HOLLIDAYSBURG - Estimates for Hollidaysburg Area School District's short-term financial outlook is bleak, which could mean a long string of real estate tax hikes, district officials said Wednesday.
Based on expectations for state subsidies and local revenue, the district could be $7.8 million in the hole by the end of the 2016-17 school year, a five-year projection based on expected state subsidies and local revenue states.
"When elected, we decided to be open and transparent," board President Ron Yoder said. "The public needs to know this information. We need to make some serious decisions to continue to provide the excellent education we have here at Hollidaysburg."
Hollidaysburg shares a major source of its potential crisis with all Pennsylvania school districts: decreased state support for public school employee retirement plans.
The district's retirement costs are to increase from $800,000 to $2.9 million by 2016-17.
The district would have to raise real estate taxes by about 2 mills each year for five years to grapple with costs, but that would generate only half of the money needed, Business Manager Sam Wilson said. Two mills equals $2.44 a month for 60 percent of Hollidaysburg district taxpayers.
Andrew Katz of Hollidaysburg criticized the board over district spending.
"If I was managing the school, some of you would have gotten your pink slips a long time ago," Katz said.
Katz sarcastically criticized the district's "need" to spend more than $36 million on a high school addition.
"So we can host playoff games - maybe," he said.
The district has lost $2 million in state funding since 2011-12, Wilson said.
Combine that with $600,000 lost over the last six years from decreased interest earnings on invested school district money and another $200,000 lost last year from county tax assessment appeals, and expenditures such as the high school renovation did not match district revenues, Wilson said.
"In the past six years, the district raised taxes twice for a total of 8 mills or $1.6 million," Wilson said. "Of that money, $1 million went to pay for senior high building project, and $600,000 was spent to operate the school.
Katz also struck at management, salaries and teachers' health care rates.
"Our teachers pay less than 10 percent of their health care, including co-pays, while the rest of Hollidaysburg employees pay on average 35 to 45 percent," he said. Why should citizens pay for teachers' health care plans when they can hardly afford their own?"