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School Board Explores Tax Exception Options

The latest news from the Upper St. Clair School Board.

administrators are urging the school board to approve a preliminary 2012-13 budget at their Dec. 12 meeting so the district can apply for a tax exception. The exception could allow the board to raise taxes by .82 mills.

Pennsylvania law will allow the school board to approve a .33 mills tax increase for the following school year. With that tax increase, the district's projected budget shortfall would be $2.8 million. Without a tax increase, the shortfall would be $3.4 million.

The state allows for districts to apply for tax exceptions to help alleviate costs outside of the districts' control, for example rising pension or special education costs.

According to preliminary numbers, and if the district applies, the state may allow the board to raise taxes by .82 mills. If an .82 mills tax increase would be approved, the budget would still be facing a $1.5 million shortfall.

It appeared on Monday night that the board was leaning towards approving a preliminary budget with a deficit in December and applying for the tax exception. If the state allows the board to raise taxes to up to .82 mills, the board will not be required to do so, but will have the option.

Why does the district have such a large projected budget shortfall? One of the main reasons is the district having to fulfill its PSERS obligations, which is the pension system for school retirees. The PSERS payment the district must pay to the state will increase by 12 percent in the 2012-13 school year. And in the 2015-16 school year, the number is expected to jump by 23 percent. This year, PSERS increased by eight percent, and last year, PSERS increased by less than five percent. The number was smaller when the board approved the middle school renovation projects during the 2008-09 school year.

Speaking of the , the district still needs to finish paying for them. From the 2010-11 to the 2013-14 school years, the board decided to increase taxes by .4 mills each year to pay for the construction. However, Pennsylvania law only allowed the board to raise taxes by .33 mills last year.

Other strategies to get rid of the budget deficit include eliminating and modifying programs and related staff, wage increase considerations, and reducing technology, equipment, and operation and maintenance expenditures.

For example, to balance the 2012-13 budget with a tax increase of .82 mills, the district would need to cut 14 professional positions and six support staff (assuming 10 retirements), change salary increases, and cut $100,000 from the technology and operation and maintenance costs.

While working with the numbers to determine what would create a balanced budget for the 2015-16 school year, nearly 60 staffing cuts may need to be made.

School Director Louis Piconi suggested making the cuts sooner would mean less cuts in the future.

"Our conversation needs to turn, very quickly, to cutting programs," Piconi said. "Clearly, it's the only option we have."

He asked to see the programs and the dollar amounts they cost as soon as possible.

Superintendent Patrick O'Toole told the board that "cutting a program doesn't equal an automatic cut in the budget." He said the students in that program still need a place to go.

The next school board meeting is at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5 in the district's central office.

District to Lease Four More School Buses
After a heated discussion, the school board voted 6-2 to lease four new school buses.

School Board President Harry Kunselman and School Director Louis Mafrice voted against the new buses due to the projected budget shortfall.

"If I had to choose between cutting an education program or a new bus, I'm going to be in favor of keeping the educational program," Kunselman said.

Other board members said they agreed with Dr. John Bornyas' advice that they should lease a few new buses every year to ensure the safety of the students and so they won't have to purchase a bunch of school buses at one time, as they did in May 2011 when they purchased 14.

The school buses cost about $83,000 each.

In addition, the board approved the district to declare five old school buses surplus. They will try to sell the buses.

School Director Barbara Bolas suggested administrators increase the distance around some schools that would require students to walk to school. The last time the rule was updated was in the 1970s.

Contract with Dr. John Bornyas Approved
The school board approved a consulting contract on Monday night for Dr. Bornyas. Dr. Bornyas is retiring on Jan. 4 and Dr. O'Toole said he would like to make sure the district has assess to Dr. Bornyas in 2012.

Dr. O'Toole said they may need Dr. Bornyas for his knowledge with the middle school renovation projects, custodial and bus issues, and collective bargaining with support staff. The contract allows the district to hire Dr. Bornyas for a maximum of 20 days for $40 an hour.

IB Update
Dr. O'Toole presented the board with MYP numbers on Monday night. MYP is the IB program designed for grades five through 10.

In the 2005-06 school year, 22 percent of the students in grades five through 10 were enrolled in the program. In 2011-12, 40 percent of the students in grades five through ten are enrolled. Dr. O'Toole said the data shows growth in the program over the years.

The school board is expected to decide on whether to make in January.

Boyce Middle School Crosswalk Bids
The school board granted approval to request bids for a crosswalk at .

Township engineers and PennDOT are requiring the crosswalk on Boyce Road due to the road's grading. They are not requiring a crosswalk for .

Recognition of Outgoing Board Member
Dr. O'Toole presented Louis Piconi with a plaque recognizing his four years of service to the Upper St. Clair School Board on Monday night.

Piconi chose not to run for re-election and his term ends in December. He will be replaced by , who ran unopposed in November.

Piconi is an graduate and has five children in the school district. His busy family life and traveling work schedule is the reason he decided not to run to be a board member again. However, he told the board he'd be happy to help them if they ever need him.

Retirement
The school board recognized Virginia Gutauskas, a Boyce Middle School teacher aide, for her 11 years of service with the district.

How do you think the school board should balance the budget? Raise taxes? Cut which programs? Tell us in the comments.

William Johns November 30, 2011 at 12:23 PM
Tax increase should ne the last alternative explored. What is the comparison of taxes paid by USC residents vs. other districts? Record of tax increases vs. others? Too many other alternatives to be explored first. Answer to everything in this township seems to be "raise taxes", e.g. the boondoggle Community Center"! That really benefitted property valuse! That's the money that should have been spent on our children's education. What are the programs that can be reviewed? Their cost? What is their measure of past success? Do they conform to the district's "guiding principles"? What functions can be outsourced for less money? What is the average class size relative to the maximum in the collective bargaining agreement? Other districts? Can an entire school be closed if feeder patterns are changed? What are the enrollment projections? What is the contributuion rate paid by district employees towards benefits? On and on! It's time for school districts to join the real world that corporations have been living in for years.
Jay Bahr November 30, 2011 at 01:21 PM
Thank you - well said!!!
USC Lifer November 30, 2011 at 10:20 PM
I agree with the writer, especially about the Community Center. However, the article is a bit misleading. The percentages that the District is required to contribute to PSERS that are quoted are not "increases." They are percentages of the payroll that the District is required to put into the retirement system at the state level. So the payment due in 2012-13 will not increase by 12%, but will be 12% of payroll. That is a HUGE number. By 2015-16, the District contribution is expected to jump to 23% of payroll. The only way to get these numbers changed is to change the legislation that requires these contributions at the state level. Call your representatives, folks! Instead of defined benefit plans, we need to switch the District employees to 401(k) type defined contribution plans.
Larry Gander November 30, 2011 at 10:21 PM
William, I like the last line.......Join the real world. Neither our Country nor our Schools can continue to raise taxes. As the paying public can not continue to do without so that a new building,equipment or program can be purchased. I have no problem paying teachers. But they can participate more in the cost of benefits. Just as most of the rest of us now must do. Remember the Buildings do not educate our children; Teachers educate our children. And why does the Administration and School Board ALWAYS seem so SHOCKED to find that most everything cost more than the estimate. And Pension Plan Payments go UP. When these people are hired and elected they tell us they know how to run a school system AND stay within the ALLOWED BUDGET. WHY DO WE CONTINUE TO BELIEVE THEM? PLEASE, can we try to be smart enough to hire and vote for people who do know how to run a school system. .......Larry Gander
Mike Jones December 01, 2011 at 03:13 AM
Your neighbors to the northwest in South Fayette just got hammered with a 3 mill tax increase this year. So, a .33-.82 tax increase is pennies compared to what we're experiencing. Our school district's tax rate is currently 27.833, so be thankful you're not in South Fayette.

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