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Two School Directors Voice Concerns About Tax Increase

School board members discussed the final proposed budget for the 2012-13 school year on Monday night.

Board members Louis Mafrice and Louis Oliverio said they would not support the .

A 1.375 mills increase is equivalent to an extra $275 in taxes per $200,000 assessed home value.

Mafrice apologized for missing the May vote and said that he was out of the country for work. He said his concern is that adopting a large tax increase this year will create a habit.

Oliverio proposed raising taxes by .79 mills instead of 1.375.

"I'm interested in exploring the lowest amount that five people will support," he said.

Business Director Frosina Cordisco said .79 mills would mean about $1 million less in tax revenue.

Superintendent Patrick O'Toole said to cut $1 million more in the budget would mean not replacing teachers the district was planning on replacing, which would mean larger English classes at , larger math classes at the , one less physics teacher and assistant principal at the high school, among other cuts.

He said the cuts would come on top of cutting 13 teachers, five teacher aides, one and a half secretaries and two administrative positions in the last two years.

"My recommendation is to pass the proposed final budget because I don't want to cut any further at this time," O'Toole said. "Further cuts ... would significantly impact what we do."

On the contrast, school Director Angela Petersen said she would support raising taxes the highest the would allow, which is 1.62 mills.

"I am sorry, I cannot go lower ... I would go higher," Petersen said.

Raising taxes this year would cover the projected deficit for next year.

"I think that's the prudent thing to do," she said. "The protection for next year is well worth it."

School board members all agreed that PSERS (the pension system for school retirees) is a major problem and lawmakers in Harrisburg must do something about it. Petersen said she hopes the tax increase would wake up the public and make them contact their local representatives.

"While a 1.62 (mills tax) increase may or may not wake up residents, it would not necessarily wake up Harrisburg because you're doing what they're not doing themselves (raising taxes)," Mafrice argued.

O'Toole told board members he is not in favor of next year. 

"From a leadership standpoint, to continue the Act 1 exemption next year isn't healthy. Working on the budget for nine months of the year is draining," he said. "It drains the leadership team and shifts their focus to cutbacks and not progress."

Cordisco also revealed to the board Monday night that she recently learned the district would be receiving $10,000 less in federal funding.

How high do you think the school board should raise taxes? Tell us in the comments. (Reminder: Two years ago they adopted a plan to raise taxes .4 mills for four years to pay for the middle school renovations.)

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Lynne June 12, 2012 at 07:54 PM
How about I send USC all my money and they can give me a weekly allowance?
Robert A. Shoaf June 12, 2012 at 08:13 PM
I'm pleased to see at least some fiscal sanity from school board members, but, alas, they are in a distinct minority. Instead we are stuck with those like Angela Peterson, who seems to never have met a tax increase that she didn't embrace. Long entrenched , free spending, public be damned board members like her need to be replaced, but I'm not hopeful. Far too many in USC who blindly accept these continued tax increases, and don't question the school board or administration.
Robert A. Shoaf June 12, 2012 at 08:43 PM
Let me also state that I don't begrudge the wage taxes we pay to the township. Public works, police, fire dept., library, recreation, etc. are all first class, but the continual assaults upon my income from the school board & admin. have become more of a burden as the years pass, and I have been a resident for 26 years in USC. As our Italian friends say, "Basta!"
Oren Spiegler June 12, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Imagine what life could be like in Upper Saint Clair if we were consistently blessed with political leaders in the mold of Governor Tom Corbett, if community leaders sought to address past profligacy by flatly refusing to raise taxes and insisting that the School District live within its means. Instead, we have individuals like Superintendent O'Toole and School Director Angela Petersen arguing to raise our already high taxes to the greatest extent allowed by law. I do not ever expect to understand why those in positions of authority over tens of millions of dollars of our money each year harbor such disdain and contempt for us, why they have such a huge blind spot to the effect their policies have on the many who live here that are not wealthy. This is a community in which political party registration is predominantly Republican. Where are Republican tenets? How could there be any greater level of profligacy and big, expensive government than we have come to know here in liberal Democratic strongholds like the city of Pittsburgh?
Dantheman June 13, 2012 at 05:42 AM
You cannot sustain the current level of education in USC by cutting the number of teachers and growing the class sizes. It's not a philosophical or partisan problem that the school board has been asked to solve. It's not a Republican or Democratic issue. It's a problem of math. Either you raise taxes and find ways to cut expenses unobtrusively, or you don't raise taxes and you eliminate teachers and grow class sizes. I just cannot tolerate turning a local, fiscal issue that directly effects our children into a discussion about Tea Party ideology and liberal big spending. If you value lower taxes over smaller class sizes in our school then say so. That is a legitimate position. But don't turn everything into party politics. This is local government. This is cut-and-dry. This is about providing an education for our kids. This is something that we should be able to discuss in the most civil, and straightforward of terms. Let's figure out how to best educate our children and leave the Republican tenets and Democratic tenets in Harrisburg and Washington.
Oren Spiegler June 13, 2012 at 09:30 AM
Thank you, Dantheman, for your reply. The Board needs to do whatever is necessary to live within the current budget. If that means that the District can no longer afford the luxury of smaller class sizes, then so be it. The District must make tough decisions like any household with a spending problem would be required to. It is legitimate to point out that those on the Board who consistently vote for tax increases yet fancy themselves Republicans, are fakers. The tenets of the Republican Party are limited government and restraint of taxation, attributes which apply to few elected officials in this community. I agree with you that the matter is something which we should be able to discuss in civil, straightforward terms. I have tried to do that with the School Board members with whom I disagree, but with the exception of just a few, those who impose ruinous rates of taxation are too cowardly to engage me.
William Johns June 13, 2012 at 12:01 PM
It seems to me that there is at least a small grass roots movement to begin to do the right things in the community, albeit probably not so much to actually effect change yet. But you have to start somewhere. This includes the school district as well as the township. The residents of USC have been an easy mark, but it is time to face the reality of the situation. Tax increases are supported by the officials we have elected because it is the easiest thing to do and we are powerless to stop them except at the polls. For the record, everything I have read indicates that class size does not affect achievement outcome.... good teachers do. I have read that the Superintendent doesn't want educators to waste their time on financial matters, therefore he is in favor of the highest tax increase possible. Guess what.... financial management is PART OF HIS JOB!
William Johns June 13, 2012 at 12:15 PM
While the Governor has been lambasted for pulling the plug on education, he has at least recognized that educators have been irresponsible in their handling of fiscal matters. And, while I have concerns with many of his ideas, I also recognize he is only playing the hand he was dealt. In fact, the dealer was two terms of Rendell who left the state in financial shambles. Education makes up nearly 40% of the state's budget. It is naive to think that fixing the mess wouldn't impact it in some way. (The magnitude it was affected is arguable.) I believe that any increase of taxes is unconscionable. It is time to start making responsible financial decisions in this township. I have lived here for 26 years and do not remember any time that there wasn't a major renovation occurring at one of our schools. Our enrollment has to be relatively stable.... there is virtually no room left for expansion! There is much more to be said, but I'll stop here. Suffice it to say that the school district and the township both need to wake up and start to exercise fiscal restraint and financial management. (Did I mention that the road I live on has been repaved every 2-3 years since I have been here whether there was a crack in it or not! And don't get me started on the Community Center which increased my taxes by about $1,000 a year and I would still have to pay another $1,000 annually if I wanted to use it. (How much do non-residents pay!?! Not $2,000!)
Jay Bahr June 13, 2012 at 01:06 PM
My hat goes off to Louis Oliverio – apparently the only principled member of the Upper St. Clair School Board. As for Peterson, she apparently wishes to raise my school taxes in order to get me mad at Harrisburg? How can someone with that kind of misguided logic ever get on the School Board in the first place? Corbett is trying to live within the state’s means – how did that ever become a bad thing? I looked on line and Ms. Peterson is a registered Republican. Let’s face it, a good majority in this community pull the “Republican Lever” in the polling booth without really looking at candidate’s voting record. I have a feeling that she is a Republican only as a matter of convenience which is unbelievably dishonest. Again – how can someone like this ever get on the school board in the first place?
Jim June 13, 2012 at 01:33 PM
This isn't rocket science folks! We had a conservative board and they were run out of town over IB. The chickens are coming home to roost and tax payers in USC have nobody to blame but themselves. Pederson voting to raise taxes to the max the make me angry with state government shows you just out of touch she is. I don't need Angela Pederson telling me who I should and shouldn't be mad at, much less using my hard earned money to further he political agenda. She should resign immediately.
Jay Bahr June 13, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Thank you for explaining that to me. I confess that 3 or 4 years ago, I did not pay attention to our local politics thinking that problems existed only on a State and National level, not in my back yard. I will not let that happen this time around. How can I volunteer or what organization can I send a check to in order to get the word out as to what is going on? I am the first to admit that I was not properly informed – I refuse to let that happen again. Ms. Peterson is an example of someone who needs to be shown the exit door.
Robert A. Shoaf June 13, 2012 at 02:41 PM
A relatively quick perusal of the USC School District listing on Wikipedia proved enlightening, at least to me. And, yes, I know that Wiki is not the last word on correct information. According to the article, the USC school district in 2007-8 employed 286 teachers, for 4,103 students. Simple division results in 14.34 students per teacher; not very high, IMHO. Regarding the budget, in 2009, the district reported over 330 teachers & administrators, with an average salary of $66,733, with the highest at $147,050. Also mentioned was that in 2007, adjusted for COLA, Penna, ranked fourth in the USA for teacher compensation .( Thanks to rubber stamps like the USC School Board!) Administrative costs per pupil in 2008 was $707.46, ranking 307th out of 501 public school districts in Penna, the lowest at $398 per pupil. There is also quite a bit more regarding the budget & funding in this article, which I would encourage folks to read. Unfortunately, board members who have consistently ignored fiscal responsibilty, like Peterson and Bolas, are on the board until 2015. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here!
William Johns June 14, 2012 at 01:50 PM
Great information. While those you mention don't stand for re-election until 2015, there are 4 members whose term is up in 2013 and Mr. Oliverio, who appears to champion fiscal responsibility, will be there till 2015 as well. 5 members constitute a majority I believe, so there still may be hope.
William Johns June 14, 2012 at 01:54 PM
Here is a good article re: school fiscal problems. While it highlights Philadelphia and Reading School Districts, it would be interesting to see the same stats here. http://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/policyblog/detail/who-is-to-blame-for-schools-fiscal-woes
Glenn Robinson June 15, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Typically, wasteful spending in school systems can be found in administrative overhead and non-classroom related expenses. I would recommend a value analysis of all USC programs and some process improvement efforts on the adminside. As far as teach pay goes, we need to pay a bit more to attract the best teacher BUT we have to make sure we are getting and keeping only the best.
Robert A. Shoaf June 15, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Again, according to Wikipedia, for 2008, USC School District spending per student was $13,248, whereas our southern neighbors in Peters Twp. spent $9,999 per pupil, in another highly rated school district. I could not locate a similiar figure for Mt. Lebanon; only that the MTL SD Wikipedia entry says they "report" $7669 per pupil, which sounds low to me. That per pupil cost in USC is thus over $3,000 higher than Peters Twp., or roughly 32%. Should there be that much dichotomy between, and, if so, for what reasons?Also, I don't buy that " we need to pay a bit more" to attract the "best" teachers. How does one detemine who are the "best " teachers? My understanding is that teachers unions have fought against merit based pay, so who decides who is "best"? Then again, given the administration's and school board's track records of spending money recklessly, if it costs more , it just HAS to be better!
Glenn Robinson June 15, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Unfortunately, there is not standard for reporting the cost per student. Research by the CATO Institute finds that many public school systems cook the numbers by not including teacher pensions, facility expenses, debt service, etc. So it is dangerous to compare the numbers published by the school system. In fact, using the numbers published by the USC school board in their last annual report, I calculate $14,195 per student not the $12,790 they reported. Who knows what the true numbers are? I am not advocating for the current compensation the teachers get. I do not know how it compares regionally or nationally. So I cannot speak to that. I am saying that if you want higher quality, you generally have to pay more or offer other added value. Also from research comparing public to private schools the in-classroom expenses are usually pretty close. Where the public schools spend a whole lot more is on the administrative side. That is where I propose to look for the most savings. I have no doubt the budget can be trimmed dramatically without sacrificing quality. We need board members with experience in business and understand return on investment analysis.

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