G-A School Board looks at tax increase options to close budget deficit

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot

The Greencastle-Antrim School Board is scheduled to decide next week how to close the $867,157 gap between revenues and expenditures in the 2021-22 budget.

The board is expected to approve the final budget during a meeting beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 17, in the high school library. Members of the public can attend the meeting in person and it also can be viewed on YouTube, accessible from the school district website.

The Greencastle-Antrim School Board is scheduled to vote on the 2021-22 budget at its June 17 meeting and is looking at tax increase options to help balance the spending plan.

The finance committee is recommending a 2.5% property tax increase and taking $250,000 from capital reserves to make up most of the difference between $44,272,428 in projected revenues and $45,139,585 in projected expenditures, according to committee member Tracy Baer.

At last week's school board meeting, Caroline Royer, chief financial officer, was asked to prepare two scenarios — one with the 2.5% increase and another with a 1.5% hike in the 116.67 mill rate — for June 17.

A 2.5% increase would cost the median taxpayer an additional $64.62 and would generate $589,000. A 1.5% take hike would mean $37.77 more for the median taxpayer and bring in $353,000, according to Royer's presentation.

Finding the money

In their discussion June 3, school board members indicated that aren't happy about either taking from reserves or raising taxes.

Dr. Carter Davidson said he is concerned the district is continuing to "rob Peter to pay Paul" and pointed out not putting money into reserves over the years has put the district in a tight financial situation.

Shannon Blanchard, board president, said she is not sure this is the year to burden taxpayers too much.

However, she noted that 64% of the budget must be covered by local sources. Early in the meeting, she talked about a virtual rallies she attended concerning inequitable school funding and charter school reform.

She encouraged members of the school district's Facebook supporters group and others to reach out to local legislators about both issues.

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The district is paying over $700,000 in charter school tuition. Blanchard said this is based on the G-A School District's expenditures, not the expenses of the charter schools, which often are not brick and mortar.

The district also has long been near the bottom of the list in terms of per pupil funding from the state because of how that reimbursement is calculated. Royer's figures show Greencastle-Antrim receiving $13,168, compared to an average of $15,028 for other schools in Franklin County; $16,771 in the the Lincoln Intermediate Unit; and $18,281 in the state.

"I'm hesitant to raise taxes, but I don't have a solution," said board member Pat Fridgen.

"Until we get equitable funding," added Blanchard, who went on to say one of the most negative aspects of being on the school board is having to raise taxes.

Baer said she joined the school board to help stop raising taxes, but over the years has learned "the importance of our kids."

"Look where I am ... recommending raising taxes," Baer said.

COVID-19 relief funds

Two large expenditures — a new middle school roof and technology upgrades — approved by the board on June 3 will not have to come out of district's pocket, thanks to the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief related to COVID-19.

Money from several rounds of ESSER funding and other COVID-related grants has been used throughout the year for everything from face shields and hand sanitizer to leasing iPads for middle, elementary and primary school students.

ESSER money also will be used to pay for the middle school roof and June 3 the board awarded a $1,899,636 contract to TRS Roofing Inc.

The goal had been to have the project largely completed before the beginning of the school year, but the nationwide materials crunch will probably push it back to a fall start, according to Kelsey Leed of the architectural and engineering firm Crabtree Rohrbaugh.

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"If you don't have a solid and robust infrastructure, you have a bad day," said Dwight Bard, director of technology.

"You have to have a server and a network," said Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent.

Technology is like a utility such as water or electric, according to Bard, who said it has to be replaced at some point.

In 2017, the district made significant investment in technology and networking, but the leases are expiring soon.

Using ESSER funds, the district will purchase server infrastructure from Scale Computing for $173,757 and network infrastructure from Cisco Meraki for $455,315. It is necessary to buy rather than lease in order to be eligible for ESSER.