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Mars Area School District

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District Facing $1.3 Million Budget Shortfall

Mars Area School Board is considering its options as the Mars Area School District is facing a projected $1.3 million deficit in its general fund budget for the 2020-2021 School Year 

The deficit is the result of an increased number of District students who, in recent months, have enrolled in cyber-charter schools that are unaffiliated with the District, says Jill Swaney, business manager. The District budgeted $1.1 million for cyber-charter tuition for the 2020-2021 School Year; however, the estimated cost is now approximately $2.4 million, leaving a shortfall of $1.3 million.

Parents in Pennsylvania have a choice of where to educate their children — public education; private education (at their own cost); or a cyber-charter school, says Swaney. For a student who is enrolled in a cyber-charter school, the District in which that student resides is responsible for the payment of that tuition.

Cyber-charter school tuition is an unfunded mandate and the rate increases each year based upon a rate calculation, as established by the state and based on a public school district’s enrollment. As Mars Area School District’s annual operating costs increase, so does the cyber-charter school tuition rate.

The District’s current mandated charter tuition rate is $10,403 per general education student and $22,685 per special education student regardless of the individual services that each student requires. To date, more than 200 District students are enrolled in cyber-charter schools.

Without the increase in cyber-charter school tuition payments, the District’s anticipated revenues and expenditures for the 2020-2021 School Year are projected to break even, says Swaney. To pay for the 2020-2021 projected deficit, in lieu of furloughing up to 15 teachers, the Board has the option to transfer funds from the District’s fund balance.

As part of the District’s 2021-2022 budget, the Board will need to plan for an additional $1.49 million increase for charter school tuition, the equivalent of a 5.36-mill tax increase, says Swaney. However, the District is limited by law to a 3.04-mill increase; and, therefore, may need to consider furloughing teachers.

The District will continue to provide more information as the 2021-2022 budget process continues. For more information, visit www.marsk12.org.