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The Mechanicsburg Area School District is edging closer to a possible real estate tax increase of 2.7 percent for next year.

On Tuesday night, the Mechanicsburg school board tentatively approved a 2019-20 proposed general fund budget of $74,545,884 for the district that includes an estimated spending increase of $4,026,856.

A 2.7 percent tax increase meets the district’s index for the 2019-20 fiscal year set by the state Department of Education. The upcoming fiscal year runs from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020. The district’s proposed tax increase includes a 1-mill rise that would be applied to the district’s debt service, part of an ongoing four-year plan that began in 2018-19 to fund renovations and/or to all district buildings over the next several years.

Despite the proposed 2.7 percent tax increase, the district would face a deficit of $1,722,579 for next year. The remaining deficit would be covered by district reserves already designated for line items like employee health care that is expected to increase by $500,000 next year, and mandated contributions to the state Public School Employee Retirement System, up by $407,614 for 2019-20.

As proposed, the tax increase would raise the district’s real estate tax levy from its present rate of 13.3693 mills to 13.7303 mills for next year.

A property owner assessed at the district’s average value of $186,200 would pay an annual total of $2,557 in real estate taxes for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July, an increase of $68, or “$6 per month,” district business manager Gregory Longwell said during a budget presentation conducted last month for the school board.

Adding positions

District administrators propose adding 15 staff positions next year because student enrollment is projected to reach 4,460. Superintendent Mark Leidy has said that more staff is needed for the district to keep its current teacher/student ratio.

At the elementary level, this would include five regular classroom teachers and two fine and applied art instructors. For the middle school, this would mean an additional math teacher and one more science teacher so each of the school’s grades could be evenly split into three student teams. A new instructor for health/physical education also is proposed for the middle school, as well as an additional building nurse at the elementary level.

The school board is scheduled to vote on next year’s final general fund budget on June 4.

Also on Tuesday, the school board adopted a 2019-20 food services budget that will raise the price of all school meals in the district by 10 cents for next year. Longwell said the price increase is caused by rising operation costs and maintaining “paid lunch equity,” or the balance between what the district receives in government subsidies and what it actually charges for school meals.

Other news

In other news, the Mechanicsburg Area School Board approved adding an additional orchestra course for 2019-20 that will divide the high school orchestra into levels. In a proposal presented to the school board last month, instrumental instructor LaShae Willits said she believes this will better serve the musical ability of each student. Until now, the high school’s sole orchestra has been comprised of musicians in grades 9-12 who play at various ranges of proficiency.

Willits said she planned to initiate a MASH Philharmonic, an advanced ensemble for which 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade students would need to audition. A Symphony Strings ensemble would comprise all incoming ninth-grade string players, as well as upperclassmen who either chose not to audition or weren’t selected for the Philharmonic.

Administrators said last month that initiating a second orchestra at the high school won’t require additional staff, equipment or technology. Willits said the district would need to purchase additional sheet music for this purpose, but those costs could be covered by the music department’s current budget.

Also, the school board agreed on Tuesday to extend the retirement of Julie Huff, the district’s assistant superintendent for academics, to Jan. 31, 2020. In December 2018, the school board had previously approved Huff’s retirement to begin on June 30, 2019.

“I have the opportunity to be here a little longer and help out with all the transitions and building renovations that are going on here. I like being here,” Huff said Tuesday.

Huff said she first came to the district 24 years ago as a second-grade teacher, later serving as a third-grade instructor, instructional coach for language arts, and supervisor of elementary curriculum. She was appointed to her current position nine years ago.

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