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An exterior view of Boyertown Area High School in Boyertown.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, shuttering schools and businesses across the state, the Boyertown School District was facing a tough financial picture.

Since 2014 the district has been operating at a deficit, with revenues lagging behind expenditures. Each year, reserve funds have been used to fill the gap.

As district officials crafted the 2020-21 spending plan, revenues were coming up short again. The shortfall was over $1 million.

Then coronavirus came to town, and with it economic strife.

School districts across the state are projecting the COVID-19 crisis will lead to significant losses in local revenue next school year. In Boyertown, it ballooned the anticipated deficit to $6 million.

"Just as the pandemic has caused challenges for educational programming and school life in general, it has also negatively impacted our district finances," said school board President Brandon Foose, reading a prepared statement during the board's May 19 meeting.

District officials said the pandemic is expected to cut real estate tax revenue by $1.4 million, earned income taxes by $400,000 and real estate transfer taxes by $116,000. Funding from the state will likely remain flat, costing the district nearly $1.2 in increases for which they previously were planning.

The district has made nearly $3 million in cuts in its 2020-21 budget, is planning to use $1.6 million in reserves and will raise property taxes by 3.2%.

The new property tax rate will be 28.2 mills in both Berks and Montgomery counties.

Even still, the $124.2 million proposed final budget, which was approved by the school board May 19, had a $1.8 million hole.

To help address that, the board voted 7-2 at that meeting to furlough 18 temporary professional employee positions. Christine M. Neiman and Ruth A. Dierolf voted no.

The board did not specify exactly what the positions are, but several board members referred to them as teachers.

Board members expressed sorrow over having to make the move, saying it would not happen if it wasn't for COVID-19 and the financial havoc it has wreaked.

"This is, unfortunately, the perfect storm of things that can happen to a school district," Jill A. Dennin said.

Brian J. Hemingway called it an "unpopular decision we all have to make."

And it might not be the last. Board members expressed concern that the 2021-22 budget season may be even rougher than this one, depending on how well the local economy recovers.

"Tonight's decisions are going to be difficult," Foose said. "But next year might be even tougher."

The school board expects to make its final vote on the 2020-21 budget at its June 23 board meeting.

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