The nine-member board unanimously adopted the budget during a meeting hosted on Zoom. The $21,515,388 budget includes an increase in taxes of 1.58 cents for every $100 of assessed value. Residents with an average assessed home of $341,695 will see a $54.50 increase in taxes for the upcoming school year.
During a presentation prior to the vote, Superintendent Missy Peretti and Business Administrator Robert Scharle explained how a decrease in state aid has been a factor in recent tax increases, as well as a burden for the district in the budget process.
The school district is receiving a larger cut in state aid than it was anticipating for 2020-2021. Harrison Township will receive $5,816,551 in state aid, a reduction of about $201,000 from last year. School officials were only anticipating a cut of about $119,000.
Scharle said the increasing valuation of the township and an increase in district income combined with a change in how state aid was calculated led to the larger increase.
He talked about how a multiplier used in calculating the local fair share number has been constantly changing from year to year, making it difficult for the district to budget.
“I don’t agree with the calculation,” Scharle said. “But that’s the calculation you have to deal with.”
Later in the presentation, he discussed how recent state aid cuts have had an effect on the tax rate over the last five years.
“As the town was growing, taxes were able to be reduced,” Scharle said about tax rate cuts from about 10 years ago. “Unfortunately, you’ll see over the last three or four years, we’ve had state aid cuts. That’s a problem for us.”
In addition to the tax increase, about $710,000 in fund balance was used in this year’s budget. That number is about $31,000 higher than the amount of fund balance the district used in the 2019-2020 budget.
Even with the state aid cut, the district retains its academic and co-curricular programming from the 2019-2020 school year. The district also continues its ongoing one-to-one Chromebook initiative, where every student is provided with a digital device. The program will expand to grades two through six next school year.
“It continues to be our priority that students, staff and community members continue to enter a safe learning environment each day,” Peretti said during the presentation.
Scharle credited the district’s various shared services agreements with helping to keep costs low in Harrison Township. Some of the agreements include the district’s participation in several cooperatives with other districts, shared services agreements with Clearview Regional School District and Harrison Township and participation in the School Health Insurance Fund.
“We try to utilize shared services as much as possible to reduce our costs,” Scharle said.
Two residents spoke briefly on the budget during public comment. One resident, Dana Franklin, asked if the budget accounted for sanitation supplies and personal protective equipment in case of a new surge of COVID-19 cases next winter. Peretti said the district will continue to follow proper protocol and guidance from health officials on COVID-19 matters and the district’s maintenance and custodian staff will receive training on those guidelines. She added the district doesn’t expect it will receive any additional funding from the state.
The next Harrison Township Board of Education meeting is scheduled for May 18 at 7 p.m.