How Much Does Your School District Hold in Reserves? Probably Millions

A conservative think tank has a database of all Pennsylvania school districts' reserve accounts. Meanwhile, Lower Merion fights on in a lawsuit.

Lower Merion School District isn't yet ready to give up the fight for about $4 million in new taxes that a judge has ruled it should return to taxpayers.

The affluent district lost an appeal before a panel of judges in Commonwealth Court, but it's asking the court to reconsider the ruling, the district's attorney for the case told NBC10 Friday.

At stake is a tax increase approved last year by the local school board, but then thrown out after a group of taxpayers successfully argued that Lower Merion had no business asking for more money when it already has more than $50 million in reserve accounts.

All along, it appears, those accounts got bigger. A conservative Pennsylvania think tank, the Commonwealth Foundation, found Lower Merion had $56 million in its "general fund balance" during the 2015-2016 school year, up about $100,000 from its 2014-2015 total. 

Hundreds of districts across the state also have millions in reserve. The overall amount reached $4.4 billion for 2015-2016, according to the Commonwealth Foundation.

"More than double what the state spent on teacher pensions last year alone," according to an email from the organization's spokeswoman, who said new findings will be released next week. "In fact, district reserve fund balances grew by $126 million over the previous year."

For taxpayers interested in seeing how their district stacks up, or wants to compare with other towns and cities, the Commonwealth Foundation has an arrangeable list of every district in Pennsylvania.

It should be noted that Philadelphia's fund balance grew from a negative $10 million in 2014-2015 to $87 million the next year, accounting for a large majority of the entire state's increase.

Lower Merion, which previously was second to Pittsburgh, had the third-largest reserve total in 2015-2016.

District officials have argued throughout the public legal battle that its reserves are not only a safety net in case of financial crisis, but also dedicated in part to special education spending, employee pensions and school construction.

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