Woodland Hills' revised budget plan holds line on taxes, retains 6 jobs slated to be cut

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Woodland Hills school board voted 6-1 Wednesday evening to approve a revised budget proposal for the 2014-15 school year that avoids a real estate tax increase and retains six positions in the district’s pre-kindergarten program that had been targeted for elimination in an earlier proposal.

The vote came during a special legislative board meeting. Board member Colleen Filiak dissented.

District superintendent Alan Johnson said he believes the budget is “approvable,” but said “the jury is still out” on a millage increase for property owners in the district.

This is the third version of the proposed budget the board has seen in the past month. The second version failed in a 3-4 vote at last week’s board meeting. Several board members cited issues with cutting the six pre-kindergarten positions – two teachers and four aides – as well as a proposed 2.8 percent real estate tax increase to 23.02 mills.

“We are at the point where I don’t know if there are enough reductions that we can take in the budget to get us to the point where we don’t have to ask for a millage increase,” the superintendent said before Wednesday’s meeting. “But, it was the board’s desire to not have it included.”

The district is required to put a proposed final budget on public display for 30 days before approving a final budget by the state-mandated June 30 deadline.

Major increased expenses for next school year include contractual wage increases, and increased health care and pension costs for employees.

The 2.8 percent tax increase, interim business manager Pete Camarda said, would bring in an additional $1 million to the district’s year end fund balance, and is a crucial decision for the board.

"For the future financial stability of the Woodland Hills School District, the board needs to start being like others in Western Pennsylvania and take advantage of the annual millage index," Mr. Camarda said. "The idea needs more board member and community input."

The district is still looking to cut six K-8 teacher positions and seven from Woodland Hills High School, saving the district approximately $850,000.

Board member and district parent Tara Reis said she hopes the district will find a way to save teaching positions before the final budget is approved.

"We have a lot more work to do in terms of what I'd like to see," Ms. Reis said. "I'd like to see us maintain the number of teachers we have, and even add on pre-kindergarten teachers and classes. But we're just getting started."

Clarece Polke: cpolke@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1889 or on Twitter @clarepolke.

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