Chapter 1.3


1.3 - What is the school district budget cycle?

The school district budget process is a complex year-round process. The never-ending cycle of budget preparation and adoption, budget implementation and budget review and audit means that school districts are always operating in overlapping fiscal years.

School District Budget Cycle

As school districts begin the fiscal year on July 1, they are beginning implementation of that year's budget. They are also in the midst of the budget review and audit process for the prior fiscal year and simultaneously beginning the budget preparation process for the next fiscal year. In short, the development of a school district budget is a detailed and complex process that consumes a significant amount of time from both school administrators and school board members.

School district budgets have three levels of government (local, state and federal) providing the bulk of the revenue. These revenue sources are independent of each other, which means that projecting future revenues must be a three-step process with many unknowns and annual variations. On the expenditure side, there are detailed accounting requirements for a myriad of expenses ranging from the cost of building maintenance to student transportation, classroom supplies and school lunch and breakfast preparation.

Each school district has a budget calendar that provides a timeline of key dates for the budget process. The actual budget calendar (shown below) utilized by North Penn School District in Montgomery County provides an excellent overview of the major milestones for the adoption of their budget.

Acknowledging the tremendous variation in PA’s 500 school districts, a “typical” school district budget contains about $36.1 million in revenues. The range in budget size reflects the variation in size of students educated by the district.

Our largest district — Philadelphia City SD — has more than 200,000 students as measured by ADM count or more than 10.0% of all students in the state. The next largest district, in terms of students, is Pittsburgh SD with about 26,000 students. At the other end of the size spectrum are 84 districts with less than 1,000 students each.

Not surprisingly, the size of the school district and the number of students impacts the size of the budget. Philadelphia City SD easily has the largest school district budget with about $3.5 billion in revenues for the 2018-19 school year. There were 26 school districts in 2018-19 that had total revenues of less than $12 million each.

2020-21 Budget Timeline

North Penn School District
Month Key Processes and Deadlines
  • Act 1 Index and timeline published by PDE.
  • Building per pupil allocations are calculated.
  • District enrollment projections are calculated.
  • Adoption of board resolution not to raise taxes above the Act 1 Index.
  • Final budget timeline is created.
  • Deadline to notify residents of homestead/farmstead exclusion.
  • Deadline to opt out of Act 1 exceptions.
  • Building and department budget requests are due to business office.
  • Budget meetings are held with administrators.
  • Deadline to adopt preliminary budget unless resolution not to exceed Act 1 Index is adopted.
  • Homestead/Farmstead application deadline.
  • Deadline for referendum exception request to PDE.
  • Deadline to submit primary election referendum question seeking voter approval of tax increase in excess of the Act 1 Index.
  • Deadline for PDE ruling on referendum exception request.
  • County provides certified homestead/farmstead information.
  • PDE provides property tax relief allocation information.
  • Board adoption of the proposed final budget.
  • Public notice of intent to adopt final budget.
  • Budget presented for public inspection.
  • Board adoption of final budget.