Pennsylvania’s 2022-23 budget, with a historic increase in education funding, passed the state’s self-imposed deadline by a week and after all 16 Lancaster County school boards except two, voted for higher taxes.
The Warwick and Columbia Borough school districts did not raise taxes, marking their fourth and third straight years with no property tax increases. Solanco claims the largest tax increase in the county by raising its taxes by 4%, the maximum allowed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education under Index Act 1 without a vote by district residents or an exception granted by the department. At 11.7977 mileage, however, Solanco maintains the lowest property tax rate in the county. The mileage rate represents the amount taxed per $1,000 of a property’s assessed value.
The addition to local property tax revenues amounts to $218,447,090 in a state basic education funding credit. Nearly $8 billion has been allocated to school districts in Pennsylvania, representing the largest increase in public school funding in state history, according to the state Department of Education.
Lancaster County’s largest school district, Lancaster School District, received the largest state funding allocation—$73,053,329—from the county. The Hempfield School District received the second highest funding allocation at $15,403,384. Allocations are, in part, weighted by the total number of students in a district. As of August 16, the Lancaster School District had 10,141 students and Hempfield 7,136.
The city school district was one of three districts in Lancaster County to receive Level Up funding supplements from the state. Level Up funding is awarded to the 100 most needy school districts or the least affluent schools in the state. In addition to the Lancasser School District supplement of $3,793,079.24, the Columbia Borough and Ephrata Area school districts received $756,783.16 and $838,864.87, respectively. No other Lancaster County district has received this funding.
A $225 million increase in Level Up support was just one of many education funding increases as part of the state’s $1.8 billion increase in education investments. by Governor Tom Wolf’s administration.
Historic financing, one week after the deadline
Pennsylvania lawmakers passed the state’s budget, including its investments in education, on July 8, more than a week after a self-imposed June 30 deadline, which marks the start of the new fiscal year. the state. Local school districts are also required to meet the same deadline, and school districts in Lancaster County have done so.
That means school districts had to estimate how much money they would receive from the state as they calculated their annual spending figures and considered tax increases.
The Lancaster School District, for example, agreed to a 3% tax hike because school board members were unsure whether the state allocation would be less than the district expected.
Acting Superintendent and Chief Financial and Operating Officer Matt Przywara said the state should use the Democrat-backed fair funding formula to let districts know rather than guess how much funding they will receive from the state. state before adopting their budget. The fair funding formula aims to allocate money to districts based on each district’s “fair share” of funding available rather than leaving the amount up to legislators, according to the Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee. The formula would add predictability to the funding process.
“We already have a plan before we know what they are going to give us,” Przywara said. “Which it forces us to do – and again we are very grateful – but now we have to change this plan. We need to speed up some things that we may not have the capacity to do right now. »
However, a week behind the state budget isn’t the worst school districts have seen. For example, in 2015, the state budget was not passed until March 23, almost nine months after the state deadline. Using the fair funding formula, however, Przywara said the district could find out by February or March how much it would receive for the coming year.
“We need our government, our local legislators to do a better job and provide more assurances that we can plan to prepare…for a more effective school year with these resources,” Pryzwara said.
The Lancaster School District received about $4.5 million more from the state than it had anticipated, Przywara said.
And while Przywara said the district is grateful for the increase, public schools like Lancaster are still grossly underfunded. Last year, based on Fair Funding Formula calculations, Pryzwara said the district received $14 million less than it should have.
“We’re not where we need to be to be adequately funded, so … we know there’s still work to be done at the state level,” Przywara said.
In December 2021, Przywara testified on behalf of the Lancaster School District and five other school districts in a lawsuit alleging that the state funding system is both inadequate and unfair.
“As a school district that has a high number of economically disadvantaged students, as well as a high percentage of students learning English, we know that our cost per student, it takes us more to educate one student than some of our peers or our neighboring peers,” Przywara said in an interview with the LNP | Lancaster Online this week. “It’s important that this level of funding gives us an extra boost so that we can actually get these services.”
Warwick’s ‘booming’ economy
The Warwick School District expected $13.2 million in basic education funding from the state, but is expected to receive $13.9 million. District Chief Financial Officer Nate Wertsch said the district will not reopen its budget to accommodate the change, but instead will use the money for budget items that cost more than expected or allocate funding to the district budget. ‘next year. Wertsch said Warwick does not usually reopen its budget once it is approved.
“In an ideal world, if our spending ended up exactly as we budgeted it, then that additional state funding would just sink to the bottom and help next year’s budget,” Wertsch said.
The district is in its fourth year of maintaining its 16.3711 miles, Wertsch said. Each year, he said, district leadership aims for a 0% tax increase and has succeeded thanks to a growing community and increased state funding.
“We’ve certainly been very lucky with a lot of growth on both the commercial side and the residential side.” said Wertsch. “Our local economy here in Warwick is booming so we’ve certainly gotten a lot of income from the local side.”
Much of the community is made up of homes for residents aged 55 and over. These places generate property tax revenue for schools that use school services little because many adults 55 and older do not have school-aged children.
Since the pandemic, Wertsch said taxes on earned income have also rebounded significantly.
And, while many districts are seeing a 4% tax increase, Warwick residents have actually seen a $25 decrease in property taxes this year, Wertsch said. Since the state has increased its property tax abatement allowance with gambling revenue, the school district can reduce taxpayers’ bills if they have filed for a farm abatement.
As for a 0% tax increase next year, Wertsch said “it’s too early to tell,” but increased state funding doesn’t hurt.
A combination of earned income taxes and remaining COVID-19 relief funds are also helping to strengthen other districts.
The Mannheim Central School District is projecting a surplus of $789,426 when it originally projected a deficit of $235,447. The district attributes its surplus to an increase in the amount of labor income and real estate transfer taxes, as well as funding for COVID-19 relief.
The Lancaster School District used reserve funds and federal pandemic relief funds to wipe out its $12.7 million deficit.
The district continues to see deficits each year as it loses students to the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Przywara said. The district, staffed to accommodate 10,300 students, lost nearly 900 last year, he added. In a previous interview with LNP | LancasterOnline, then superintendent Damaris Rau, said many students were dropping out of school to work full time and help their families during the pandemic.
As its student population dwindles, the district doesn’t want to cut positions or lay off employees because it saw with its recent boundary realignment plan that staff could be reorganized to create smaller classes.
“Our district is only starting with a deficit because we don’t have economic growth in our community,” Przywara said. “There are no new taxes coming unless we raise taxes. … We are very limited, our expenses are increasing much faster than our income.
And although this year the shortfall may be covered by COVD-19 relief funds, Przywara is wary of balancing the budget with one-time funding sources when the district can expect rising costs.
“We have to be aware that even though we have all these new resources, we still have rising costs,” Przywara said. “We have to be aware of rising costs so that we don’t overwork ourselves.”