CD school officials look to end string of tax hikes

By Bill Bostic

Central Dauphin School District’s administration appears to have been given a mandate by the school board to produce a budget for the 2019-2020 school year that does not include a tax hike.

School property taxes have gone up about 15% over the last five years. There’s been growing pressure applied by a few board members to end the string of what some call “automatic tax hikes.”

Karen McConnell, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance, told the school board earlier this week that the budget planning process started last fall needed to find $8 million to produce a balanced budget that is required by state law. That number is now down to $2.6 million in a budget that most likely will come in at a little over $200 million.

She believes she can get the gap down to $1 million over the next few weeks. If that comes true, the budget most likely would be balanced by using reserve funds and not filling some staff positions when they come open.

McConnell said the district’s student population continues to grow, a trend that prevents the district from reducing the number of teachers and support staff without increasing class sizes.

School board member Stephen Smith expressed concern about the impact of not raising the tax rate on the district’s finances over the next few years. With the state government capping the size of tax hikes, he reminded the board that the dollars not received by keeping the tax rate level next school year would be lost forever. The district could hike taxes a maximum of 2.8% this year.

School board member Eric Epstein indicated that he has several ideas for reducing expenses and will meet with McConnell to discuss them.

On another front, residents have inquired about going from half-day kindergarten to a full-day program – and some are calling for pre-kindergarten classes. Outgoing Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson recently said she supports both programs but there’s no funding available to put them in place at this time.

Epstein has pointed out that Central Dauphin was underfunded by $5.8 million last year by the state government implementing a fair funding formula in an unfair way. Adding to the district’s financial challenges has been skyrocketing state-mandated pension costs that have gone from $4 million in 2011 to an estimated $27 million next school year.

The board has to adopt a preliminary budget by May 9 and a final version by June 30.

To get more information on the district’s budget and property taxes, residents can attend a town hall meeting on Monday, April 29 at Central Dauphin East Middle School located at 628 Rutherford Road. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.