No tax increase in approved Athens budget

Athens Area School District Business Manager Laura Perry presents some final budget updates to the school board before Tuesday’s vote.

The Athens Area School District will be balancing its 2019-2020 budget with its fund balance rather than on the back of taxpayers under a spending plan approved by the school board Tuesday.

The final budget includes $39,498,124 in revenues and $40,370,610 in expenditures, creating an $872,486 gap to be covered by the district’s reserves. The proposal approved last month, that went before the public, included a shortfall of around $200,000 less.

Business Manager Laura Perry attributed much of the change to capital improvements that the district is looking to take care of in the coming school year, which include bus video system upgrades, parking lot work at each school, masonry repair and flooring replacement at Lynch-Bustin Elementary, a walk-in cooler and restroom partition replacements at Harlan Rowe Middle School, and interior door replacements at Harlan Rowe and SRU Elementary. There were also smaller updates such as adjustments in real estate taxes to reflect Homestead and Farmstead exemptions, an anticipated increase in tuition from Beacon Light based on expected enrollment, a reduction in rental income due to the pending move of Encounter Church, federal program reimbursements, and adjustments to salaries and benefits to reflect personnel changes.

Perry highlighted several budget goals in her presentation, which included maintaining all of the current educational programming while expanding literacy and early education with literacy coaches and highly qualified aides in Kindergarten, expanding STEM in all grades, implementing social/emotional/learning curriculum, upgrades to student laptops in the high school and the laptop carts in Lynch-Bustin, allocating future track replacement funds as part of a 10 year savings plan, replacing high school wrestling mats, continuing the use of school resource officers, purchasing two Ford transit vans, and replacing the district’s dump truck.

“I gotta tell you, it’s a big relief,” said Superintendent Craig Stage about Tuesday’s budget approval. “We’ve worked really hard on the budget. We’re very conservative budgeters, so we’d much rather have a deficit and not over-anticipate our revenues.”

Stage credited the district’s ability to hold off any tax increase with fund balance to the district’s overall fiscal health and the extensive planning that goes into the budget process each year.

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