The Parkland school board unanimously approved a $138 million budget Tuesday night that raises taxes 3.8 percent, freezes administrators' salaries and cuts 60 teacher and staff positions, about half through retirements and resignations.
The district's millage will increase 1.46 mills, from 38.27 mills to 39.73 mills.
The average homeowner in the district (who has a property assessed at $76,814) will pay $112 more a year in taxes. A projected property tax reduction from casino gaming money will offset that increase by about $105, the district said.
The school board adopted the budget after a months-long process that Superintendent Louise E. Donohue described as "agonizing."
She said officials don't feel good about the cuts and the tax increase, but that both were "within reason" and allowed the district to continue delivering quality education to its students.
Officials struggled with millions in dollars of lost revenue -- some $4 million from reduced commercial property assessments over three years and $1 million in lost state subsidies, Donohue said. While the district had expected state cuts, Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed cuts went much deeper than anticipated.
Since the state has yet to adopt its budget, Parkland officials do not yet know whether the district will fare better or worse than what the governor proposed. At this point, Donohue said, that would have an impact on future budgets.
Board member David Kennedy, who said he had been inundated with emails and phone calls over the budget, supported the budget though he too said he did not like having to pass a tax increase.
"This is the hardest budget I ever had to do," he said. "I don't think there was one rock that wasn't turned over to look for savings" without compromising educational quality and safety.
The district saved $2.6 million by eliminating the 60 positions, many through attrition. However, 29 people were laid off, according to information provided by the district. Those laid off included seven teaching assistants at Parkland High School, Springhouse Middle School and Schnecksville elementary school, three Title I remediation aides at Cetronia and Fogelsville elementary schools, nine aides in the district remedial program at Orefield and Springhouse middle schools and 10 part-time custodians at several buildings.
The district saved $250,000 with the administrators' pay freeze.
The district also used $8.5 million from the fund balance, which is undesignated accumulated revenue, to balance the 2011-2012 budget.
"This is a responsible budget," said school board member Roberta Marcus. She said it respects taxpayers and maintains the district's educational quality.
The millage increase is less than what was initially put forth in the district's preliminary budget, when school officials projected an increase of 1.64 mills, or a 4 percent tax hike.
Officials also pointed out that despite the 3.8 percent increase in millage for the next school year, expenditures in the 2011-2012 budget will increase only 1.65 percent over the previous school year. They credited the spending cuts, including the administrators' salary freeze and job eliminations, as well as changes in how the district buys electricity and petroleum.
Parkland was only allowed by law to raise taxes by 1.4 percent, but received permission from the state, or special exceptions, to raise taxes beyond the state index because of costs outside of their control, such as higher special education costs and payments to the state employees’ pension fund.
Approving the 2011-2012 budget were board President Jayne Bartlett, and board members Marcus, Kennedy, Lisa Adams, Barry Long, Robert Bold, Debra Evans, Robert Cohen and Mark Hanichak.