The Upper Perkiomen School Board on Thursday voted 5-3 to approve a $53.9 million proposed final budget plan for 2014-2015 that would raise the millage rate by 2.5 percent for area residents. If approved in the final budget, the millage increase would be the first in four years.
Board Vice President Raeann Hofkin and members Margie Gelhaus and John Gehman opposed the millage change, while newly sworn in board member Mike Elliot abstained from voting.
The 2014-2015 budget reflects a $1.7 million increase over the 2013-2014 budget, with major increases in salary, retirement and technology costs. Substitute Superintendent Dr. Francis Leskowicz highlighted several budget items related to staffing, administration and technology, noting that two new teachers will be added at Hereford Elementary School to address concerns about class sizes.
"Technology is a goal of the board and something that they're looking at, so that is represented in this budget, as well," Leskowicz said, adding that there are funds to upgrade wireless Internet access at the elementary schools and elementary center, as well as to purchase student technology devices and laptops for elementary school teachers, among other technology upgrades.
Board Secretary Sandy Kassel, in explaining the budget plan, encouraged the board to pass the millage increase rather than rely solely on the fund balance to balance the budget. With a 2.5 percent millage increase, the district would draw 4.8 percent of its budget from the fund balance, or $2.06 million, compared to 5.3 percent, or $2.82 million, with no millage rate increase.
The change would bring the total millage to 22.5009. In Berks County, a resident with an assessed property value of $99,200 (the median value) would pay an additional $106.74, about a 4.59 percent increase, under the plan. Residents in Montgomery County with an assessed property value of $127,300 (the median value) would see an additional $137.46 in taxes for the 2014-2015 school year, a 4.53 percent increase.
The proposed final budget represents the first step in passing an actual budget for the 2014-2015 school year. The budget will be available for public inspection until May 23, and the board will continue to discuss expenditures for the coming year. Adoption of a final budget will occur on June 12.
The board also unanimously approved a $5.12 million budget for the Western Montgomery Career and Technology Center in 2014-2015. The estimated cost to UPSD is $1,511,707, which represents a 9.53 percent increase over last year.
Also at Thursday's meeting, the board approved a policy that would allow remote participation at board meetings. Gelhaus voted against the policy.
Under the new policy, board members can vote on agenda items without physically being present at the meeting, but by participating via cell phone or another electronic device. No more than two board members will be able to participate remotely per meeting, and the only permissible reasons for remote participation are if the member has a time conflict with another board meeting, the member is out of town for a requirement business trip or the member has a valid health reason (or there is a valid health reason among immediate family members).
The policy also states that board members participating remotely should make their best effort to participate in the entire meeting, but does not require that provision in order for the member to have voting rights.
"I think you need to be here in order to make a vote," Gelhaus said, adding that although it is unfortunate when board members have to miss a meeting because of their employment, it is important for voting members to be physically present in front of the public.