No insight on tax hike in public schools budget

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The newly released 393-page preliminary budget for Pittsburgh Public Schools has lots of data but no forecast for what the property tax rate will be in 2014.

School Superintendent Linda Lane released the budget book Wednesday without a recommendation on whether taxes should be increased.

Instead, she is looking for board input on the $529.14 million preliminary budget, which is 1.4 percent or about $7.3 million more than the 2013 adopted budget of $521.8 million.

The budget book is based on tax rates remaining the same, including the property tax rate staying at 9.65 mills. One mill of tax amounts to $1 on each $1,000 of assessed property values.

State law limits any property tax increase to what is known as the Act 1 index, which in the case of Pittsburgh is 1.7 percent. That would bring millage to 9.81 mills and generate about $2.6 million.

To go any higher, the district would need a voter referendum. The board already ruled that out, and it is too late to reconsider.

Instead of the superintendent making a recommendation, Ronald Joseph, chief operations officer, Tuesday described two scenarios to the board, both of which result in substantial deficits.

If property tax remains the same, the expected deficit in 2014 would be $18.27 million. If it goes up, the deficit would be $15.67 million. Either way, the district expects to run out of money in 2016 if it follows the status quo.

The district must issue the proposed final budget on or before Nov. 28.

There will be a special public hearing on the budget at noon Dec. 2. The public also can comment at regular public hearings at 6 p.m. Nov. 25 and Dec. 16. The vote is expected Dec. 18.

Even after the budget is approved, more changes are likely. The district is in the midst of an envisioning process aimed at addressing academic and financial problems.

Ms. Lane is expected to release the envisioning recommendations next month. The board will not have time to consider all of them before the budget is approved, so budget adjustments likely will continue into 2014.

In addition to including the preliminary budget numbers, the budget book also has a wide range of information about the district.

Included in the budget book are:

• Total number of positions in the district has fallen from 4,639 in 2009 to 3,730 in 2013, a decrease of 909 positions.

• Enrollment PreK-12 is 25,906, including 24,525 in K-12 at 54 schools in fall 2013. Cost per pupil in 2011-12 was $21,072.27.

• Racial makeup of K-12 enrollment is 53.76 percent African-American and 46.24 percent other races.

• Thirty charter schools this fall enrolled 3,551 district residents. Charter school costs make up 10.3 percent of the preliminary budget.

• The average age of district buildings is 75 years.

• About 4,600 students have received more than $40 million in post-secondary scholarships from the Pittsburgh Promise.

• All 10 articles of a student bill of rights proposed by the TeenBloc of A+ Schools, an education advocacy group, are listed, with a comment that the district is reviewing them.

• The superintendent’s four performance goals call for her to work to accelerate student achievement, eliminate racial disparities, make the district a district of first choice, and develop a strong organizational culture that is student-focused.

The preliminary budget can be found at www.pps.k12.pa.us.


Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.

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