Mt. Lebanon school board still working to cut tax hike

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With about five weeks to go before voting on a final 2013-14 budget, Mt. Lebanon school board members continue to seek ways to minimize the impact on taxpayers.

The board met for an extended budget session last week, arriving at a version of the spending plan that would impose a 0.54-mill tax increase without dipping into the district's fund balance.

At Monday's discussion meeting, board members continued to offer opinions on how best to proceed. The board plans to approve a preliminary budget Monday, after which the document will be on public display for 30 days. Its adoption is set for mid-May.

The board rejected three measures proposed to cut costs. A majority of board members said they did not favor cutting funding to club sports, increasing secondary class sizes or modifying the Foreign Language in the Elementary School program.

"We will maintain the FLES program as it is," board President Elaine Cappucci reassured district foreign-language teachers in the audience at this week's meeting.

Board member Jo Posti pointed out that implementation of the three measures would result in minuscule savings -- "in the category of peanuts," she said.

"It's just not worth the discussion, I think, in terms of elimination," she added.

Other board members agreed that maintaining the district's educational standards should remain a priority in Mt. Lebanon.

The subject of tapping the fund balance drew mixed reaction as Mrs. Cappucci polled board members. Some said they want to use the district's surplus to mitigate a tax increase, while others warned of the ramifications of spending it now.

Superintendent Timothy Steinhauer said the administration would continue to work on ways to economize and reduce the amount needed from taxpayers to balance the budget.

Board member Dale Ostergaard said he favors attempting to bring the figure down to about 0.25 mills, noting that last year's increase was half a mill. With an increase of 0.54 mills, owners of homes valued at $100,000 would pay $54 more in real estate taxes to the community.

"I really struggle with the impact on the community," he said.

He continues to suggest seeking concessions from district employees to cut costs.

"What's driving our budget is people costs, plain and simple," he said. "We've done very well in discretionary spending."

Board member Dan Remely agreed, pointing out that most of the proposed tax increase represents the district's obligation to fund the state Public School Employees' Retirement System for 2013-14.

Meanwhile, the board plans to approve a resolution next week as a formal objection to not receiving state reimbursement for a portion of the ongoing high school renovation project.

Participation in a long-standing process called Planning and Construction Workbook, or PlanCon, entitles school districts to be compensated for embarking on capital improvement projects.

According to Mr. Steinhauer, Mt. Lebanon is owed about $450,000 per year, eventually totaling $11 million, but the state budget has not provided for any reimbursements to school districts the past two years. Some 125 districts are being affected, and many have drafted similar resolutions.

The documents are being sent to the offices of Gov. Tom Corbett and Education Secretary Ron Tomalis, as well as to state senators and representatives. Many of them are unaware of the lack of reimbursements, Director Mary Birks said.

"We are bringing it to their attention so that they know what the issue is," she said.

education - neigh_south

Harry Funk, freelance writer:


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