Belt tighter but not enough

Budget cut won't stop tax increase

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Computer replacements and textbook purchases were put on hold, a $25,000 donation to the Penn Hills Library was eliminated and a bond issue to pay for building renovations was cut from next year's school budget,

It wasn't enough.

Real estate taxes still will have to be increased by nearly 3.5 mills to balance the $68.2 million budget approved 5-3 Tuesday night by the Penn Hills school board.

Taxes will rise from 19.91 to 23.39 mills. That means a property owner with a house valued at $77,000, the average assessment in Penn Hills, will pay a little more than $1,800 in taxes next year, or $268 more than this year.

"I personally am opposed to the size of this increase," board President Richard Vuocolo said. But he voted for it, saying there were few options to fund education in the municipality.

"This is a big business," board member Kathryn Bolte said. The district is the largest employer in the municipality, with 800 full-time and 400 part-time workers on the payroll.

It could have been worse.

Several moves helped to cut what originally was projected as a 5.5-mill increase. Charter and cyber-charter school tuition figures, for instance, were cut back $200,000 from the $2.4 million allotted. Business Manager Bruce Dakan said charter school tuition was a moving target, changing regularly.

If the district needs that $200,000 to cover tuition next year, the plan is to use $200,000 from the $419,000 budget reserve.

Also trimmed or cut were school bus purchases and a donation to the library.

Mr. Dakan said the district had donated $100,000 to the library over the past two years. But board members believed the donation should be frozen for now.

Back in the budget, but in a slimmer form, is funding for the Family Fun Night program. Nearly every Monday evening during the school year a multifaceted program featuring entertainment, crafts and indoor sports is held at Linton Middle School. Volunteers, mostly municipal and district employees, run it.

The district had been donating $17,000 for the program, but costs are closer to $12,000, Mr. Dakan said.

Maintenance and renovation work on buildings still has to be done, board members said, but by taking costs for floating a bond issue out of next year's budget, the district can postpone the expense. If, for instance, the board decides to go for the financing after July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year for school districts, then the costs associated with it would be pushed to the next school year.

The savings, small and large, allowed the board to adopt a budget about $1 million lower than the tentative budget adopted last month and a tax increase about a mill lower. The tentative budget called for a tax increase of 4.48 mills.

Board members pointed out that the Penn Hills School District did not have a tax increase for a decade, followed by increases amounting to 1.66 mills over the next three years.

But at least one director thought the trimmed budget was shortsighted.

"I think it needs to be higher," Margie Krogh said. She said the district had to fund what students should have for their education, such as new books.

Mr. Vuocolo, Mrs. Bolte, Mrs. Krogh, Barry Patterson and Robert Hudak voted for the budget, while John Zacchia, Erin Vecchio and Carolyn Faggioli voted against it.

Leonard Gallo resigned from the board, effective at Tuesday's meeting, during which a letter citing personal reasons was read. The school board will take applications and resumes for his position until a special board meeting is held July 11.

Applications can be mailed to Donna Lord-Liberto, 309 Collins Drive, Pittsburgh 15235.


Judy Laurinatis can be reached at jlaurinatis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228.


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