Panther Valley school officials are counting on last year's cutbacks to keep next year's budget in the black.

The school board's Budget and Finance Committee met Wednesday to begin mapping out the eight-month route to a 2012-13 spending plan. A final budget must be adopted by June 28.

"It's a very preliminary budget, but we're comfortable enough to know what we're looking forward to, and we have enough fund balance that we're not in any sort of panic," said Business Manager Kenneth R. Marx Jr.

As it stands now, anticipated expenses are at $23,452,501.21 and revenues are at $22,003,279.95, leaving a $1,449,221.27 gap.

The gap could be closed, Marx said, by using money in fund balance accounts – $329,512 from the pension fund balance (to cover the expected increase in pension costs) and the remainder from the unreserved fund balance account.

Even with the withdrawals, the district still anticipates having $4,242,060.35 in the fund balance account at the end of the 2013 fiscal year.

The committee also discussed the possibility of a building project at the high school-middle school campus to accommodate students in grades three through five. Superintendent Rosemary Porembo said the state Department of Education projects enrollment increases in the coming years.

According to government records, enrollment more than doubled since 1988, from 404 students to 818 in 2010, and continues to increase. Some students at the elementary school are housed in portable classrooms.

However, the building project is only in the discussion stages. The district already has $2 million set aside for building projects, should the need arise.

School officials, spurred by deep cuts in state funding, last year shaved $490,000 from the current budget by closing the swimming pool (now operated by a private company) and ending cross country, and golf, and trimming funds for after-school tutoring, PSSA coaches, substitute teachers, band equipment repair and maintenance, computer supplies and equipment, field trips and library books and other cutbacks.

Currently, the property tax rates in the district's Carbon County towns (Lansford, Summit Hill and Nesquehoning) is 55.69 mills. In Coaldale, Schuylkill County, which is also included in the district, the rate is 50.3 mills.

That means the owner of a property assessed at $50,000 on the Carbon County side paid $2,784 in real estate tax this year. On the Schuylkill side, the bill came to $2,515.

Each mill generates about $150,000, Marx said. But that figure fluctuates with the daily assessed value of taxable property in the district.

The committee, composed of school directors Bill Hunsicker, Roy Angst, Irene Genther, David Hiles, Tony Pondish and president Jeff Markovich, will meet again on Nov. 16.