Mt. Lebanon school board budget plan sees shortfall

Mt. Lebanon school directors discuss options to cut costs, raise revenue

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Mt. Lebanon school board members face some tough decisions in the next two months as they prepare numbers of the district's 2013-14 budget.

At Monday's board discussion meeting, administrators presented several scenarios illustrating potential amounts for a property tax increase and the accompanying spending cuts needed to balance the budget.

For example, if taxes were not raised, the budget would be about $1.8 million "out of balance," according to superintendent Timothy Steinhauer, meaning the district would have to compensate by reducing expenditures and/or tapping into the district's fund balance.

At the other end of the spectrum, with a .89-mill increase, the highest taxes can rise without the issue going to referendum, "the budget can be balanced without further reductions," he said.

Raising taxes by .55 mills, the district's average increase over the past seven years, would require an estimated $870,000 to to make up the difference. That figure would increase to roughly $1.4 million if taxes went up by .25 mills, as proposed as a starting point by board member Dale Ostergaard.

Mr. Ostergaard spoke about a "shared sacrifice concept" in balancing the budget and contended that taxpayers have taken on the brunt of sacrifice. Expenditures for teachers account for about 57 percent of the budget.

"I do think one thing we ought to look at reaching out to our employees," Mr. Ostergaard said.

Board member Scott Goldman agreed.

"I have no objection to discussing the collective bargaining agreements," he said, noting that he also would like to explore the possibility of not raising taxes, using fund balance money instead. To arrive at the 2012-13 budget, the district tapped $106,000 of the surplus.

Board member Dan Remely suggested looking into an option that was discussed last year: seeing if the teachers' union would agree to cutting two in-service days, which would result in substantial salary savings.

"That's a shared sacrifice without having to renegotiate a contract," he said.

Other board members took a different viewpoint.

"I'm not interested in that," said Mary Birks, pointing out that many teachers are Mt. Lebanon residents and that many other options are available for review.

Lawrence Lebowitz told fellow board members he is not particularly in favor of the idea, but he supports "putting it on the table."

Mr. Steinhauer said the administration continues to ask staff members "to do better with less. We look at the efficiency of our operations."

The district faces several uncertainties regarding the budget, most notably the amount it must contribute to the state's Public School Employees' Retirement System.

The employer contribution rate to the retirement system is scheduled to increase for 2013-14 to 16.93 percent, up from 12.36 percent. In his state budget proposal, Gov. Tom Corbett calls for the rate to rise to 14.68 percent.

"That could mean a savings of about half a million dollars for our school system next year," Mr. Steinhauer said about the difference, although the budget is subject to adoption by the state Legislature and might not reflect the governor's wishes.

If the higher rate holds, the district must devote an amount equivalent to .47 mills toward its pension obligation.

The district's basic education subsidy also is subject to the final version of the state budget. The governor has called for an increase over originally proposed totals, with Mt. Lebanon to receive an extra $190,000 under his scenario.

Other unknowns for the district relate to Allegheny County's 2013 property reassessment. The district is waiting for final numbers on assessed values in the municipality, and decisions on assessment appeals, said Janice Klein, director of business.

The reassessment makes the effects of a tax increase difficult to pinpoint.

"The impact on any individual homeowner might be very different," Ms. Klein said.

Harry Funk, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com

Mt. Lebanon school board members face some tough decisions in the next two months as they prepare numbers of the district's 2013-14 budget.

At Monday's board discussion meeting, administrators presented several scenarios illustrating potential amounts for a property tax increase and the accompanying spending cuts needed to balance the budget.

For example, if taxes were not raised, the budget would be about $1.8 million "out of balance," according to superintendent Timothy Steinhauer, meaning the district would have to compensate by reducing expenditures and/or tapping into the district's fund balance.

At the other end of the spectrum, with a .89-mill increase, the highest taxes can rise without the issue going to referendum, "the budget can be balanced without further reductions," he said.

Raising taxes by .55 mills, the district's average increase over the past seven years, would require an estimated $870,000 to make up the difference. That figure would increase to roughly $1.4 million if taxes went up by .25 mills, as proposed as a starting point by board member Dale Ostergaard.

Mr. Ostergaard spoke about a "shared sacrifice concept" in balancing the budget and contended that taxpayers have taken on the brunt of sacrifice. Expenditures for teachers account for about 57 percent of the budget.

"I do think one thing we ought to look at is reaching out to our employees," Mr. Ostergaard said.

Board member Scott Goldman agreed.

"I have no objection to discussing the collective bargaining agreements," he said, noting that he also would like to explore the possibility of not raising taxes, using fund balance money instead. To arrive at the 2012-13 budget, the district tapped $106,000 of the surplus.

Board member Dan Remely suggested looking into an option that was discussed last year: seeing if the teachers' union would agree to cutting two in-service days, which would result in substantial salary savings.

"That's a shared sacrifice without having to renegotiate a contract," he said.

Other board members took a different viewpoint.

"I'm not interested in that," said Mary Birks, pointing out that many teachers are Mt. Lebanon residents and that many other options are available for review.

Lawrence Lebowitz told fellow board members he is not particularly in favor of the idea, but he supports "putting it on the table."

Mr. Steinhauer said the administration continues to ask staff members "to do better with less. We look at the efficiency of our operations."

The district faces several uncertainties regarding the budget, most notably the amount it must contribute to the state's Public School Employees' Retirement System.

The employer contribution rate to the retirement system is scheduled to increase for 2013-14 to 16.93 percent, up from 12.36 percent. In his state budget proposal, Gov. Tom Corbett calls for the rate to rise to 14.68 percent.

"That could mean a savings of about half a million dollars for our school system next year," Mr. Steinhauer said about the difference, although the budget is subject to adoption by the state Legislature and might not reflect the governor's wishes.

If the higher rate holds, the district must devote an amount equivalent to .47 mills toward its pension obligation.

The district's basic education subsidy also is subject to the final version of the state budget. The governor has called for an increase over originally proposed totals, with Mt. Lebanon to receive an extra $190,000 under his scenario.

Other unknowns for the district relate to Allegheny County's 2013 property reassessment. The district is waiting for final numbers on assessed values in the municipality, and decisions on assessment appeals, said Janice Klein, director of business.

The reassessment makes the effects of a tax increase difficult to pinpoint.

"The impact on any individual homeowner might be very different," Ms. Klein said.

education - neigh_south

Harry Funk, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com


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