Chartiers-Houston schools raise taxes, cut library funding

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The Chartiers-Houston school board on Monday slashed its annual donation to the local library, raised taxes by more than 9 mills and furloughed six teachers.

There was no good news to be found in the $17.1 million final budget, approved unanimously by the seven board members in attendance. Board members Rodney Whitfield and Fred Rockage were absent.

The district recently warned the Chartiers-Houston Community Library that it would likely cut the $50,000 donation that the library had been receiving from the district for many years.

Still, library officials were disappointed by Monday’s decision to completely terminate funding.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” said library board member and treasurer Kenneth Britten.  “It makes no sense to me. We were kind of hoping that instead of $50,000, they would give us $20,000.”

Mr. Britten pointed out that two of the teacher furloughs were for librarians in the high school and elementary school. He wondered where students would be able to study and research if all of the local libraries are closed.

“I don’t understand that,” Mr. Britten said, who has sent out more than 100 letters to organizations seeking funding to replace the district donation.

District business manager Don Bennett said teachers are furloughed based on seniority, certification and other steps that are spelled out in the teacher’s contract.  If demand is high enough, it is possible that the district may recall one of the librarians before the start of the school year, he said.  Teachers who are not librarians can also be called in to occasionally staff the libraries.

“We’re going to do everything we can to have a librarian, even if they have to work both facilities,” Mr. Bennett said. “We are not closing our libraries.”

The district is facing a financial crisis, with a $1.7 million deficit and an inadequate fund balance that has been depleted by $3 million — or about half — for the past three years. With the cuts implemented Monday, the district whittled the deficit to $746,000, which will be covered by the dwindling fund balance.  

The total new tax rate for property owners is 119.5 mills, costing the average homeowner about $90 more per year, Mr. Bennett said.

The 9.0125-mill tax hike was made possible through special exceptions the district sought and received from the state’s Education Department to raise property taxes above the state-mandated cap due to rising special education and retirement costs.

Mr. Bennett said that if state funding remains stagnant, especially for special education and retirement costs, taxpayers can expect a repeat of hardships in the coming years.

“If all those stay like they are now, we can see us doing this next year and the year after that,” he said of furloughs and funding cuts. “This is not a one-time fix, not at all.” 

The library has a $147,000 annual budget and has relied on donations from the school district, along with $20,000 from Chartiers and a $1,500 annual donation from the borough of Houston. It gets the rest of its yearly funding through county and state grants and other donations, Mr. Britten said.

The library has already cut its staff from seven to about three part-time workers, Mr. Britten said, and it has tapped a $10,000 line of credit to stay afloat through the end of summer.

The library has about $30,000 in a certificate of deposit, he said, and after that is exhausted, it may have to close its doors unless volunteers can be found to staff the library.

“We'll try to keep it open with volunteers,” he said.

Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.

 


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