McKeesport Area schools projects 0.48-mill tax increase

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McKeesport Area school directors are facing large projected increases in charter school tuition and a possible tax hike of 0.48 mills as they work on the budget for the 2014-15 school year.

The property tax increase would bring in $400,000 to balance the $62.8 million budget. The tax rate would be 15.7 mills, said David Seropian, district business manager, costing an average homeowner $25 more. Even at the higher amount, he said, the taxes would account for only about $10.5 million of the total budget.

About 500 students in the district attend more than a dozen charter schools, with a tuition rate of $8,500 per student and $17,300 per special education student. The total amount jumped from $4.3 million last year to a projected $4.9 million this year, with the potential to increase more, depending on enrollment rates, school board members were told at last week’s board workshop.

“That’s absolutely ridiculous,” board President Patricia Maksin said at the March 19 meeting.

Mr. Seropian said the payout has increased yearly, from $2.8 million in 2010 to $4.1 million for the 2011-12 school year. He said he’s hoping the district’s “No. 1 biggest financial issue,” charter school enrollment, will “level off this year.”

The tuition, paired with the district’s other fastest growing expense — a 26 percent increase to $5.5 million in contributions to the state retirement fund — could lead to an increase in taxes for homeowners. Most districts in the state are facing retirement contribution increases under the law.

The preliminary budget must be approved by the end of May and a final budget adopted in June. The board will start looking into possible areas to cut spending, including staffing, Mr. Seropian said.

“It’s too much money going out the door,” he said. “We’ve had to do everything and anything to survive, including making any other kind of cuts in budget controls where we are able to.”

Clarece Polke: or 412-263-1889. Twitter: @clarepolke.

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