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The Lancaster School Board on Monday unanimously adopted a $68.5 million spending plan for the 2005-06 school year that would increase spending by 8.7 percent.

The amount to be raised by property taxes would increase by 6.6 percent, to $2.65 million.

"The amount of the budget is higher than we want, but at the same time lower than we want," School Superintendent Thomas J. Markle said during the meeting.

Markle blamed a projected 29 percent increase in the district's debt service and a nearly 15 percent increase in the cost of employee benefits.

"Retirement and health care benefits have escalated $1.5 million, which represents 2.5 percent of the budget increase," Markle said.

Nearly a quarter of the increase was attributed to costs associated with accommodating an enrollment increase. According to Suzanne Jacobs, assistant superintendent of instruction, pupil and personnel services, the district has 95 more students this year, increasing the enrollment to 6,204.

To offset the increases, Markle said the administration cut the budget for new equipment and trimmed 10 percent of this year's cost for supplies and materials.

"That's a deferred cost, which will eventually have to be dealt with. You can't operate for too many years with those kinds of cuts," he said. "The cut in supplies also puts a burden on teachers."

An additional 10 percent was trimmed from the district's music and athletic programs.

"We're trying to balance the demands of competing interests," Markle said. "We would like to do more, but we would also like to spend less. This is not a good year to do that."

Board member Kenneth Graber lauded efforts to keep the budget in line, noting that during four work sessions, administrators went over the budget line by line with the School Board.

"Nothing was held back. They explained every dollar and where it came from and what it was being used for," Graber said. "This is a budget we can live with. It serves the district and serves the community, and it's fair to the taxpayer."

The budget includes a $2.4 million increase in state aid, to $23.2 million, according to Assistant School Superintendent Edward J. Myszka. It also includes a proposition to buy 11 new school buses.

Both propositions, along with the candidates for three open seats on the board, will appear on the ballot for school district voters from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. May 17 in the Lancaster High School gymnasium, 1 Forton Drive.


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