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Harrisburg school district approves preliminary budget with big deficit but no tax increase

The Harrisburg school district’s Lincoln administration building

The Harrisburg school district on Monday night approved a preliminary budget for next school year, using federal aid to close a substantial budget gap.

District Receiver Janet Samuels OK’d the $157.6 million spending plan, which does not raise school taxes for the 2020-21 year.

The district took a $4.2 million hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis. Unexpectedly, the district had to lower expected revenue from earned income taxes, PILOT tax payments, real estate taxes and increases in the state’s basic and special education subsidies.

To help close the deficit, the district was awarded a $4.7 million grant from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. However, those funds expire Sept. 30, according to Acting Superintendent Chris Celmer.

“It’s going to take time to work through logistics of how we are able to spend that,” he said.

Celmer said that, if additional state funding doesn’t eliminate the deficit, a staff realignment may help, along with the CARES Act funding.

The 2020-21 budget is $8.6 million higher than the current, 2019-20 school year’s projected final budget. Employee salaries and benefits, along with other higher expenses, are causing the increased spending, according to the district.

A final virtual budget workshop is scheduled for June 15. A final decision on a 2020-21 spending plan is expected on June 22.

The proposed final budget will be available to the public on the district’s website for 30 days before the final meeting in June.

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