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East Penn News

East Penn approves school budget with highest tax increase in more than a decade

Emmaus High School
Jay Bradley
Front sign of Emmaus High School

EMMAUS, Pa. — What originally was presented as a 5.95% tax increase for East Penn Schools has been reduced — but residents' taxes still will be going up a noticeable chunk.

Not only that, but it might go up a lot more in the coming years.

Real estate tax millage will now increase 4.12% — from 20.1700 mills to 21 mills — after the district budget was approved Monday by the school board.

"It's higher than I think any of us were hoping. But I do look forward to seeing that return on the investment our community's making, to our schools."
East Penn School Board member Jeffrey Jankowski

According to district documentation shared at the meeting, it's still the highest tax rate increase in more than a decade. The greatest was a 3.34% increase for the 2014-15 school year.

Budget revenue was reduced about $1 million from the prior version of the budget's 4.99% increase, but expenditure calculations also reduced.

East Penn Business Administrator Robert Saul said the final number is lower because of increased state funding for homestead and farmstead tax relief, and reductions in wage assumptions and employee insurance benefits costs.

"It's higher than I think any of us were hoping," board member Jeffrey Jankowski said.

"But I do look forward to seeing that return on the investment our community's making, to our schools."

State law via the Act 1 index mechanism set the maximum increase without a referendum at 6.3%.

District calculations show the school tax bill for properties at the average assessment would be $4,516 a year — up about $179 a year — under the budget.

The board also passed a homestead and farmstead exclusion resolution for taxing, granting the district's 14,925 eligible properties approved a reduction of $184.25 from real estate tax.

Proposed positions retained

Saul said the budget retains the priorities desired by the administration and existing programs.

That means all of the ELA interventionists, special education, psychology, teaching and behavior analyst positions and others requested by the administration will be coming to the district permanently.

East Penn School Board
jay Bradley
Members of the East Penn School Board during the December 11 2023 meeting

The budget also contains early funds toward the grade realignment and expansion plan the district approved last year and maps out potential increases over coming years to fund those plans.

Under current projections, millage could grow up to 24.4954% by 2028-29 — a 21.4% increase from 2023-2024 millage rates.

"This budget has a lot of positions in it, probably more than I've ever approved in my time on the board at any one year," board member Alisa Bowman said.

"Really starting to solve some of the crowding problems that we're having in our schools, starting to permanently solve some of the learning loss and behavior issues that we're seeing in our schools, and also taking steps on the high school level to reduce class sizes, which I'm really happy to see."

In a prior meeting, administrators said that if the staffing priorities are not adopted, taxes still would need to increase more than 3%.