Bethel Park schools likely to raise taxes

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Bethel Park school board is expecting to raise taxes in its 2014-15 budget, but at this point, the board thinks the increase will be within the index allowed by the state.

Pennsylvania’s Act 1 of 2006, the so-called Taxpayer Relief Act, caps the amount by which districts can raise taxes each year without applying for an exception.

Tim Campbell, the school board’s finance committee chairman, announced during Tuesday’s meeting that the district should be able to stay below the Act 1 index to balance the approximately $79 million budget.

Bethel Park’s adjusted index for 2014-15 is 2.6 percent. With the current tax rate of 21.8593 mills, the maximum increase within the index is 0.568 mill. For an owner of property valued at $100,000, that would mean paying an additional $56.80.

The finance committee will continue to meet for budget discussions until arriving at figures for a final budget, which the board expects to adopt in May.

“Bethel Park is very, very financially sound,” Mr. Campbell said. “We’re in a good position now compared with other school districts.”

He did cite the district’s mounting obligation to fund the Public School Employees’ Retirement System. Employer contributions to the system have nearly quadrupled in the past four years, from 5.64 percent of salary in 2010-11 to 21.4 percent in 2014-15, and are expected to rise to more than 30 percent by 2017-18.

In other business, the board:

• Approved purchasing 25 Chromebook personal computers, at $300 each, for a pilot program for third- and fourth-graders at two schools with the goal of eventually furnishing them at all district elementary buildings.

Superintendent Nancy Aloi Rose said the computers would be used for small-group instruction in a manner similar to “learning stations” of the past.

“It really provides a rich opportunity for us to expand our instructional practices,” she said.

The board also accepted a grant from the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation’s Tablets in Education program, which is supplying 20 Kindle Fire HDX devices at no cost to the district.

Dee Stark, director of elementary education, said the devices are going to William Penn Elementary School, where students will work with them for reading and accessing web-based content.

“They’re going to be used on a selective basis as teachers need them,” she said. “We are going to make sure we have good uses for them.”

• Approved improvements to rigging for theatrical equipment at Independence and Neil Armstrong schools.

The contract with Pittsburgh Stage Inc. totals $174,641. The money is in the district’s capital reserve fund account.

“This is a safety issue,” explained school board member Jim Means. The rigging in the schools is extremely old.”

Harry Funk, freelance writer:

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