Seneca Valley's early 2014-15 budget shows deficit

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While Seneca Valley School District’s preliminary budget shows a deficit, school officials say it’s not as daunting as budgets introduced in the past few years.

“We had $10.8 million, then $6 million, then $4 million [in projected deficits]. I’m feeling we have time to look at options this year,” said superintendent Tracy Vitale about this year’s projected $3.7 million deficit.

The proposed preliminary budget will be introduced at Monday’s board meeting. School business administrator Lynn Burtner briefed board members on the early budget figures at their caucus meeting this week.

She said estimated expenditures for the 2014-15 school year are $107,769,762, about $6.2 million higher than the current budget.

Ms. Burtner said some notable expenses include a $2.4 million pension contribution to the Pennsylvania School Employees’ Retirement System, $1 million set aside for new textbooks and $500,000 budgeted for busing to Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School, opening in 2014-15 in Cranberry.

The district is required to provide transportation for all students who attend private schools, within guidelines established by the state.

There is some good news for district revenues, Ms. Burtner said. She said the value of a mill of tax continues to increase because of new development, and the district has had a significant increase in earned income tax collection since the system requiring one tax collection entity for the county was introduced. Previously, school districts and municipalities contracted individually for earned income tax collectors and it wasn’t always consistent, she said.

Ms. Burtner cautioned school board members that the preliminary budget will change, but it must be introduced now to meet guidelines set by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

“If it was up to us we would not be doing a budget at this time. It does seem ridiculous, but it’s part of the process we have to go through,” said Eric DiTullio, school board president.

Ms. Burtner said they have no information about the state’s contribution to the district next school year. She said they are using state subsidy figures from this year’s budget to estimate the state contribution in this preliminary budget.

Even without those numbers, school officials said they are in a better financial position this year than in years past. Over the past few years the district has laid off administrators and teachers and eliminated positions and programs to make ends meet.

“Those cuts to staff were quite difficult, but that’s having a cumulative effect now,” Ms. Vitale said.

Ms. Vitale also said the district has worked to maintain one of the lowest per-pupil costs in the state, spending $12,289 per pupil. She said that hasn’t affected the quality of education, with Seneca Valley ranked 43rd in the state for student achievement. There are 500 school districts in the commonwealth.

Laure Cioffi, freelance writer:

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