No tax increase in 2020-21 budget

By Gary Weckselblatt

During one of the nation’s most financially stressed times, the Quakertown Community School Board has accomplished something that hasn’t been seen by district residents in nearly a half-century - a budget without a property tax increase.

As COVID-19 has decimated school, state and municipal budgets, both this year and into the future, the School Board and Administration made it a priority to maintain the district’s millage rate.

“We really understand people in the community are suffering (due to the COVID-19 pandemic),” Board President Kaylyn Mitchell said. “A lot of kudos need to go to the Administration for setting us up for success. In my opinion, COVID really just solidified us doing this because we have a pretty high rate here in Upper Bucks County of people that have had to file for unemployment.”

QCSD Financial Fact Sheet

The 2020-21 spending plan of $118.9 million, passed unanimously on June 11, includes approximately $2 million from the sale of Milford Middle School and Tohickon Valley Elementary School. Removing that one-time transaction increases expenditures by 2 percent from 2019-20.

Revenues are expected to fall by 1.4 percent to $111.6 million, calling for a $7.2 million use of Fund Balance. This would leave QCSD with a balance of $17.7 million in fund balance for 2021-22.

The district’s millage rate will remain at 168.83. That means the owner of a property assessed at $23,857, the district average, will continue to pay $4,028 in property taxes.

“The Board has been doing good things for the community for a long time and that’s one of the reasons we were able to weather this storm,” Board Vice President Ron Jackson said.

Under Act 1, Pennsylvania’s property tax law, the Board could have raised taxes 3 percent without seeking exceptions. Finance Committee Chairman Keith Micucci said a healthy fund balance helped the district weather the early months of the pandemic.

Mr. Micucci said the Committee wanted to make it clear to the community that although the state-mandated shutdown will produce some savings, they will be minimal. Data suggests the impact will be a negative one.

Through Act 13, the state Legislature has ordered all school employees to be paid. In addition, Act 13 strongly encourages districts to continue to pay contractors like transportation contractors, to avoid potential losses in state and federal subsidies or potential stimulus.

Hannah Barrick, assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, said that while district revenues are falling across the Commonwealth, the General Assembly will not be increasing funding for Basic Education or Special Education. She said funding will be “level, exactly the same next year.”

“It’s a challenging year, absolutely, no doubt,” she said in a recent meeting with Pennsylvania school leaders. “Everybody expects significant local revenue losses.”

Ms. Barrick said that when school buildings were closed by Gov. Wolf’s order, “Teachers were working and students were receiving instruction. But that wasn’t the perception.”

Future budgets don’t look promising, she added. “2021-2022 is going to be a lot more difficult potentially. It’s going to be a long series of budgets that are potentially very difficult.”

In the meantime, the QCSD Administration is recommending ways to reduce the deficit. They include: reducing the workforce through attrition; extending the capital projects plan; using remaining Neidig bond money to pay for capital projects; freezing travel to conferences; and reducing curriculum and other supply purchases.

“I think it’s important to understand that while we can weather the storm this year, I think there’s going to be some more tough decisions coming up,” Mr. Micucci said. “And so we just have to keep that in the forefront of our mind. And although we’re positioned now to do this, there’s going to be other financial challenges ahead and we’re just going to have to weather that together.”

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 gweckselblatt@qcsd.org.
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