Peters Township School District’s proposed 2021-22 budget calls for a 0.42-mill real estate tax increase, as approved by the school board Monday.
The board plans to vote on the final budget June 28, two days before the state deadline to adopt a spending plan for the coming school year.
With the tax increase, revenues are projected at $72.63 million, against $74.25 million in expenditures.
The difference is to be made up by tapping the district’s $10.1 million fund balance, specifically the $4.5 million set aside for future debt service, according to Brad Rau, district business manager.
Raising the real estate tax rate to 14.58 mills represents a 3% increase over 2020-21, which is the maximum allowable for the district as per the index set by the state Department of Education.
District officials have anticipated a gap between revenues and expenditures for the coming academic year because of debt service associated with the construction of the new Peters Township High School.
An April school board finance committee meeting addressed the 2021-22 budget, with Rau providing updates on various numbers since a preliminary version of the spending plan was introduced in January.
During the interim, projected revenues increased by $625,930, with $371,457 attributable to additional money from the second round of the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund
“Just to put that into some type of context, our lease payment for our one-to-one initiative is $375,000,” Rau said, referencing the district’s providing personal technology devices for all students. “So it doesn’t even cover our computer costs for next year.”
With regard to money from the state – which accounts for about 24% of district revenues, compared with 75% from local sources – what to expect for 2021-22 remains uncertain.
“So we’re going to continue just budgeting for flat state funding,” Rau said.
On the expenditure side, $547,112 was pared from the spending plan between January and April, with retirements and other staff reductions contributing significantly to the decrease.
Even with a 0.42-mill real estate tax increase, Peters Township’s rate would remain less than nearby school districts. Current millage rates include Bethel Park, 21.765; Mt. Lebanon, 24.7900; South Fayette Township, 26.7000; and Upper St. Clair, 26.8972.
During the finance committee meeting, school board member Rebecca Bowman spoke about the decision to raise the Peters rate by the maximum.
“In prior school board configurations, there was great diligence in being very conservative about not taking millage increases if it could possibly be avoided. A big problem with that is you can never recover that gap, ever, ever,” she said.
“We have a situation where the state is continually passing new unfunded mandates, which means the gap keeps getting bigger. And if we step away at all from the max when we’re already pulling out of the fund balance, we can never get that back.”
Although Peters Township students fare exceptionally well in standardized testing and the district spends below the state average per pupil, local socioeconomic considerations weigh against potential sources of funding.
“We cannot depend on the federal government or the state government to come in and say, hey, we recognize you’re being very frugal. You’re doing a great job. Here’s money,” Superintendent Jeannine French said. “They’re really not spending it in a way that makes sense to benefit children.”