Yet the Hatboro-Horsham School District is in good financial shape, a district official told the school board Monday night.
During a presentation about the district's yet-to-be-completed 2014-2015 spending plan, Bob Reichert, the district's director of business affairs, credited the district's "thorough and advanced planning" as well as its reserve funds with putting the district in a "very good position" as it looks ahead to finalizing next year's budget.
The district's reserves will help in funding a portion of the estimated $20 million cost of building a new Hallowell Elementary School, Reichert said.
While the deadline for approving next year's budget isn't until June 30, Superintendent Curtis Griffin said district officials work each week–year-round–seeking cost-saving alternatives.
The need to cut expenses has never been more important than in the last seven years when the continuing decline in local, state and federal revenue continues to push school districts statewide to look for alternatives.
In response, Reichert said the district–which has had the second-lowest average tax increases among all Montgomery County school districts for the last 12 years–has put in place more than 100 recurring cost-saving measures.
The district has reduced its professional staff, mainly through attrition, from the 2008-2009 high of 438 to 388 for the 2013-2014 school year, he said.
In addition to those cuts, Reichert said the district saved about $3.9 million over the last five years by reducing departmental expenses, which he said amounts to a 17 percent reduction since 2008-2009.
All of the saving and cost-cutting measures are needed to handle skyrocketing pension contributions over the coming years, which Reichert described as the "900-pound gorilla we’re going to have to wrestle with."
The district's contribution to the Pennsylvania School Employee Retirement System is expected to rise from 8.65 percent of payroll in 2012-2013 to 29.15 percent by 2017-2018, according to Reichert.
State and federal funding levels for the upcoming budget are uncertain. But, Reichert stressed that the board is committed to keeping any tax increases within the Act 1 index, which, for 2014-2015 amounts to a 2.1 percent tax hike.
Board President Russell Bleiler, who's seeking re-election in November, presented Reichert with a "challenge" following Reichert's brief discussion: a "zero increase in taxes this year."
Reichert is expected to present a budget update in January and another outlook in the spring, prior to preliminary and final adoption.