Understanding Saucon's $50+ Million Budget
Updated: Apr 2
Saucon Valley School District represents our community's largest asset - not only by physical size but also in revenue and expenditures. For the 2022-2023 school year, Saucon's total expenses were budgeted at more than $51 million. For comparison, 2023 budgets for Lower Saucon Township and Hellertown Borough budgeted expenses just under $9 million and $5 million, respectively.
So how does Saucon spend so much more money than both our local municipalities combined? There are four major budgetary categories for the school: 1) Salaries, 2) Benefits, 3) Debt Service, and 4) Other.
Salaries is straightforward. It's the direct compensation for the employees of the district (employee pay). Benefits accounts for the healthcare and retirement costs, for example, and other non-direct compensation that employees receive. Debt Service are obligated payments as a result of taking on debt (i.e. 'credit card payments'). And finally Other. This name is deceiving, but this accounts for things like the electric and fuel oil bills and other operational costs. While some items categorized as Other might be optional costs, other items are mandatory.
To pay for all of this, the school receives funding from three primary sources - local taxes, State funding, and Federal funding.
Local taxes are the payments you and I make to the school every fall. State funding comes from the PA Department of Education and is allocated by the PA Legislature. Federal funding comes from the Federal Government and is allocated by The House of Representatives in D.C.
Every school board should understand the primary drivers of expenditures while also understanding that our neighbors and community members pay the brunt of the funds needed to operate the school. One of my main areas of focus is Cost-Conscious Spending.
Immediately we should look at all non-salary and non-benefit spending for duplication of costs and other areas where overlapping costs exist. From there, we can begin looking at other "discretionary spending" (i.e. spending not related to contractual agreements and/or debt). Because 70% of the budgeted expenses can't really be touched (salaries & benefits), and because many additional costs are non-negotiable (i.e. electricity costs and insurance), there is only a "small chunk of the pie" that can be evaluated immediately.
Saucon's budget is complicated. It's constrained by costs that cannot be touched. It's reliant upon outside funding sources that we have no control over locally. And all of these factors are impacted by our overall economy. Be careful of those making guarantees that they cannot keep. Any substantial increase in district spending would likely result in tax increases.
"My guarantee to voters is simple. Because I understand the enormous burden that we all pay to fund our school, I commit to not raise taxes - unless there is no other viable alternative to keep the school open. Further, I commit to question spending and potential return on spending in order to make well-informed, data-driven decisions regarding our budget and expenses.