4.45%. The school board on Wednesday night could vote to file final approval for the district’s 2022-23 budget until later in June, pending passage of the final state budget.

Polito is one of 60 school district superintendents statewide asking the General Assembly to increase district funding through the state year Higher Level Initiative. It provides more public funds to poorer school districts in the state, including the Erie School District, which has about 10,000 students.

Other options?

During the 2022-23 budget discussion, some principals asked Polito if the board could continue to fund support programs beyond 2024 by passing a tax increase below 4.45%.

Erie School District Superintendent Brian Polito is proposing a 4.45% tax increase to continue funding pandemic-related student support services.

Polito said he recommends an increase of this size because smaller increases would not generate enough revenue to sustain programs beyond 2024 without the district cutting other programs to save money. . The district is expected to spend $9.3 million of its own money to have these supports fully funded beginning in 2024-25, the district’s first full year without pandemic assistance.

The federal pandemic relief allocation for the Erie School District is $97.6 million. The district used most of the money for building improvements, such as upgrading ventilation systems. It also used more than $1 million to improve security, including adding metal detectors to its two high schools and three colleges, in response to the shooting at Erie High on April 5.

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Polito said the district must continue to fund support programs after federal money runs out to benefit students and staff as they continue to need help recovering from the pandemic.

School principal Jay Breneman said he agrees with Polito that the 4.45% tax increase is necessary to keep mental health programs and similar initiatives in place long-term.

“These issues are not going away,” Breneman told the board.

Contact Ed Palatella at epalattella@timesnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNpalattella.

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