Early AASD budget calls for $12M hike in spending

No tax increase, but a large increase in spending, is included in the Altoona Area School District preliminary budget. The board passed a tentative $96.3 million budget Monday with a 7-1 vote. All members were present except Dick Lockard.

Sharon Bream voted against the budget because it represents a $12 million spending increase over what was spent last school year.

Superintendent Tom Otto said it’s a worst-case-scenario budget. While it looks exhorbitant, Otto said, he expects the district’s actual spending to be less than what is forecast in the proposed budget.

For example, Otto said the district has half of a million dollars for more teacher salaries in a contingency fund. Using that fund is contingent upon kindergarten enrollment, he said.

Similar contingency funds are included in the budget for various departments.

“We are very cautious in developing our budgets and most likely overestimate our expenses, so with some reasonable confidence, as my staff and I are trying to get a handle on more closely doing our budgets, I think we can assume there are contingency amounts in those budgets, as well,” Otto said.

The local audit of the district’s spending in the current year is to be completed in July, Otto said. That audit will give staff a better picture of what next year’s actual spending needs are.

The reason the board voted on the preliminary budget on Monday was to allow public review of the budget for 30 days.

Overall, the district’s current spending plan forecasts revenues to fall short by $5.6 million. The district’s reserve funds are planned to be used to make up for that deficit.

However, Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed Ready to Learn Block Grant has not yet been budgeted for schools.

“When the governor’s budget is approved and the grant remains in the budget as has been discussed, an additional $1.4 million will be added to the district’s budget. And that will adjust the utilization of the district’s fund balance,” said Cindy Sollenberger, acting business manager.

Otto’s reason for not increasing taxes is that the district’s saved funds can cover expenses next year.

“To ask taxpayers for a tax increase with the fund balance we have is not something we want to do,” Otto said.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.