McKeesport Area board raises taxes by 0.48 mill

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Property owners in the McKeesport Area School District will face a millage increase in the new fiscal year that starts this month.

The school board voted 5-4 to approve a $62.4 million budget, including a 0.48-mill property tax increase that brings the millage to 15.7.

The average property owner in McKeesport will see a $25 to $30 increase in school taxes as a result.

Board members Scott Smith, Christopher Halaszynski, Steven Kondrosky and Joseph Lopretto voted against the budget at the June 25 meeting.

During an hour-long discussion before the vote, Mr. Lopretto said he did not want to see increased taxes. “A lot of people are on fixed incomes,” he said.

Mr. Halaszynski also noted the tax increase. “There are a lot of people in this district that can’t afford an extra $30," he said.

"I know there is necessity to raise taxes, but I’m not supporting it," he said.

Board member Thomas Maglicco cautioned: “Our fund balance is running out. When it’s out, we will have to furlough more teachers and cut programs." He voted in favor of the budget.

“If we don’t have a strong enough education in this district, then our community falls,” board member Trisha Gadson said before her vote in support of the budget.

Directors also voted to furlough three teachers — an auto mechanics teacher at the high school, a family and consumer science teacher at Founders Hall Middle School and an art teacher. A fourth teacher would have been furloughed but chose to resign.

Mr. Halaszynski and Mr. Kondrosky voted against the furloughs.

During the public comment portion, high school students Ashley Shoben and Angela Fraley spoke against the furlough of Jason Jones, the auto mechanics teacher.

The teens, who are rising sophomores, said they had planned to take auto mechanics class to give them a head start on careers in the field.

“If Mr. Jones and his class leave, it wouldn’t be the same. We would be heartbroken,” Ashley said.

“It was my dream to take this class,” Ms. Fraley said, adding she wants eventually to go to a technical school and open her own shop.

Mr. Jones, who was at the meeting, said at the beginning of the past school year about 13 students were signed up for one section of his class and at the end of the year seven remained. In his second section of classes, he had 13 students as well, but four remained at the end of the year.

The students presented a petition to the board that had 639 student signatures on it and said there may be more interest in the class than previously thought.

Superintendent  Rula Skezas said enrollment in auto mechanics has been declining over the years.

“It’s unfortunate, but there weren’t very many students interested,” Mr. Skezas said.

Board President Patricia Maksin said, “I don’t think there’s anybody here that likes the word ‘furloughs,’ but it’s the reality of the situation.”

Some of the skills taught in Mr. Jones’ class are set to be taught in the auto body class at the high school.

“As much as we love to have Mr. Jones’ skills and resources, [auto body teacher William Bain] may be able to teach some of those skills,” said assistant superintendent Harry Bauman.

In other business:

■ The board approved $67,000 in change orders for Twin Rivers Primary/Intermediate School and Founders Hall Middle School. The vote was 8-1, with Mr. Lopretto voting no.

The change order includes an update of the pipes in the buildings from 6- to 8-inch pipes. Construction manager Joe Brennan of P.J. Dick said the change was needed for the buildings to function properly.

Deana Carpenter, freelance writer:

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