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Parkland's new budget calls for likely property tax hike

By Randy Kraft, WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published On: Nov 20 2013 08:12:56 AM CST
Updated On: Nov 20 2013 12:32:35 PM CST
Parkland School District administration bldg

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SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. -

Parkland School District probably still is more than seven months away from adopting a 2014-15 budget, but it already looks like property taxes will go up no more than 2.1 percent.

That prediction was made to the school board Tuesday night by John Vignone, the district’s director of business administration.

He explained a 2.1 percent increase means taxes would increase $29 on a home worth $100,000, $58 on one worth $200,000 and $87 on one worth $300,000.

Vignone said “if good things happen, it’s possible” no tax increase will be needed in the next school year. He noted that a four percent increase initially was projected for the current school year, but the last budget passed by the board had only a 1.92 percent increase.

A 2.1 percent increase is the most Parkland is allowed to raise its next annual budget without seeking state approval for more money under Act 1.

By staying within that amount, explained Vignone, for the first time in several years Parkland will not have to do an accelerated budget process – which would mean adopting a budget by January and then seeking Act 1 exceptions from the state to request a larger increase.

The school board won’t formally act on the administration’s recommendation to opt-out of the Act 1 accelerated budget process until Jan. 21. Final adoption of the 2014-15 budget is set for June 24.

Vignone said Parkland had an outstanding financial year in 2012-13, which is continuing in the current school year – “and we believe the trending will continue in 2014-15.”

The finance director attributes the positive trend to new construction, including industries moving into the district and hiring more people – all helping to expand Parkland’s tax base.

Vignone said another positive trend is “properties in Parkland sell. ‘For sale’ signs are not up all that long. We see people wanting to come into the community because of the schools, which increases property values. It’s a good investment financially and for their children.”

Later he explained cost-saving programs also have contributed to the district’s healthy financial outlook, ranging from personnel reductions through attrition to energy programs to save electricity.

He said those programs finally have come to fruition.

“It’s a whole combination of being under-expended in a number of areas and the revenues came in higher than we projected,” said Vignone, adding Parkland is one of the few areas “where we do see turn-around.”
He credited the school board for the district’s financial status.

“In difficult times this board, with its foresight, has been able to prepare for the future. And that’s what makes us successful.”

Vignone said the district is looking at an operating budget of about
$145 million for the next school year. He explained a 2.1 percent tax increase would generate more than $2.1 million of that total.

He said 83 percent of the district’s annual budget comes from local revenue. Most of the rest comes from the state, with only about two percent coming from the federal government. District superintendent Richard Sniscak reported no increase in state funding to public schools is expected this year.

Vignone said the district has $500,000 in its emergency budget reserve.

One wild card that could influence the next budget will be hammering out a new contract with Parkland Education Association, the teachers union. Vignone said negotiations on a new contract will begin in January. He acknowledged that will present a challenge to the district, in regard to both salaries and medical benefits.

He said the current two-year teachers contract expires in August. The teachers agreed to a salary freeze in 2012-13, said Vignone. This year they received a $1,250-per-person stipend and agreed to pay a greater share of their health care costs.

Night of honors

It was a night of honors at the school board meeting --- for National Merit Scholarship semi-finalists, two administrators who are retiring and a member of the school board.

The board honored Jayne Bartlett, its president, who is resigning after serving for 12 years.

It was the last meeting for Bartlett, who has been board president for three years. She chose not to seek election to another term.

At its annual organization meeting on Dec. 3, the board will welcome its newest member, David Hein, who was elected Nov. 5.

Sniscak said Bartlett’s leadership during the last three years was instrumental in guiding Parkland through the most difficult financial period the district has experienced

“She led with much care about the children in the Parkland School District, much care about the community members that make up the Parkland School District and much care for her fellow board members.
She offers each of them respect. She led by example. And she was invaluable to me as a new superintendent.”

Board members took turns praising Bartlett.

“You have led us from the heart, that is your strength,” said board member Robert Cohen.

“I sense the strength that you give us from your insights, because you speak from the heart. Thank you for the lessons you have taught us all. You will be very sorely missed. Your heart will always be in ours.”

Robert Marcus praised her “hard work, fairness and graciousness” and called her “a class act.”

Bartlett said she was warned that serving on the school board would be “a thankless job.”

“Over the years, I’ve gotten my thanks in many different ways,” she said, added that includes recognizing students who are National Merit scholars, cheering on the football team, going to school plays and concerts, and seeing students get “excellent PSSA result every year. That was all thanks.”

Bartlett’s husband Mike and her son Eric were in the audience.

Administrators retiring in June

With regret, the board accepted the resignations of Louise Fick, supervisor of special education, and Lynette Smith, principal at Ironton Elementary School. Both women are retiring at the end of this school year, each after 36 years in education.

Sniscak praised Fick as “an asset to the children in this community for 30 some years. We wish her well, but it’s going to be a void not having her around. She was instrumental in raising the standards in our special education department.”

Of Smith, the superintendent said: “I don’t know anyone who is more compassionate and caring for her children in her school than Lyn Smith. She’s the first one to greet her children as they come into school every day and she’s the last one to say goodbye to them every day as they head out to the bus. She is truly a students’ principal.”

Student scholars recognized

The school board also honored 11 Parkland High students selected as semi-finalists in the 2014 National Merit Scholarship program.

They are Seth Bartynski, Shira Botzum, Rahul Deshpande, Nishad Gothoskar, Hannah Kim, Luke Kim, Sung Hwan Park, Jenna Peng, Jyotsna Soundararajan, Maria Vratsanos and Angela Wang.

Twenty-one other students also were recognized as “commended” in the
2014 National Merit Scholarship program.

They are Andrew Brown, Kristie Budihardjo, Connor Ceh, Weston Conner, Lucas Crampton, Jordan Cregger, Devansh Desai, Alisha Ghosh, Paige Haring, Ruby Johnson, Amiya Kaira, Charles Kile, Mikaela Krim, Jason Law, Stephanie Liu, Kristen McCarty, Ankita Sharma, Christopher Tacca, Zachary Tridico, Shashank Vithalani and Rebecca Watson.

Melanie Perez and Emily O’Brien were recognized as National Hispanic Recognition Program Scholar recipients.