Lehighton School District breaks down expenses, looks at deficit
A second straight week of lengthy discussion on its proposed 2019-20 budget left Lehighton Area School District in a similar position of searching for ways to address a projected $4 million deficit.
Business administrator Patricia Denicola again outlined Lehighton’s expected expenses, breaking it down by personnel and non-personnel related expenses.
According to Denicola, Lehighton has about $30 million in proposed personnel expenses including $16.6 million for salaries, $7 million for the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System contribution and employer taxes, and $6.4 million for employee benefits. Lehighton is expecting $15 million in non-personnel items including $1.5 million for mandated charter school costs, $1.73 million in support of Carbon Career and Technical Institute, $234,000 in support of Lehigh Carbon Community College, $20,000 in support of the Lehighton Memorial Library, $2.6 million in special education costs from the Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit and other entities, $3.7 million in bond payments ($1.9 million of which is interest), and $5.13 million for other expenditures such as supplies, utilities, repairs, etc.
“The budget was built on our collective bargaining agreements that are in place, current year-to-date expenditures and a three-year average on what the district has actually spent,” Denicola said.
Denicola took over in March for Brian Feick, who accepted a business administrator position at Schuylkill Valley School District. A budget presentation in January had Lehighton projected for a deficit just over $200,000.
The issue, Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver said, is that the budget for 2018-19, for example, was not put together using actual past expenditures.
“Our 2018-19 budget had $11.5 million for all of our benefits and year-to-date we have already spent $14.9 million,” Cleaver said. “It’s not just an insurance issue, however. Our special education costs, for example, were budgeted at $680,000 when we spent $997,000 in 2017-18. For the 2019-20 budget, we now have that projected at $1.1 million because costs always go up.”
Director David Bradley questioned Denicola on a statement made at last week’s budget workshop regarding the status of benefit payments on the district’s expense reports. Throughout the 2018-19 fiscal year, before Denicola arrived, benefit payments made to insurance carriers were not indicated in the expense reports of the district and not shown on budget summaries.
“The payments were made, but they were not shown in the expenditures,” she added.
Bradley, however, said he doesn’t think the problem is as the district perceives it to be.
“I think this is a financial shuffle, unless you’re telling me the district spent money it didn’t have, which would be irresponsible and immoral,” Bradley said. “The district has been on a path of overconsumption for a decade and nobody put checks and balances back in the system.”
Lehighton’s next board meeting is scheduled for June 24. The state requires that it passes a budget by June 30.
“There has been very little discussion the last few weeks on how we’re going to close the gap,” former board member and district resident Dave Krause said. “I’d like to hear some more on that.”
Denicola said multiple factors could play in a role in how much that projected $4 million deficit changes over time.
“We could see items trend in a positive direction such as charter school costs if more students come back to our own virtual academy, or if our health care claims go the other way,” she said. “Right now, over 40 percent of our claim costs are coming from 36 individuals so if any one of them greatly improves, that will help our benefits cost as well.”