By Bill Bostic
Central Dauphin School District is on track to hold the line on taxes for next school year, but there’s trouble brewing in 2022 if things stay as they are now.
The district’s most recent five-year financial projection shows the operating fund running out of money by the tune of $3 million in 2022. The report is used as a planning tool and is only a rough estimate of what’s coming down the pike. But the numbers serve as a warning that the district is on shaky financial ground in the near term.
The scary thing about this situation is that Central Dauphin School District is in good financial shape when compared to most school districts across the state. Karen McConnell, assistant superintendent of finance, regularly says the district has had clean state audits and above average bond ratings, which is helpful when the district borrows money for major projects.
With that being the case, why is the district trying to close a $1.9 million budget gap for next school year and facing a potential cash shortage in the not too distant future?
State government funding is NOT keeping pace
Recent budget information sessions held by the school board have shown that the primary driver of the problem is state government underfunding Central Dauphin and many other school districts by millions of dollars a year.
Based on an education funding formula adopted by the state in 2015 but only partially implemented, Central Dauphin received $5.8 million less than the formula calls for this school year. And it’s worse for next school year with the preliminary shortage from the state being pegged at $6.9 million.
Making matters worse are school employee pension contributions that the state has increased by millions of dollars a year since 2011, state-mandated contributions for charter schools, and other required expenses that increase every year.
Citizens need to get involved
School board member Eric Epstein recommended that school officials and residents contact two local state lawmakers to ask for increased state funding — State Senators Mike Folmer of Lebanon County and John DiSanto of Lower Paxton Township, Dauphin County.
Both lawmakers are members of the Senate’s Education Committee, he said.
The school board’s finance committee met last week and the tentative plan is to use $4.4 million in reserve dollars and not fill some staff positions when they come open to balance the 2019-2020 budget. No tax hike is planned for the first time since the budget adopted in 2013.
By using reserve funds this year, it’s unlikely the district can avoid a tax hike next year without more help from the state and possibly staff furloughs.
McConnell will explain the district’s preliminary 2019-2020 budget and take questions from the public during an information meeting scheduled for Thursday, May 9 in the Central Dauphin East High School auditorium, 626 Rutherford Road. The session will start at 7 p.m.
The board needs to finalize the budget for next school year by June 30.
Below is contact information for asking Folmer and DiSanto to help increase state funding for CD schools:
Senator John DiSanto Senator Mike Folmer
Senate Box 203015 Senate Box 203048
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3015 Harrisburg, PA 17120-3048
Room: 168 Main Capitol Room: 337 Main Capitol
(717) 787-6801 (717) 787-5708