Mars Area officials look at handling unexpected deficit

January 13, 2021 Cranberry Local News


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A virtual finance meeting before the board meeting Jan. 5 allowed Mars Area School Board to discuss a looming $1.3 million deficit with district business manager Jill Swaney.

The district has a total deficit of about $2.5 million going into next year, according to Swaney, although only the $1.3 million shortfall is a “new deficit.”

“The district needs to whittle that down,” Swaney said. “I am recommending possibly a $1.6 million deficit.”

School officials have said since last year the unexpected shortfall is due to the number of district students who have enrolled in cyber charter schools since the start of the pandemic.

In Pennsylvania, districts are responsible for covering tuition costs for students who attend charter schools, but live within the district.

Tuition can range from $10,000 to $23,000 per student, according to Mars Area officials.

Citing documents provided to the school board for 2021-22 budget planning purposes, Swaney said the school board was presented with “some staffing changes” during a closed session. Those changes were not detailed during the finance meeting.

“There (were) multiple changes, with a net result of a savings of $437,000,” Swaney said.

Swaney said the district is also looking at potentially saving about $279,000 in its tech service agreement.

“That's continuing with our current vendor,” Swaney said. “At a minimum, we're looking at that savings.”

Swaney added the board has asked for any contracts that come up during the budget planning process go out for bid, including for tech services. As this would be a service contract, Swaney suggested there would be room for negotiation.

Swaney also said she raised the potential interim real estate taxes in the 2021-22 budget by $100,000 to more accurately reflect property development.

Swaney said considering these adjustments, the district is looking at a deficit of about $1.694 million. She hasn't included any government funding at this time, although the 2021-22 budget includes a real estate tax increase of 3%.

“I haven't accounted of any of the recent COVID relief money,” Swaney said. “I think that there is definitely room to (incorporate) additional revenue.”

Swaney said she believes the district is now in a good position to limit real estate tax to 3%. In December, the board voted down a motion that would do that in an effort to leave as many options on the table as possible.

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Samantha Beal

Samantha Beal