The Easton Area School Board has sent a clear message to the district administration: close a $4.2 million deficit without seeking help from taxpayers beyond a state-imposed cap.
The board on Tuesday night voted 8-1 for the district to not attempt to raise taxes for the 2013-14 school year beyond the 2.1% cap set by the state government. In making the decision, the board said no to alternate proposals pitched by the administration to attempt to raise taxes by as much as 7.5% to eliminate the entire deficit, the bulk of which officials attribute to pension obligations.
"Taxpayers in this district are hurting," said Board Member Pat Vulcano Jr., citing the down economy. "Even a 2.1% increase would be tough on our taxpayers, who don't have deep pockets."
As a result of the board's decision, district administrators are being called upon to consider steep cuts for the second straight year. When the board voted last May to adopt the 2012-13 budget, it included a decision to cut 49 teaching positions (and 102 overall).
Under the decision made by the board Tuesday night, property taxes for the 2013-14 school year will not increase by more than 2.1%, which would amount to a maximum increase of $68 on the average assessed district home of $60,000.
Two other administration proposals seeking higher tax increases were nixed by the board. One proposal had called for seeking a special exception from the state Department of Education to raise taxes as much as 6.5%, or $208 on the average assessed home. Chief Operating Officer Michale Simonetta said the option would fund $3.6 million of the deficit.
A third option would have been to place a referendum question on the ballot of the May primary election asking voters to approve a 7.2% tax increase to fund the entire deficit amount. That increase would have amounted to $231 on the average assessed home.
Simonetta said the administration can move ahead with making firm budget proposals now that the board has selected the tax option for the 2013-14.
Officials during Tuesday's meeting did not make comments on if or how many staffing cuts may be proposed.
Board member Timothy Reilly -- who cast the sole "no" vote against not attempting to exceed the 2.1% cap -- said the board has eliminated any financial flexibility, which he fears will result in major cuts negatively impacting curriculum and instruction.
Law requires the district budget be adopted no later than June 30.