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MASD may face deficit, but school board votes for tax hike restraint

By Phyllis Zimmerman, Special to the Press & Journal
Posted 12/31/19

The Middletown Area School Board passed a resolution Dec. 17 stating that the district won’t raise real estate taxes next year beyond its state-appointed index of 3.69 percent for …

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MASD may face deficit, but school board votes for tax hike restraint

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The Middletown Area School Board passed a resolution Dec. 17 stating that the district won’t raise real estate taxes next year beyond its state-appointed index of 3.69 percent for 2020-21.

Superintendent Lori Suski stressed that the resolution doesn’t mean that a district tax increase already is in place for next year. Instead, it means that if the school board eventually does elect to raise taxes for next year, members are limited to an increase no higher than the state index.

Last year, the school board voted to increase the district’s property tax rate by 2.44 percent for 2019-20, the district’s first tax increase since 2014-15. Although the district initially proposed an increase of 4.37 for last year, the finalized increase was well under the state index.

As it looks now, the Middletown Area School District is facing a deficit of $6.3 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year, but district Chief Financial Officer David Franklin said last week that figure is far from final. Administrators said they plan to continue fine-tuning next year’s budget proposal until the school board finalizes the plan in June 2020.

“There are still a lot of unknowns at this point,” Franklin told the school board on Dec. 17. “A lot of what’s here may not survive the red pen of Dr. Suski and myself.”

Franklin presented a 2020-21 preliminary general fund budget draft for the district at a school board meeting Dec. 17, a month earlier than the district’s usual annual budget timeline. The state bumped up the district’s deadline for preparing a 2020-21 preliminary general fund budget because Pennsylvania is holding its 2020 primary election in April, a month earlier than usual due to next year’s presidential election.

The early deadline resulted in district administrators developing a preliminary general fund budget for next year using estimates, past numbers, estimates and actual figures. As Franklin noted, the state’s 2020-21 budget is months away, the district’s wage base likely will change in following months, the district’s enrollment remains “a moving target,” and the district’s tax assessment hasn’t been finalized.

The school board isn’t scheduled to adopt a proposed budget until May 5, followed by a final budget vote June 16.

War Memorial Field proposals

The school board tabled proposals Dec. 17 for contracting the removal of the sports grass on War Memorial Field and for engineering the field’s elevation heights in preparation for crowning. The board also tabled a proposal to include the addition of sod as a bid alternate for the project for further consideration.

At the same time, board members did approve adding the installation of handrails in War Memorial Field’s oldest bleacher section as another bid alternative.

The board will revisit the tabled proposals for War Memorial Field this month.