Rosslyn Farms seeks to secede from Carlynton School District

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Residents of Carnegie and Crafton are talking about -- and worried about -- a petition signed by a majority of Rosslyn Farms residents that asks the courts to allow their community to secede from the Carlynton School District.

So far, the discussion has been civil on both sides of the issue.

The school district would lose a little more than $1 million in property taxes if Rosslyn Farms residents are granted their request to send their children to neighboring Chartiers Valley School District. The petition was signed by 291 people, which is 78 percent of the 371 "taxable residents" in Rosslyn Farms.

It was filed in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court last week, and a hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Friday before Judge David N. Wecht.

Chartiers Valley is a thriving district with a superior curriculum and it would be in the best interest of Rosslyn Farms students to make the switch, according to the 561-page filing. The issue ultimately would be decided by the state Department of Education.

Rosslyn Farms is the smallest community in Carlynton, with 464 residents and 190 homes. It has 70 school-aged children, and 34 of them attend private or parochial schools.

But Rosslyn Farms is the wealthiest community in the school district.

The median values of taxable homes in the Carlynton School District, according to the Allegheny County website that lists assessed values are: Rosslyn Farms, $184,300; Crafton, $81,000; and Carnegie, $67,500. At the current millage rate, the owner of a $100,00 home in Carlynton pays $2,415 per year in school taxes.

In the Chartiers Valley School District, the owner of a $100,000 home pays $1,988. Chartiers Valley serves Collier, Scott, Bridgeville and Heidelberg.

Carlynton currently has 1,450 students. Chartiers Valley has 3,400.

Marty O'Toole, who with his wife, Susan, has lived in Rosslyn Farms for 25 years, helped to obtain petition signatures because "In my opinion ... Carlynton is too small in the number of boroughs and students it represents and has no chance of increasing those numbers in the near or long term."

Mr. O'Toole is a former podiatrist who now writes computer software. His three children attended parochial school for all 12 years.

Costs, including staff and teacher salaries, "all point to a school district that economically speaking, is not sustainable."

The secession effort "is not some elitist movement to portray the Carlynton School District as a failure," Mr. O'Toole said, "nor is it an effort to align the borough with the lowest school millage we can find. ... The school taxes we pay for public education will most likely be similar no matter what school district" Rosslyn Farms is in.

Voicing concern is David G. Roussos of Crafton, who noted that the loss of $1 million in Rosslyn Farms property taxes "is in addition to the $1 million we've also lost in state cuts."

Mr. Roussos is a tax attorney and a certified public accountant who was president of the Carlynton school board from 2001 to 2008, when he decided not to seek re-election.

Mr. Roussos was one of five candidates who successfully ran in the May primary election with a slate called the Committee for Carlynton's Future. All five won the Democratic and Republican nominations for school board seats. Three on the slate are incumbent school board members.

The five-person slate unseated incumbents Thomas W. Brown and Ronald E. McCartney and will form the majority of the nine-member board when they take office in December.

"I know there has been dissent in Rosslyn Farms," Mr. Roussos said. "The dissent really came to a head with the former majority's insistence on an expensive building project."

In February, the school board voted 5-4 to close both elementary schools -- in Crafton and Carnegie -- and build a new $26 million school in Carnegie. Children from Rosslyn Farms attend Crafton Elementary School.

The spring primary election results put a hold on any demolition and construction plans. Many people thought the election would calm concerns, especially in Crafton and Rosslyn Farms, where parents were angry about the proposed loss of their elementary school.

The secession petition started circulating before the primary election, said Betsy Tassaro of Rosslyn Farms, a longtime member of the school board and one-fifth of the Committee for Carlynton's Future. She was the top vote-getter on both the Democratic and Republican ballots.

"All along I had asked for a referendum" on the building project, but the school board majority would not agree to that, Ms. Tassaro said. "It was really hard for people here in Rosslyn Farms to fathom" the construction plans. Her own husband signed the petition, though she did not.

Carnegie Mayor Jack Kobistek said he has heard from a number of concerned residents in his town. "Everyone's worried about their taxes."

Carlynton also would lose the 0.5 percent earned income tax from Rosslyn Farms residents, although Mr. Kobistek said he doesn't know the dollar amount of that tax.

The petition to secede "is a lengthy process," he said.

"Nothing would happen immediately. This petition may have a reverse effect. It could force people to get out there and show how good this district is," said Mr. Kobistek, whose two children attend Carlynton schools.

Ms. Tassaro said, "I see this as an opportunity. People are not happy. We may need to do a better job of educating our community" about the quality of the district. She said she and her husband are pleased with the education their three daughters received in Carlynton, where "the PSSA scores are comparable to Mt. Lebanon."

On the down side, "our tax base is flat. We are not adding programs," Ms. Tassaro said. "We have to look at five-10 years out and wonder if this district can survive."

Rosslyn Farms is "an amazing community and the schools have wonderful things to offer, including small classes" said Maggie Jayson, who lived in the community for 25 years and is now a Realtor who sells houses there.

"Rosslyn Farms houses are very sought after," said Ms. Jayson, who is Ms. Tassaro's sister. "When houses come on the market, they sell quickly."

The community has police and fire departments, a library, community center, swimming pool, playgrounds and pot luck dinners. "You still see kids playing in the street. It's a really unique neighborhood," Ms. Jayson said.


Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-722-0087.


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