The Plum school board passed a final 2013-14 budget Tuesday night, but not until board members heard from more than a dozen residents and students about how cuts to the high school family and consumer science and elementary band programs would affect them.
The preliminary budget passed in May called for the elimination of 23 teaching positions as well as the end of the district's participation in an alternative program at Boyce Campus Middle College.
But the $56.8 million spending plan passed this week reduces the number of furloughs to four teachers, and one teacher will be lost to attrition, superintendent Timothy Glasspool said. The Penn Hills School District will take over the administration of the Boyce program, and the 17 Plum students currently enrolled in the program will be able to attend next year, Mr. Glasspool said. The district will pay $7,000 per student to Penn Hills. The budget also will implement annual "pay to play" fees for extracurricular activities.
The board set the property tax rate at 18.758 mills, the maximum allowed under the state Act 1 limit. That hike will bring in nearly $500,000, and the remaining budget shortfall will be made up by a $950,000 contribution from the district's budgetary reserve.
Act 1, signed into law in 2006, establishes an annual index that determines the percentage each school district in the state can raise taxes. Increases beyond the index require approval by the state Education Department or by voter referendum.
Although the tax rate is lower than this year's rate of 22.2 mills, the effect on property owners' tax bills will vary because of the recent Allegheny County property reassessment. Governments and school districts are required by state law to lower their millage rates to remain "revenue neutral" after property reassessments.
Though the board was able to limit the number of teacher furloughs, programs were still cut. Of the people who spoke to the board Tuesday night, most spoke in opposition to cutting the high school's family and consumer science program, which also houses a preschool program.
Michelle Stepnick, a nominee for a Plum school board seat, said students need the skills taught in family and consumer science classes.
"The days of 'Leave It to Beaver' are over," she said, noting most parents are working multiple jobs and children sometimes don't have dinner placed on the table for them.
One student, through tears, pleaded with the board not to cut the family and consumer science program, noting both of her parents are teachers, something she hopes to become one day, too. She said the loss of the preschool program would be devastating to young children in the district.
"You have to get them to love school and love coming to school at an early age," she said.
Alyssa Lloyd, a member of the high school marching band, lamented the decision to allow the elementary band teacher position to be lost to attrition. She called elementary band "the heart and soul" of the music program.
"There will be no program in five years if that program is not reinstated," she said.
Board member Sal Colella said he was disappointed in the elimination of the position and would like to look at bringing it back at some point.
Some speakers and school board members said teachers in the district make too much money and need to make sacrifices as well.
Board member Shane McMasters said he wanted $1 million in concessions from the Plum Borough Education Association, the union that represents the teachers. He said the board is "held hostage" by the union.
"That disgusts me," Plum student Jordan Campeau told the board. "These board members do not come into the building to educate me."
The board voted 6-3 to approve the budget on Tuesday. John St. Leger, Loretta White and Tom McGough dissented.
Annie Siebert: email@example.com or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.