Board passes bud­get with 5.27 per­cent tax hike

2018-19 bud­get set at $176 mil­lion

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Lu­cas Rodgers lrodgers@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Lu­casMRodgers on Twit­ter

CALN » At the end of a month­s­long bud­get ap­proval process, which in­cluded sev­eral town hall meet­ings and pub­lic feed­back from com­mu­nity mem­bers, the Coatesville Area School Board voted to ap­prove the dis­trict’s 2018-19 bud­get at a spe­cial school board meet­ing Thurs­day evening.

In a 5-3 vote, the school board adopted the fi­nal ver­sion of the new bud­get, set at about $176 mil­lion, with a prop­erty tax in­crease of 5.27 per­cent, or 1.84 mills. Board mem­bers Robert Mar­shall, Tom Sieden­buehl and Bran­don Rhone voted against adopt­ing the bud­get. Board mem­ber Bashera Grove was ab­sent from the meet­ing.

The dis­trict’s pre­lim­i­nary bud­get, which had in­cluded an 8.4 per­cent tax in­crease, was ap­proved by the school board in April. Since that time, board mem­bers looked for ways to cut costs in the dis­trict’s bud­get, and met with state law­mak­ers to seek emer­gency fund­ing.

At the school board’s reg­u­lar meet­ing on Tues­day evening, board Pres­i­dent Dean Sny­der in­formed at­ten­dees that the dis­trict would be re­ceiv­ing ap­prox­i­mately $1 mil­lion in state fund­ing un­der Penn­syl­va­nia’s 2018-19 bud­get, which was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf on June 22.

Sny­der thanked the state law­mak­ers who rep­re­sent the Coatesville area for their ef­forts to help ob­tain ad­di­tional fund­ing for the dis­trict.

Sev­eral board mem­bers spoke about the ex­ten­sive process of ex­am­in­ing the dis­trict’s fi­nances, and the chal­lenge of try­ing to bal­ance main­tain­ing a good ed­u­ca­tion for stu­dents with the re­spon­si­bil­ity to tax­pay­ers in the dis­trict.

Sny­der said the dis­trict has made sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments in re­gards to in­creased en­roll­ment in AP classes and higher test scores across the dis­trict, but the dis­trict still has a ways to go to con­tinue im­prov­ing.

He said the is­sue of char­ter school tu­ition has been a se­ri­ous prob­lem for the dis­trict, but all the blame can’t be placed on the cur­rent fund­ing process, and the board must look at why stu­dents are leav­ing the dis­trict, and ad­dress that prob­lem.

“I’m not happy about the 5.27 per­cent tax in­crease, but I think we’ve reached the best bud­get we can,” he said.

CASD Su­per­in­ten­dent Cathy Taschner said that ef­forts to re­duce costs in the bud­get would re­sult in pro­grams be­ing cut.

“While these cuts have been made, they are pro­gram­matic, they im­pact

al­most ev­ery area of the school dis­trict, and we’re not cut­ting fat at this point, we’re cut­ting pro­grams,” she said. “In some scope or some mea­sure, there is go­ing to be a loss in any area we choose to cut.”

Board Vice Pres­i­dent Ann Wuertz echoed Taschner’s com­ments.

“We’re not trim­ming fat, we’re cut­ting sub­stance,” she said. “I’m con­cerned about the work­load of our staff, con­sid­er­ing how thin we are.”

“This is a very, very dif­fi­cult place we find our­selves as a school dis­trict,” Mar­shall said.

He en­cour­aged dis­trict res­i­dents to vote and make their voices heard if they feel that board mem­bers are not mak­ing the right de­ci­sions.

“If there are peo­ple sit­ting on this board, in­clud­ing my­self, that you don’t feel is do­ing what’s right, or putting forth the ef­fort, you’ve got to re­move us,” Mar­shall said. “Be­cause I can tell you we’re work­ing hard, and try­ing to make the right de­ci­sions. But if the pub­lic feels that that’s not the case, you have an av­enue, so please use it.”

The dis­trict has cited non-discretionary ex­penses, in­clud­ing spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion place­ments, char­ter school tu­ition and pen­sion costs, as ma­jor driv­ing fac­tors ne­ces­si­tat­ing a sig­nif­i­cant tax in­crease.

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