HERMITAGE — Officials at the Hermitage School District are planning to hold the line on taxes, under a proposed budget to be voted on later this month.
The preliminary budget for the 2021-22 school year calls for total expenditures of $35,630,505, with total revenues estimated at $34,335,989. Much of those expenditures are driven by fixed costs such as insurance or salaries, Business Manager Monique Horvath said.
In terms of budgeting for the upcoming school year, Monique said things are "slightly less confusing" compared to this time last year, when school officials weren't sure how the COVID-19 pandemic would affect state funding or local revenue, while grant relief for the pandemic was coming but exact amounts were unknown.
This year, school officials are continuing to budget conservatively but there is a clearer picture regarding COVID-19 relief and the pandemic's effects on the economy, Superintendent Dr. Dan Bell said.
"Last year, we were at the bottom of the 'V' of the pandemic," Bell said. "We didn't know what was going to happen or if this was going to cause another depression."
Under the preliminary budget, property taxes would remain at 63.907 mills, which means the owner of a property at the district's average assessed value of $24,600 would pay about $1,572.
Hermitage School Board is expected to adopt the final budget at its next meeting, 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 21. State law requires school districts to have a final budget in place by June 30.
The district, like others across the state, will benefit from COVID relief funding from the federal government.
Hermitage School District is expected to receive two rounds of new Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief grant funds, referred to as "ESSER II" and "ESSER III." Officials estimate the district will receive $1,690,771 from ESSER II and $3,235,594 from ESSER III, although the exact number may fluctuate, Horvath said.
The grants must be used for expenses relating directly to the pandemic, although school officials do have some leeway in how the grant money can be used, Horvath said. At least 20 percent of the ESSER III funds must be used on education lost because of COVID-19.
Bell said the district will be able to estimate the the impact on education this fall, when Hermitage students take benchmark tests. The tests will allow school officials to determine where, if any students have fallen behind due to struggles with remote learning.
Since Hickory High School had only a few days of remote learning after spikes in COVID-19 cases and the other grades continued with in-person instruction all year, Bell said he does not expect any major impacts to education, but the district is developing options for struggling students.
The budget includes $785,000 to replace the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at Artman Elementary School.
Artman's current HVAC system in place was installed in 1992 or 1993. School maintenance staff could make repairs with refurbished parts, but the replacement pieces are no longer available because of the system's age.
"It was supposed to last 20 years, and we've gotten 30 years out of it," Bell said.
Installation of the new HVAC system — which was originally planned for the summer, but had to be pushed back because of the pandemic — is scheduled for completion in August and September, Horvath said. If construction runs into the school year, Bell said classes can continue uninterrupted by using classes where contractors are not working.
Two other projects planned for this year are renovations to Hickory High School's planned technology room, and the large group instruction room at Delahunty Middle School. Two grants of $50,000 each will pay for those projects, Bell said.
In terms of employees, the Hermitage School District lost eight professional individuals and two support staff for the current school year, but Monique said school officials plan to fill all of those positions.
The district's enrollment, — which tends to hover between 2,000 and 2,100 students, with between 50 to 100 students moving in and out of the district during the school year — is not expected to change significantly for 2021-22, Bell said.
The school district has two classes for special education students, which were started a few years ago to provide services for those students who would otherwise have to go outside the district for programs. The program now has now 53 students, including a few from other school districts, and the district could add a third class this coming year, Horvath said.
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