Proposed final budget presented
By SARIT LASCHINSKY
Special to The Press
Northwestern Lehigh school board members received a comprehensive breakdown of the district’s proposed 2021-22 final budget at their May 5 workshop.
Business Administrator Leslie Frisbie reviewed the district’s budget goals and noted by law, the district will be required to adopt a final budget proposal in June.
While some minor adjustments might be made, the numbers and data presented that evening was the proposed final spending plan, she explained.
The budget goals are the implementation of the district’s Future Ready Comprehensive Plan, provide instructional programs to meet key areas, maintain sufficient staffing, commit to long-range technology planning, support the Facilities Master Plan, develop a budget with both short-term and long-term focuses to create sustainability, identify areas to maximize efficiencies and reduce costs, and meet district needs while minimizing any potential tax increase.
As of May, the 2021-22 proposed budget’s total expenditures are $48,721,509, and total revenues are estimated at $46,413,940, leaving a shortfall before fund balance use of $2,307,569.
Frisbie noted that in January the district had anticipated a shortfall of around $3.7 million.
This has since been reduced to the current amount by decreasing expenditures and increasing revenues where possible.
The presentation also showed a proposed millage increase of 3 percent, due to an increase to the district’s Act 1 Index, to bring in $855,000 in tax revenue, leaving a revised shortfall of $1,452,569, which is down from January estimates of $2,875,417.
Regarding changes from the April budget meeting, Frisbie said there were positive net changes to revenues in the amount of $738,554, and net decreases to expenditures of $14,000.
Regarding revenues, Frisbie said the proposed revenue streams were $32,1 million coming from local sources, $13.9 million from state and $1.33 million from federal sources, respectively.
She also broke down revenue variances for each source.
For the millage increase, Frisbie said the proposed 2021-22 millage rate is 17.7360 mills, and the average taxpayer will see a $113.52 increase.
Additionally, regarding federal revenue variances, she said the district had received several one-time funds which will now go away.
However, Frisbie also said the district received additional allocations from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, both for COVID-19 relief and under the American Rescue Plan Act, which will be spread over the next several fiscal years.
For expenditure changes for 2021-22 there is a net increase of $1,704,000.
Frisbie said a significant portion of this amount is due to one-time federal funding.
“Although we’re increasing the revenue, we’re also increasing the expenditures to be budgetary neutral,” Frisbie said. “After that two-year period, we do anticipate our revenues will be reduced, as well as the expenditures to come down at that same level.”
Superintendent Jennifer Holman said staffing will look different compared to years past, particularly with budgetary goals to maximize efficiencies, minimize program impact and provide short-term and long-term focuses.
At the elementary level, Holman said fourth grade was the only feasible grade for potential reductions as it is the smallest class at both schools.
She said the recommendation would be to decrease fourth grade in both buildings to two sections instead of the usual three.
Total enrollment projections estimate 395 students for Northwestern Elementary and 360 students at Weisenberg Elementary for the next school year.
Board members also discussed how the district’s proposed elementary reconfiguration plan - which was dropped from discussion at the April board meeting - might affect class and section sizes.
For the middle school, Holman said the recommendation was for a reduction in sixth grade and related arts programs, and projections tallied 466 total students.
Holman said all staffing changes have been discussed by her or building administrators and principals so staff are notified of the necessary changes.
Overall, for 2021-22 recommendations, Holman began by recommending ESL funding is increased from 88 percent to 100 percent in the budget, which will allow for full service to be provided at all district schools.
She also noted the elimination of two elementary teachers due to retirements, which were listed as “attritional reductions.”
“The positive part of all of this is that no one is losing their jobs, but there are significant program changes and eliminations through attrition,” Holman said, with one of the disadvantages being the increase in fourth-grade class sizes to 27 students at Weisenberg and 29 at Northwestern Lehigh.
Additionally, Holman said during the course of the year the district had a middle school FCS teacher retire, who was replaced by an existing staff member.
As a result, Holman said the district will not be replacing the position the staff member originally came from, thereby eliminating the middle school and high school gifted teacher position.
To compensate, the district will increase the elementary gifted teacher position to cover the middle school gifted seminar program component.
Holman said middle and high school teachers and counselors will cover the gifted case management components.
Additional recommendations include the elimination of a sixth-grade teacher as an attritional reduction due to retirement, and replacing a high school business teacher retirement with an existing staff member, who will be moving from the middle school to the high school.
Holman also said the district would remove middle school computers as a related arts program offering moving forward, and one high school special education teacher will be eliminated as an attritional reduction as well.
In the administration office, one Pennsylvania Information Management secretary position will be eliminated and the duties reallocated, and one part-time receptionist position will be eliminated due to retirement.
Furthermore, Holman said recommendations include a reduction in police chief days per year from the current contracted number, as well as the potential outsourcing of food service management to eliminate the related supervisor position.
“These were not easy decisions or discussions, but they were necessary,” she said.
Frisbie then described how the staffing change would impact expenditure changes beginning with salaries, which she said would see a net increase of around $11,900 from the 2020-21 budget.
Benefits will see an increase of $259,147 from the year before, with Frisbie saying there is a 9.65-percent increase to premiums for medical and prescription premiums, which accounts for around $247,000 of the increase.
A significant increase was mentioned for contracted professional services in the amount of $377,442 which was attributed to increases to special education services and digital academy/online learning, as well the addition of some federal funding.
A small decrease was anticipated for purchased professional services in the amount of $14,220 from the 2020-21 year.
Under “other purchase services,” Frisbie noted a significant anticipated increase of $780,460 which she said was due to substantial increases to cyber/charter tuition payments based on projected enrollment and tuition rate, when compared to the 2020-21 budget.
District supplies also see a significant increase of $859,266 compared to the prior year which Frisbie said was primarily driven by the budgeting of federal grant funds.
She said these funds will be largely going to technology equipment and supplies, which account for around $794,000 of the increased amount.
District property will see a modest increase of $68,290 based on capital equipment needs, while “other” expenditures are projected to have a substantial decrease of $638,411.
This decrease, Frisbie said, is related to the district having an increase to debt service payments based on repayment schedules, corresponding decreases to the capital reserve transfer, and decreases from the prior year for COVID expenditures and certain grant funds.
Overall, Frisbie said that there would be a proposed fund balance use of $1,452,569 is proposed to cover the final remaining shortfall once the tax increase is factored into the revenues and expenditures.
Additionally, looking at budget variances for the district’s 2020-2021 budget, Frisbie noted that the district’s 2021 estimated actual revenues and expenditures saw a net variance decrease of around 4.74 percent, or $2,230,222 compared to what was calculated in the 2021 budget.
Frisbie also reviewed five-year budget projections and the gap between Northwestern Lehigh’s revenues and expenses, as well as the potential impacts of raising, or not raising, taxes over the next five years.