The Upper St. Clair School Board approved the 2017-18 preliminary budget, totaling $79,078,568, during its Feb. 13, 2017, meeting.
“Approval of this preliminary budget for the purpose of Act 1 is actually an official starting point of the district’s budget deliberations,” Dr. Patrick T. O’Toole, superintendent, said. “The official 2017-18 budget will be presented to the board for a vote in May and June. Throughout the next three months we will be working diligently to explore and analyze opportunities for cost-savings and efficiencies.”
In accordance with the Act 1 of 2006, all Pennsylvania school districts had two options in the budgeting process — to pass a preliminary budget or to adopt a resolution to stay within the Act 1 Index. With the passage of the preliminary budget, Upper St. Clair has the opportunity to file for exceptions to the Act 1 index limit.
“Applying for exceptions does not commit the school district to raising taxes above the index or raising taxes at all,” Dr. O’Toole said. “At this point, it simply keeps all of our options open as state and federal funding levels are unknown at this stage in the budget process.”
Upper St. Clair’s Act 1 Index, the total property tax increase allowed by law, is set at 2.5 percent or 0.6085 mills. The district is applying for exceptions due to escalating mandated pension costs and special education costs. Combined, the exceptions provide the opportunity for an additional 0.2088 mills. The maximum millage impact of the Act 1 Index and the exceptions is 0.8172. Upper St. Clair’s 2016-17 millage rate is 24.3388.
At this point, the 2017-18 budget does not reflect any costs for the financing of the capital projects that have been proposed by the district to address facility needs. A Community Forum to discuss the projects was held in November.
“The feedback on the projects has been positive as our constituents have voiced concern that our current facilities are substandard,” Dr. O’Toole said. “However, it is also clear that we must analyze the scope and costs of these projects in order to minimize the effect on our taxpayers.”
Upper St. Clair School District has made efforts to reduce its annual operating costs. Last spring the district made staffing reductions totaling more than $635,000 in annual savings. These cuts were made through attrition – the result of not replacing staff that retired or resigned.
“Budget cuts are never easy. Unfortunately, business as usual would result in a cost trajectory that we simply cannot afford,” Dr. O’Toole said. “Education is a people business – more than 75 percent of our budget is salaries and benefits, which includes the mandated pension contribution. The steps we’ve taken to control our personnel costs will enable us to allocate additional resources for student programs and needed facility improvements.”
In the last five years, the mandated Public School Employees Retirement System contribution has increased from 12.36 percent in 2012-13 to 32.57 percent in 2017-18.
“The extreme increase in the retirement contribution, accompanied by flat state and federal revenue streams, has created an enormous financial burden for all Pennsylvania school districts,” Dr. O’Toole said. “However, we have an obligation to create a path forward that enables us to further our investment in innovative programs and in our facilities to ensure continued growth and sustainability.”
The preliminary budget is available for review on the district’s website – www.uscsd.k12.pa.us – or between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays at the Upper St. Clair School District central offices, 1820 McLaughlin Run Road in Upper St. Clair.
The Upper St. Clair School Board will take action on the proposed final budget on Monday, May 15, and adoption of the final 2017-18 budget is slated for Monday, June 20.