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UPSD Budget Increases by More than $1 million
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

Board expected to formally approve 2021-22 budget Thursday


            Changes in special education costs, new technology expenses and a proposal to maintain three guidance counselors has added $1.091 million in expenses to the Upper Perkiomen School District's 2021-22 budget. Business Administrator Sandra Kassel informed the Finance Committee on Monday the expenses could force the school board to transfer an additional $423,998 from its reserve fund balance to cover a shortfall.

            Kassel's update could further muddy an already complicated budget process. On Thursday, the board expects to approve the final budget, which totals $71.278 million, with a tax increase of two percent. That rate includes a total transfer of $3.945 million – approximately 44 percent of the district's total uncommitted fund balance, which totals $9 million – to cover a shortfall. The outgoing business administrator repeated her opposition to a transfer of that size, saying that she considered the shifting of any amount over $3 million as excessive.

            She recommended that the members raise the proposed tax rate to reduce the level of the transfer. Kassel, who is retiring July 1, also pointed out that the board's only other option is to reduce the district's expenses.

            Daniel Direso, Kassel's assistant and the next business administrator, echoed his predecessor's concerns. Direso told the committee that reducing the balance too much could hurt the district's financial footing.

            The committee – chaired by board President Melanie Cunningham – did not offer any recommendations for the members at large prior to the meeting. Keith McCarrick suggested that each member look at all the information before the vote and "follow their own convictions." Judy Maginnis said each person should be allowed to make his or her own decision.

            "Ultimately, people are going to have to make their own call," Maginnis said during the meeting, hosted on Zoom. "It's a difficult one."

            In an email message received Tuesday afternoon, Cunningham expressed a preference for the board to approve a budget with no tax increase. She wrote that she did not want to reduce expenses and stated her belief that the district "will be fine" for the upcoming school year "at [a] zero percent" tax increase.

            "Our residents have been through so much this year," Cunningham wrote. "This can at least be one expense for them that can stay constant." 

            Last month, Kassel announced during a board workshop meeting that administrators reduced $245,000 worth of expenditures from the budget. She told the members on May 27 that a fund balance transfer of $3.521 million would be required to contend with a projected shortfall.

            On Monday, Kassel presented the members with a series of expenditure updates that needed to be included in the budget, which grew by $667,698. She identified an additional $241,000 for out-of-district tuition for special education students, more than $627,000 for new technology at both elementary schools and the 4th & 5th Grade Center. The $240,000 is intended to allow for the continuation of one additional guidance counselor at Hereford, Marlborough and the 4th & 5th Grade Center. Grade Center, according to Assistant Superintendent Andrea Farina.

            Kassel suggested that a state subsidy worth $167,698 could defray a portion of the additional expense for the out-of-district tuition increase. She also suggested that the district utilize $500,000 from a federal grant allocated to the district through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020 to further defray the costs.

            In terms of technology, the district has budgeted $183,000 to purchase laptops for the incoming ninth grade class. The machines will be used for four years, according to James Roth, the district's director of technology.

            More than $292,000 has been allocated for the purchase and installation of projectors at Hereford and Marlborough. They are expected to last at least 10 years, according to Roth. Additionally, $56,258 has been budgeted to purchase equipment to upgrade the wireless internet at both elementary schools.







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