The Peters school board wants to raise the property tax rate by 5.142 mills for next school year.
The board voted 7-0 Tuesday to pass a preliminary budget of $56.97 million that calls for a tax hike above the index limit set by the state Department of Education. Members also passed a $1.04 million technology budget and a curriculum budget of $436,200.
The state-mandated cap would have limited the district to a 2.1 percent tax increase — equivalent to about 2.14 mills —- but the board voted 7-0 to seek exceptions from the department that would allow a higher increase due to rising retirement and special education costs.
Members Bill Merrell and Lynn Erenberg were absent.
The board began discussing the issue last month when directors realized the major cost drivers —- expenses related to staffing, special education and debt service — would be increasing by as much as 25 percent.
"These are all things the district has very little control over," district business manager Vincent Belczyk said.
Staffing costs are expected to rise by more than $3.3 million next year due to mandated staff and contractual obligations, he said.
The district has maintained one of the lowest per-pupil costs in the state at $11,203 per student — ranking 461 out of 500 districts statewide.
The district has had a slow but steady decrease in enrollment in recent years, with a loss of 161 students districtwide since 2010. By 2021, administrators projected the district would lose about 45 more students, depending on growth in the township, which is about 65 percent developed.
Retirement costs are among the biggest factors in the budget, predicted to rise to more than $3.1 million next year —- an increase of $680,648 from this year. The district's retirement contribution will increase to as much as $5.3 million by 2021.
The pension liability crisis has been felt statewide, with dramatic increases due to market losses and contributions that were too low in previous years.
Other increases are expected for cyber school tuition, along with an additional $100,000 for a new math curriculum and increased transportation costs of 3.26 percent, or $28,000.
The district pays about $450,000 per year to educate more than 70 cyber school students, and that number is expected to increase next year by about $100,000, Mr. Belczyk estimated, based on continued cyber school enrollment increases. Home districts are obligated to pay cyber school tuition for students, minus costs for items such as transportation.
Health care costs are projected to increase by about 2.5 percent next year, and special education costs continue to rise while state subsidies have remained flat, Mr. Belczyk said.
The current property tax rate is 102 mills, the second lowest among school districts in Washington County. Each mill generates about $335,000 for district coffers, and each mill costs taxpayers $100 for each $100,000 of assessed value. A 5.142-mill increase would raise taxes by about $514 per year on a $100,000 house.
Although the budget normally would be tackled in late spring for a June 30 deadline, districts that are considering tax increases that are higher than the index limit must submit preliminary budgets and exception requests to the state Department of Education in February.
The request doesn't necessarily mean the district will raise taxes by more than 5 mills, and Mr. Belczyk said administrators will continue paring down expenses before the final budget must be passed in June.
Details about the budget are available at the district website at www.ptsd.k12.pa.us.
In other business:
■ New board members Jamison Hardy and Lisa Anderson continued their quest for more transparency, calling on the administration to begin making video recordings of committee meetings and placing the recordings, along with video recordings of regular monthly board meetings, online for the public to view. Regular meetings are currently recorded and played on the local cable access network. Superintendent Jeannine French said her office is working on the issue and plans to have more information available to the public soon.
■The board also revised the school calendar for this year, with students now scheduled to attend classes Feb. 17 and possibly April 21 if another snow makeup day is needed. Members approved a calendar for next year, setting the first day of school for Aug. 25. The winter break is scheduled for Dec. 24, 2014 through Jan. 2, 2015, while spring break is planned for April 2-6, 2015. The last day of school is slated for June 4, 2015, with graduation ceremonies the following day.
■The board also discussed at length new graduation requirements driven by new state guidelines that phase out required projects by 2017. Members are expected to take up the issue at their Feb. 18 board meeting.
Directors also unanimously approved a slate of returning coaches for next year, including head high school football coach Rich Piccinini, and they created a new extra duty position of theater producer, while eliminating the positions of drama director and technology director.