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Easton Area school budget likely to come with a property tax increase

Brian Myszkowski
Easton Area School District's board of education reviews their 2024-25 budget, which currently calls for a 2.25% tax increase for residents.

EASTON, Pa. — While Easton Area School District has managed to shave its budget down a bit, taxpayers can expect to see a rate increase in the realm of 2.25% for the upcoming school year.

A workshop at the district’s Bushkill Drive Education Center held Tuesday evening highlighted a projected $7,756,908 shortfall for the 2024-25 proposed budget, with expenses amounting to $210,900,234 against revenue of $203,143,328.

The initial preliminary budget saw a near $12.5 million deficit, and though several cost-cutting measures have whittled that figure down significantly, taxes are still bound to see an increase.

On the other hand, an initial suggested increase of 3.5% appears unlikely as of Tuesday’s meeting – even if the district is permitted to raise rates up to 7.1%, according to school officials.

Superintendent Tracy Piazza noted numerous changes to expenditures and revenues which have impacted the overall budget, notably a $1,443,720 bump in Earned Income Tax revenue, the loss of $4 million in removed ESSER III funding, the elimination of vacant paraprofessional positions and other positions via attrition, budget cuts to building and department funding, and technology savings.

Salaries and benefits remain two of the largest expenditures, totaling over $137 million, though that figure falls around $3.4 million less than the preliminary budget estimate.

Questions from the board regarding incentive retirement as a savings mechanism were deemed uncertain by the administration – while hiring new employees to replace those who have a higher salary, pushing for retirement could amass a sizable expenditure of thousands of dollars per year for each individual, especially in the realm of health care costs.

Administrators are still refining the proposed final budget and investigating additional reductions, with a deadline to adopt a final version by June 25.

On average, taxpayers in the district may see an increase of just above $9 per month in their tax rate, with residents in Forks and Palmer seeing the highest increases hovering around $11 or slightly more per month.

“You know, I still feel strongly about that. We feel strongly about the reasons that we've articulated across the last month or so, but fully understand, and we understand where the community and board may want to fall. And you may want to fall different than what I have listed here,”
Tracy Piazza

Speaking on the originally proposed tax bump of 3.5%, Piazza explained some of the adjustments that permitted the board to trim the rate.

“You know, I still feel strongly about that," Piazza said. "We feel strongly about the reasons that we've articulated across the last month or so, but fully understand, and we understand where the community and board may want to fall. And you may want to fall different than what I have listed here.

“But knowing that 3.5% was really taxing our taxpayers and our board, we pulled that back down to 2.25%. And then the elimination of all the positions was a large savings, technology was a million-dollar savings, and building budgets were another large savings.”

Piazza also noted some savings in special education expenditures, which Special Education Director Katherine Schultz broke down for the board.

“We have physical support that was currently budgeted at $825,000 this upcoming school year," Schultz said, "We're no longer having that program, so we do not need to budget for that moving forward. We also have a decrease in the county prison costs for students that are attending there, and then also receiving instruction at those locations. So that was a decrease for us as well.

“We also had a decrease in hearing support and visual support for transportation… And then we also have a couple students that are going to be returning to the district that will no longer need transportation moving forward, and tuition for some of those out of district placements.”

Board member Michael Simonetta, who previously served as the district’s chief operating officer, raised concerns about several figures, including speculative amounts for state funding – Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget is still up in the air – in addition to other revenue sources.

“I really have a problem being able to budget and approve and move forward on all this conjecture,” Simonetta said.

Several board members questioned how the current state of the district could impact plans for a new or renovated high school, which is estimated to cost over $200 million at minimum.

Piazza said administrators are continuing to pour over the budget to address small issues with funding and allocations, though it still appears an increase of at least 2.25% in the tax rate is possible.

“The truth of the matter is, the board could choose anything from zero to 7.1% in this given year as the tax increase, and then that will reduce or increase the bottom-line number accordingly, without any other changes,” Piazza said.

“And obviously, our task is to find those other changes, but without any other changes that would be articulated based on that graph that [board member] Brian [Snyder] asked to see, when you look across to 0% or 1% for each municipality, that's what will affect that bottom line.”