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New budget to lead to Juniata Co. tax increase

Early projections show $390,000 deficit

MIFFLINTOWN – If Juniata County School District’s budget is approved as it stands, residents will see a tax increase moving in to the 2021-22 school year.

Superintendent Gary Dawson presented the district’s board of directors with early estimates for a $44.3 million preliminary budget that shows $43.91 million in revenues.

The projections were presented during the board’s workshop meeting on Wednesday.

The budget includes one-time federal funds coming from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund which is offered to help school districts facing issues related to COVID-19.

As it stands, early budget projections show a $390,000 deficit.

For comparison, 2020-21 expenditures were $39.9 million and revenues were $39.6 million.

The budget shows revenues of $3.94 million or 9 percent coming from federal funds, $20.575 million, or 47 percent coming from state funds, and $19.4 from local funds, or 44 percent.

Those numbers include a 3.9 percent tax increase, which raises about $565,000 in revenue.

Dawson cautioned board about including one-time ESSER funds in budget projections moving forward because of a tendency to become dependent on them.

“When they’re gone they’re gone,” he said. “I think the best way to determine where your budget truly lies is looking at your reoccurring numbers.”

Dawson said recurring expenditures, without ESSER funds, for the 2021-22 school year are estimated to be about $42.1 million while recurring revenues are about $40.66 million, leaving a deficit of about $1.44 million.

The superintendent reminded the board that there has been a larger increase in the number of students leaving the district to attend cyber/charter schools, which has added to the deficit. The district is estimating the increase of tuition cost at about $2 million

“My hope is after COVID resolves – and we hope that comes to be for next school year – we hope a significant portion of those students that are out on charters and other tuition-based programs return to school and we still believe that’s going to happen,” he said. “Even if we get about half of those kids to return back to the school, our budget will be in really good shape.”

The early budget is assuming that the cafeteria will show no deficit.

It is also assuming $350,000 in equipment and maintenance expenses.

The budget has $5 million budgeted for special education costs for the 2021-22 school year.

Dawson said special education costs are “extremely variable.”

“It depends on the children that show up at our door and need services. Obviously, we are going to provide whatever services are necessary to meet that child’s needs.”

To balance deficit, the district is looking at reduction and realignment of staff, which would eliminate about $510,000. Dawson said the district is not currently looking at furloughs of professional staff.

Dawson said school leaders are also looking at taking $390,000 from the district’s retirement and reserves account, which currently has about $2 million.

The superintendent said the board should also consider addressing deferred maintenance needs at Tuscarora Junior High School, East Juniata and Juniata High Schools.

Projects under consideration include the removal of asbestos at TJHS and EJHS, new flooring at JHS, the addition of a single point of entry at JHS, the repair of the auditorium at EJHS, the repair and maintenance of blacktop around the district.

Board member Melinda Carvell requested a separate preliminary budget to see what would happen if the board chooses to not raise taxes for the 2021-22 school year.

In May, the board is set to vote on a preliminary budget, which will go on display for 30 days before a final budget is approved before June 30.

In other business, administration announced that high school commencement was set for June 2 with a rain date of June 3. Times and locations have not yet been determined.

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