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USC School District Granted Tax Exemptions

The state will allow the board to raise taxes by $325 per $200,000 of assessed value if they vote to do so in June.

Superintendent Patrick O'Toole told the Board on Monday night that the Pennsylvania Department of Education approved the tax exemptions the district applied for with two minor exceptions.

In the letter the district received on Friday, the department said that the maximum amount of tax money the district can receive with the exemptions is about $2.735 million. For a homeowner of a $200,000 house, the tax increase would be equivalent to about $325.

The two slight dollar amounts the department did not approve for the district came in the pension and debt categories.

The board voted for the district to apply for the special exemptions from the state to raise property taxes beyond the Act 1 limit without having to get the tax increase approved through a voter referendum .

However, O'Toole and business Manager Frosina Cordisco said the referendum exemption from the state does not mean the board will have to raise taxes. The exemption only gives the board additional taxing options when they pass a budget in June.

The exemptions did not come as a surprise.

"When a school district applies for an Act 1 exception, as long as it meets the requirements of the law, the exception will be granted," the Department of Education's Press Secretary Timothy Eller told Upper St. Clair Patch .

District administrators are currently searching for ways to cut the projected 2012-13 budget shortfall with or without tax increases.

With the 14 retiring teachers at the end of the school year, if the board approved a .41 mill tax increase (the Act 1 limit), cut 10 professional staff members and six support staff members, the district would still be facing a $1.4 million dollar deficit, according to an example provided by Cordisco.

Therefore, administrators are researching possible programs and teachers to cut to try to balance the budget.

At the elementary level, they are looking at possibly eliminating classroom teachers and increasing class sizes, eliminating or reducing resource and support teachers, eliminating Spanish, physical education, art, music and/or library teachers, or a combination of all of the options.

At the middle school level, they are looking at eliminating or reducing resource and support teachers, eliminating or reducing expressive arts, eliminating or reducing partner teams, or a combination of all the options.

And at the high school level, the administrators are examining reducing classroom teachers and increasing class sizes, eliminating or reducing elective teachers, eliminating or reducing resource and support teachers, eliminating or reducing AP, IB and vocational classes, or a combination of all the options.

The PTA has organized for taxpayers and parents about the school budget at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 14 in the auditorium.

What are your thoughts on the tax exemptions granted by the state? What are your thoughts on cutting programs and teachers to balance the budget? Tell us in the comments.

Jay Bahr March 13, 2012 at 12:14 PM
I enjoy living in USC, but the taxes are getting out of hand. Between the increase in millage and the new assessment, I can't afford to be a "lifer" in the community and will be leaving in the next few years. What a shame. The IB program is a great example of spending an extra $300k + per year. We have a great school district as it is but that is not enough for some. To please a minority we have to increase class sizes for the majority rather than cut the program. It is tragic.
Alicia Hawkins March 13, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Really, how did you get that? $300K is a small amount of money and would not remotely cover the current issues and doesn't require larger classes. There are also about 1300 children that are in an IB program or take IB courses. Actually, for a few years the IB teams at the middle schools were substantially larger than the non-IB teams. Also, many other student supports are provided through IB, so eliminating IB doesn't automatically open up the same amount of money. I would like to see the school district focus on promoting the EITC for companies interested in supporting IB, e.g., Bayer. Also, it would be great is the school district could figure out a way that parents could contribute to support IB. However, I think it is limited thinking to focus only on IB. That's one truly tiny part of the budget. All programs should be reviewed for efficiency and cost. For instance, I'd like to hear more about a $1,000,000+ for student activities. The year that the football team one the state finals, it cost the district almost $750,000. I am not saying eliminate football, there are 120+ boys that benefit from the program and it's high quality. It is hard for me to believe it can't operate somewhat more efficiently. (Last year total revenue for all sports for the district was $18,000.) I agree taxes are an issue. I am only offering everything should be examined in order to confirm the district is operating in the most efficient manner possible.
Steph Harris March 13, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Well said, Alicia! Thanks for sticking with the facts and true dollar amounts.
Mary Repischak March 13, 2012 at 04:01 PM
What does the 18,000 figure include? Pay to play and ticket sales? That sounds low. Where can we see all of the figures from the budget?
Crew Dad March 13, 2012 at 04:03 PM
That is an interesting fact about the football team! This past weekend the USC Crew Team won 15 medals in an indoor event competing against some of the same schools the football team plays. This USC TEAM does all this and more with little help from the school budget and a lot of help from parents. Maybe it's time the football team becomes a "Club" team!
Alicia Hawkins March 13, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Mary, that was from last years budget (I don't know whether its still available online but it was reported out at a school board meeting last school year). Therefore, it did not include any pay to play funds. My understanding is that it included ticket sales for all high school sports and athletic passes. I agree it is suprising low, that's why I remember it and why I think it is important to deal in facts and not suppositions. BTW - we are big believers in the value of middle school and high school sports, I am just offering it is short sighted to focus on one program (whatever that program is) and not take a hard look at absolutely everything and whether there is a more efficient way to provide a service. Again, I think we can have earnest discussions and disagreements and discuss hard choices and walk away in a cordial manner. I sincerely believe the us. v. them rhetoric (on whatever the topic) is counter-productive and places people in win v. losing mode, versus working together. I have never seen acrimony cause a better result.
robert redinger jr March 13, 2012 at 04:49 PM
This school district is out of control! Too much spending!
Maureen March 13, 2012 at 08:04 PM
How much did the rape case settlement affect district finances in the last year and in future year's budgets? The bungling of this case by district administrators received little attention but cost our district a million dollars to settle according to reports I have heard. How much other litigation exists that USC residents will end up paying for in increased taxes? We need full disclosure on these matters.
PK3 March 13, 2012 at 09:41 PM
AH, what's the operational cost to run streams? This cost is not even figured in the total cost for IB. Remember Peanuts made the elephant.
Mark Trombetta March 13, 2012 at 11:46 PM
Well Alicia and Stephanie, the 300,000 dollar number came from the Superintendent in a public meeting. When your cronies sued us, you thought it was 45,000 dollars (some of which your supporters took from their children's piggy banks), which we told you was incorrect. Finally we have a Superintendent and a Finance Director who tell the truth. Let's divide it accordingly: Say for the purposes of fun 800 students in IB and do the division. Pay 375.00 per student and call it even. This is no different from Sports fees.
Tom Cosentino USC March 14, 2012 at 02:20 AM
This township is run by big spenders. I can show you litigation costs spent on zoning cases that woul curl your toes chuck McCullough was our solicitor. Need I say more.
USC Resident March 14, 2012 at 02:25 AM
1. The number of students is higher than 800, so let's divide the amount by the actual number of students - either way, it's a good investment. The Diploma candidates, routinely receive very generous scholarship packages - at least two this year full rides. 2. Pay for play isn't in effect, but when it goes into effect, then pay for academics? Sure, why not?
USC parent March 14, 2012 at 03:27 AM
Not to mention that in 2006 (the year MT is still stuck in, apparently) $45,000 was in fact the amount the district paid in total fees for all three programs and IB coordinator stipend at the time. The fees have increased since then but the number of participating students has increased as well, quite substantially, in fact. The $300,000 figures also includes "teacher cost", transportation cost and training fees, which went up since there are a lot more IB classes now due to the growing demand. In any case, as others pointed out, it's money well spent and peanuts compared to other expenses of the district.
Alicia Hawkins March 14, 2012 at 10:23 AM
Good morning! I hope you had a chance to enjoy the glorious day outside yesterday. The operation costs of running Streams is identical to Eisenhower and Baker, they are all subject to the same collective bargaining and administrative agreements, aramark contract, copier lease, etc. They are all operated at the same cost by USC school district. There is no unique cost for the operations of Streams. If you have access to an accountant, they can easily explain it to you. Have a great day! Q: How can you tell if an elephant is under your bed? A: The ceiling is very close!
Mark Trombetta March 14, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Sorry, USC Parent. "Pay to play" has been in effect for sports since September. Your facts are again wrong. Also wrong is the "fact" that the cost was only 45,000 dollars for IB in 2006. That was the estinmate given by the wackos from WAVES that divided the Community with their lies and fiction masquerading as a lawsuit formulated by three "Lawyers" who fabricated a bunch of nonsense filled lies and filed it in court costing the District 350,000 - 500,000 dollars. The Board estimate was 200,000 dollars and the District estimate was close to that number as well. Fees are not the only costs. The Commonwealth notes that the cost of a class of students averages 200,000 dollars. Remember that some of the classes for IB had only 4-5 students in them. Since IB duplicates what we have, it is non-essential. Pay for it.
USC parent March 14, 2012 at 02:14 PM
My facts are not wrong, MT, but your "facts" certainly are. The board's "estimate" in 2006 was pulled out of the thin air (or rather taken from another anti-IB website) by you and your cronies. Even in the IB review report, which came out in 2008, the district numbers were far less than your fictitious $200,000 estimate. And you know very well that the only reason your very bad behavior cost the district money is because you chose to hire attorneys that were not covered by the district's insurance and did not even specialize in school-related stuff. Also, as a former board member, you should know that it is illegal in PA to require parents pay for an academic program outside the regular school taxes. We are paying for it - through taxes. Each of us ends up paying for some things we do not care for: you don't like the IB program, while I don't care for football and golf teams, which have higher per student cost. But that's the way it works. My taxes also support the new recreation center I never use and never approved of - but other people use it, while we all benefit from the other things the taxes pay for, like clean roads in winter and working traffic lights.
Jay Bahr March 15, 2012 at 12:49 PM
That is the RUB – if the operational costs for all the elementary schools are identical - why are we spending an extra $300k+ for Streams. It is IB! Charge the parents who want their kids enrolled in the program pay their own freight! I don’t want to pay for it. What’s your point – a kid who graduates from USC can’t get into college without IB or is not considered a desirable college candidate? Now you are grabbing at straws! I am not saying IB is the only cost to get rid of. I am saying it should easily be the FIRST!!
Alicia Hawkins March 15, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Jay, That's not an accurate number. The cost of IB at Streams is about $11,000. It has been explained in detail at school board meetings. The issue re charging for IB is a state law prohibiting charging for curriculum. It is my hope that the school district finds a way to charge or solicit funds from parents for IB. I think that is fair and I know numerous parents who would be happy to pay for IB. I am presuming that you were not able to attend the open mic last night it was truly terrific. The administrators did a great job presenting the budget and an open discussion between the adminsitrators and audience took place for over an hour.
Alicia Hawkins March 15, 2012 at 01:26 PM
I know Mary was at the open mic last night but for anyone who wasn't, the adminsitrators discussed pay for play and stated that it has been tremendously successful. They stated that there has been approximately $60K collected to date with no sign that it has affected the number of kids participating in sports. They also mentioned that as part of the budget process they are looking at expanding pay to play to other activities.
Jay Bahr March 15, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Here is an interesting idea for a question that I would like the Patch to ask. If part of the formula for increases in our tax assessments are based upon real estate transactions – please ask the same question (did your assessments go up and by what percentage?) but do it by sections within the district divided by elementary school. I’d bet Eisenhower for example had more increases over 21% than Streams – and if so, IB and bussing kids around were 90% of the reason the Streams community was not as desirable. Becky & Patch – will you post a question this way???
Jay Bahr March 15, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Let’s take money out of the equation for a second because as we know, USC residents all have money trees in their back yards. Let’s pretend that cost was a non-issue and IB was 100% free to the district. Would one IB supporter please tell me what the problem is with the rest of the curriculum our students are learning and why IB is so important or so much better? There are parents, students and school districts across our city, state and country who would kill to have a program as good as what the IB folks seem to think is inferior for their kids. I honestly, sincerely, respectfully do not get it and no one can explain to me why we have to carve out a separate curriculum within one of the best regular curriculums in the state of PA. If the regular curriculum is inferior, then the whole district should move to IB. If it is not inferior – just “different” than “different” needs to be explained because we have created a private curriculum within a public school system and that does not make sense to the majority of USC residents.

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