SHARON School district faces higher costs in budget

The district is already looking at a $350,000 increase in employee retirement and insurance costs.
SHARON, Pa. -- Sharon City school directors have been given fair warning -- things are going to be very tight in the 2002-2003 fiscal year.
James Wolf, district business manager, presented the school board with a time line for preparation of the new spending plan during a board work session Wednesday, noting a preliminary version is to be given to the superintendent by March 8.
The district is already looking at some substantial cost increases that can't be avoided, and the board will have to make some tough spending choices, he warned.
The district's contribution to the state retirement system for public school employees is going up by $200,000 to a total of $255,000, and employee health insurance costs will rise as much as $150,000 to about $1.45 million next year, he said.
Those increases alone represent about 10 mills' worth of property taxes. Wolf said Sharon is also opening negotiations with its teachers for a new contract that will take effect in 2002-2003.
State's warning: The state has helped offset operating increases over the past several years by coming up with an additional 3 percent or 4 percent in subsidies each year. That amounted to between $300,000 and $400,000 in additional funds annually, Wolf said.
However, Harrisburg is already warning school districts not to look for such an increase next year. The big budget surpluses that funded them are gone, Wolf said.
The public employees retirement fund was in excellent shape a few years ago and even had what amounted to a surplus, he said.
Because of that surplus, the state, which matches school district contributions to the fund, gradually reduced the amount of money being put into the fund, requiring less from school districts, he said.
That reduced local costs but it also put a drain on the retirement fund, and the state is now saying it must be built up again.
That means an increased contribution in each of the next several years, Wolf predicted.
Budget hearings: Board members said they want to start holding budget hearings early this year, beginning in March instead of waiting for the traditional start of hearings in April.
Wolf said the 2001-2002 budget is "right on target."
The district has taken in 46 percent of the anticipated revenues for the $20.5 million spending plan, but spending is only at the 38 percent mark, he said.

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