Mt. Lebanon school board rejects idea of school closing

District keeps looking for budget cuts

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Mt. Lebanon School District is still looking for ways to cut spending, but closing an elementary building will not be one of them.

Discussions about how to balance the 2013-14 budget continued at Monday's board meeting, with each member commenting on suggestions to reduce expenditures. The measure that would save the most money is shutting one of the district's seven primary schools, but a majority of board members said they oppose such an option.

As a result, Elaine Cappucci, school board president, took it off the table for consideration.

Board member William Cooper gave his opinion about the potential ramifications of closing a school.

"I think it would reduce the value of homes in the community," he said. "Our elementary schools are one of the most valuable things we have and why people move here."

Closing a school would represent more of a long-term savings, Mrs. Cappucci noted. The board's immediate task is bringing budget numbers in line before the scheduled adoption of a spending plan in May.

At this point, the budget calls for a property tax increase of 0.55 mills, representing the average increase during the past six years. Many board members said they are comfortable with that figure, although some would like it to be lower.

"There are concerns about raising taxes every single year," Scott Goldman said. "I have spoken to a number of residents who feel the same way."

Even with the tax increase as proposed, the board must make spending cuts and/or take money from the district's surplus to balance the budget. Suggestions for reducing expenditures include:

• Eliminate an elementary librarian's position and have six librarians share duties among the seven schools

• Re-examine the high school's Math Lab, which provides tutorial, remedial and enrichment services for students

• Increase class sizes at the secondary level

• Reduce physical education requirements in high school

• Ask teachers to take fewer in-service or personal leave days

• Cut funding for club sports

Other suggestions involve ways to increase revenue, such as raising student fees for activities and parking. Board member Mary Birks said she opposes putting a burden on students.

"We're the adults. We have to figure this out," she said.

One measure the board approved Monday could help raise millions of dollars in new revenue.

Fundraising consultant Pursuant Ketchum of Dallas was hired as capital campaign counsel to help the district tap the generosity of the Mt. Lebanon community. The two-year contract is for $184,000.

Board member Edward Kubit voted no, citing concerns about financial risk at a time when the district is struggling to balance its budget.

Pursuant Ketchum previously conducted a study among members of the community and determined a fundraising goal of $6 million is reachable.

"We've talked about creating a culture of giving. This is one step toward that," said Lawrence Lebowitz, the board member who worked most closely with developing the concept of a capital campaign. Private schools often embark on such ventures, but the idea is relatively new for a public school system.

One of Pursuant Ketchum's duties is to help recruit a campaign manager, who would become an employee of the district. That position would be paid for by proceeds from the fundraising activities.

The board will meet to discuss the budget again at 7:30 p.m. April 2 at Jefferson Middle School. The board encourages the public to attend.

"We have not gotten a lot of feedback to this point," Mrs. Cappucci said. "I hope that people will start joining the conversation."

education - neigh_south

Harry Funk, freelance writer:


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