Peters school board OKs preliminary budget

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Peters Township school board Monday approved a $53.3 million preliminary spending plan for the next school year, including a technology budget of $1.1 million. But directors have not decided whether to raise taxes, though the district is limited to a property tax increase of about 1.7 percent due to a state cap.

Several students and parents addressed the board before the 8-0 vote, asking the board to purchase new computers districtwide. Board member Ronald Dunleavy was absent.

"We have hit very close to rock bottom with our computers due to age," said student Chase Maszle, chairman of the technology committee at the high school. "This is becoming a huge issue."

The district has replaced about 400 of the approximately 2,000 computers in use at district schools. The remaining 1,600 desktop computers are 5-7 years old and out of date, students said.

"This needs to be a priority that the school board addresses," said high school student Nate Doughty. "This cannot be something we keep putting off as we have done in the past."

At a recent finance committee meeting, district technology director Duke Maloy proposed replacing all of the outdated computers through a four-year lease, with payments of $302,000 per year.

Directors frowned at the cost, as the board struggles to maintain salaries and educational priorities without a major tax increase.

The preliminary technology budget carves out about $235,000 toward new computers, though the board will need to further discuss options before making a decision. A second option would be the use of "virtual desktops," though the students doubted such a plan could work due to the district's server size.

The board must pass the final budget by June 30.

The students presented the board with a petition signed by more than 700 students, asking for new computers. The group favors the four-year lease plan, Chase Maszle said.

"Virtual desktops are fantastic in commerce environments and educational environments, but many of the programs don't do well on these cloud servers," he said. "It simply won't work well."

Nate told the board that the first 15 minutes of each 41-minute class is spent waiting for the computers to boot up.

"It's cutting into class time," he said. "We need newer, more reliable machines."

Student Gregory Oleynik said that Windows XP, which is the operating system used by district computers, will turn 10 years old in January, and Microsoft will no longer provide support or updates after that.

Parent Ted Taylor IV said it was "ludicrous" to waste 15 minutes waiting for the machines to boot up. He also suggested that the board look into master licensing of Windows and other software products to save money.

"Kids should not be dealing with this," he said.

The board also approved a preliminary capital budget of $1.5 million by a vote of 6-2, with members Sandra Gregg and William Merrell dissenting.

Ms. Gregg said she objected to $900,000 included in the budget for the replacement of artificial turf at the high school stadium. Such an expense isn't warranted, she said, especially since an independent report indicated that the field was within acceptable safety limits.

"I don't think this should be a priority," Ms. Gregg said.

The tentative curriculum budget of $352,024 was approved by a 8-0 vote, and the board also agreed to extend a food service contract with Aramark Inc. for an additional year.

If the board decides next month that it will increase property taxes, it will be limited to a hike of about 1.64 mills, unlike last year, when the district received a waiver from the state Education Department allowing it to raise taxes by 3.79 mills to the current property tax rate of 100.30 mills.

That tax hike, along with the refinancing of $22 million in debt and freezing spending on discretionary items, helped the district avoid the teacher layoffs that plagued other nearby districts as the state significantly slashed funding.

The board has said it hopes to renegotiate contracts with teachers and other staff to prevent layoffs.

The spending plan also will likely have to be trimmed before the final budget is passed, unless increased revenues can make up for the $2.4 million -- or about 5 percent -- increase over last year's budget of $50.9 million.

The finance committee plans to meet again in a public session at 6:30 p.m. June 10, and the full board has scheduled a meeting June 24 to vote on the final budget.

Also Monday, the board accepted the retirements of several educators, including driver education teacher Joseph Maize, music teacher Donna Fox and German teacher Patricia Chastel.

education - neigh_south - neigh_washington

Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.


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