North Allegheny schools budget maintains programs
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The North Allegheny school board has adopted a 2012-13 budget that maintains all district programs, but administrators warned that, unless some things change at the state level, programs may have to be cut in the future.
"We're all on the Titanic. We can see the glacier in front of us, and there is nothing we can do about it except contacting our Legislature," board member Libby Blackburn said.
The $126.35 million budget approved June 27 raises taxes by 0.663 mills, or $66.30 on each $100,000 of assessed value of a home.
The new millage rate is 20.9230 for property owners in Bradford Woods, Franklin Park, Marshall and McCandless.
A total of 37 positions were eliminated, most through an early retirement incentive. In 2011-12, a total of 55 positions were eliminated. Of the 92 positions that have been eliminated in two years, 45 have come from the professional ranks, including teachers.
Superintendent Raymond Gualtieri said administrators will continue to look at all positions over the summer, and that number could reach 95 fewer employees by the first day of school on Aug. 23.
"Even with the [millage] increase, we are going to see increased class size because of reduction in staff and longer bus runs because of the reduction in staff," he said.
The largest expenditure is salaries and benefits, which totals $95.67 million. Professional and purchased services are budgeted at $14 million; supplies, books, gas and equipment at $4.9 million; and financing and other items at $11.7 million.
"Our salaries next year are down from what they are this current year. We actually reduced our biggest expense going into this next year," board member Tom Schwartzmier said.
Local revenue accounts for the majority of funding at $99.4 million. State funding is $24.3 million, federal funding is $1.7 million and other financing is $730,000.
The budget increased by $6 million from 2011-12, but more than $4 million of that increase is out of the district's control, board member Christopher Jacobs said.
Mike Hopkins, district finance director, said those costs include state mandates that are either unfunded or underfunded, special education and transportation costs, and the rising cost of the state's pension plan.
"We have always paid what we were told to pay for our pension obligations," he said. "The state has not. Every employee of the system had paid what they were told to pay. The state has not."
The district's contribution to the retirement system will be $7.9 million in 2012-13 and is expected to climb to $20 million in 2017-18 unless pension reform is enacted.
Mr. Gualtieri noted that the district in past years has either reduced the tax rate or kept it the same, giving up about $31 million it could have raised by increasing taxes. Some districts have been raising millage all along and putting the extra money into a reserve to pay future pension costs.
"When you look and see that some school districts are not in the dire straits that we are in ... it is because we left that money on the table," he said.
The school board lowered the millage in 2007-08 and 2008-09 and kept it the same in 2009-10, against the recommendations of Mr. Hopkins.
"It has been the practice of this board to not ask taxpayers to pay in advance for something," board President Maureen Grosheider said.
Kelly DiBiasi of Franklin Park, who has three sons in district schools, said parents are concerned about the higher class sizes, calling it "a bad decision academically."
Mrs. DiBiasi said articles she has read call a "high" class size to be 27 or 28 students. Elementary classes are already at that number and will be larger next year.
"This will ultimately reduce our high academic achievement," she said. "The middle-of-the-road kids are the ones that are going to get lost in these large class sizes."
The board June 27 also passed two resolutions, one asking the state Legislature to enact pension reform and the other asking the Legislature to adjust the funding formula for charter schools.
The current formula is based on the cost to educate a student in the school district, not the cost to educate the student in the charter school, which results in overpayments to the charter schools, according to the resolution.
"I think that people don't understand that the state has set a lot of the parameters that we have to work under," Mrs. Blackburn said. "Public education is really endangered in this state at this point."
The budget and the resolutions were approved 7-0, with Linda Bishop and Ralph Pagone absent.
First Published July 6, 2012 12:00 am