Local school districts reach the budgetary finish line

As the six Adams County school districts wrap up their 2022-23 budgeting processes, it is worth noting the enormity of the tasks they have each faced and the complexities of the procedures they each followed to get there.

The six districts, each serving less than 3,500 students, have worked independently for the past six months to create a new annual budget, post it on their website, modify it on the basis of new information, and explain it to and get it approved by their board.

The workload is immense as the district superintendent and business manager call in assistants, principals, teachers, and staff to give advice and make decisions within a financial environment that is in constant flux.

The public is also asked for its input, which is given through phone calls and emails to district administrators and board members and in often-passionate addresses at board meetings.

At some meetings decorum is on thin ice as applause and cheers from the public follow public commentaries.

In a classic Catch-22, each district is forced to make predictions for its budget based on state funding that has not been committed at the time the state requires the budget to be finalized.

In comparison to most states the proportion of state funds that come to public schools in Pennsylvania is low, putting a greater burden on, and more intense interest in, the process from local taxpayers. 

Following proscriptive state laws, the budget must be approved by the school boards by the end of June but draft copies need to be posted 30 days prior for public inspection. This creates another level of confusion because the draft budgets are made public as new information is still arriving and final plans are being drafted.

During the process each district’s budget is discussed in detail, often down to individual line items, by the boards in lengthy and sometimes contentious meetings.

That there are six districts in our small county of a bit over 100,000 residents multiplies the work as each of the six teams spend countless hours making decisions about their small piece of the overall student body.

And all this occurs in a context where almost all of each district’s budget is already fixed through required bond payments, salaries, and benefits.  The tiny remainder of the budget is all that is tweakable.

The situation repeats itself statewide, where there are over 500 school districts ranging from about 250 to 140,000 students. In contrast, neighboring Maryland has only 25 districts for about 6 million people with an average of 240,000 students in each district.

(There is no rule that the six Adams districts could not combine, and there would be huge benefits to doing so, and yet there is no discussion of this that I am aware of.)

Although budgets seem to be the biggest time commitment each district is also on its own to deal with myriad other details, each of which takes up time. In the past year UASD has responded to accusations of racial prejudice, FASD has dealt with structural problems including roof leaks, and LASD has created multiple committees to review dozens of books that one parent has suggested might be obscene.

And each district has continued to deal with the pandemic, again each in its own way.

There seems to be nothing to do except thank each and every one of the people who make this all possible. Their commitment to the students is unwavering and they get the tough job done.

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Charles (Chuck) Stangor is Gettysburg Connection's Owner, Publisher, and Editor in Chief. I would like to hear from you. Please contact me at cstangor@gettysburgconnection.org.

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Melissa Sandoe
Melissa Sandoe
1 year ago

In addition to the six public districts you mention in the article, there are two more public charter schools who like the regular school district must go through the same procedures. Vida Charter School and Gettysburg Montessori Charter School rely on funding that follows the student through the local school districts. Unlike the regular school districts that have the power to raise taxes to increase revenue, charter schools have no such power. Charter schools must budget often not knowing what the regular school districts will pass along for the students the charter schools are educating. This is challenging. I know… Read more »

Ralph Duquette
Ralph Duquette
1 year ago
Reply to  Melissa Sandoe

Charter schools are not at all like the local public schools. Indeed, they do their budgeting process out of public view and without the need to allow public comments. Public schools must pay the bills presented by the Charter Schools. The local school boards have no say in that at all. Money, lots of money, simply gets sucked out. And guess which entity has to accept all students who show up at the front door? That’s right… your local public school. btw, a piece of errata in the story: it is the Districts’ School Boards, not the municipal Supervisors, who… Read more »

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