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GASD wrestles with its budget, preparing for a vote on June 7

Gettysburg Area School District staff presented a detailed and comprehensive look at the district’s 2021-22 budget on Monday evening, while proposing a modest 1.2 percent tax increase to reduce the possibility of severe funding difficulties in the future.

District Business Manager Belinda Wallen said the parts of the budget the district was able to control were at about the same level as they were in the budget adopted five years ago in 2017. Wallen explained the difficulties of holding the line on tax increases given built-in cost increases in salaries and benefits, the need to maintain a discretionary fund balance as required by school policy, and potential decreases in state funding going forward.

Proposed 2021-22 tax increases in the six Adams County school districts [GASD]

Wallen said she was worried that state money to districts might be reduced or that federal money that normally came to the schools would be kept by the state. Wallen said that according to reports from the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials the state was “dragging their feet in terms of making any determinations of what monies will be associated with education funding. ”

Wallen said the district was facing a “cliff” – a financial shortfall of $928,000 that would occur when pandemic-related funds that are available this year and next ended in 2024. She said that figure was the equivalent of about 10 professional positions.

Wallen said the request for a 1.2 percent tax increase was to help prepare for the future when pandemic-related funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund would go away, to keep the fund balance healthy, and to help protect against the loss of major taxpayers.  She said a healthy fund balance allows for emergencies and borrowing without taking out loans and helps pay for unbudgeted expenses.

Wallen also said she was concerned that lowering the size of the discretionary fund balance could harm the district’s credit rating going forward.

Board members asked for more details about COVID expenses and expressed concerns the district would have to cut programs going forward.

Board member Amy Beth Hodges said the year had been extremely difficult for everyone in the community and that raising taxes would be irresponsible.  Hodges said the board should be listening to the community and not have a tax increase.

Board member Kathleen Pratt thanked Belinda for the level of detail in her presentation saying “In all my years on the board we’ve never had such a detailed explanation.”

Board president Kenneth Hassinger said there would be an open meeting to discuss the use of ESSER funds.

The next scheduled GASD school board meeting will be on June 7 at 7:00 p.m.

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Charles Stangor is Gettysburg Connection's Publisher and Editor in Chief.

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