Tube City Almanac

May 27, 2011

School Board OK's $57.5M Budget; Final Vote in June

Category: News || By Jennifer Sopko

By Jennifer Sopko
Special to Tube City Almanac

Nearly 50 people could be laid off and taxes are expected to increase slightly, but no programs are scheduled for cuts next year in McKeesport Area School District.

That's according to a $57.5 million preliminary budget approved Wednesday night by school directors. The layoffs are about half of the number of positions originally threatened.

MASD Superintendent Tim Gabauer praised the district's teamwork in the face of drastic education funding cuts in Governor Tom Corbett's proposed state budget, and what he called "unjust and unwarranted attacks" on public education across the country.

"McKeesport has always been what I consider a very resilient community," he said. "The people who work in this district regardless of the position that they are in are extremely passionate and will stop at nothing to do what's best for the children in our district."

"I look at the McKeesport Area School District as a powerful example of what it takes and I'm very proud of be a part of the team here," Gabauer said.

. . .

Over the past few months, the school board has struggled to make up for a $4.4 million loss in state education funding in the budget.

Under the proposed 2011-12 spending plan, which passed unanimously, property tax millage would increase from 16.71 to 17.05 mills, or about one-third mill. District officials said that equals approximately $10 dollars a year per taxpayer.

Board member Patricia Maksin said the tax increase would generate almost $250,000 for the district and is solely dedicated to the $65 million cost of building two new energy-efficient schools and the expansion of Francis McClure Intermediate School in White Oak.

The preliminary budget, which must be ratified next month, also draws almost $4.2 million from the district's reserve fund. Board members say they hope to reduce that amount in the final budget.

. . .

The tax increase is a point of contention in the budget. Board Member Mark Holtzman said that while he would vote to approve the preliminary budget in the interest of time constraints, he would not vote for any tax increase in June.

"I'm a thousand percent behind building the schools," Holtzman said. "I just believe that we can look at some other areas before we raise taxes in this district," he said.

Business Manager David Seropian estimated that the district saved $150,000 to $175,000 this past year in utility costs with the demolition of Cornell Middle School. He added that the district expects to save approximately $700,000 with the new green schools.

"For as much as I hate to raise taxes --- I'm a taxpayer here too --- we have to do this," Maksin said. "Our kids are too important."

The board will maintain the all-day kindergarten program using federal Title I funds, instead of an Accountability Block Grant, Seropian said.

. . .

Although there have been reports that the state may restore approximately $1 million in basic education funding and $400,000 in Accountability Block Grant funding to MASD, he said the district can't assume that, because it won't know until the final state budget is passed.

"The challenge with everything that we've done over the last couple of months is trying to keep the integrity of everything such as the arts and everything else we have in the district intact," Gabauer said. "We believe we've been able to achieve that.

"We can assure you that we are going to continue to provide a comprehensive and exemplary educational experience," he said.

. . .

However, the preliminary budget includes elimination of 46 positions in the district, down from 90 layoffs that were originally considered. The eliminated positions include 31 teachers or other professional positions.

Gabauer said the move would save the district approximately $500,000.

The superintendent said the board was able to decrease the number of cuts thanks to an early retirement incentive approved at the May 18 agenda meeting, as well as a wage freeze that all teachers and administration agreed to in a contract extension for next year.

"That's going to be a tremendous help for us as far as education in the district," said School Board President Wayne Washowich, who thanked teachers and administrators for working together on the contract extension.

. . .

Even so, Gabauer cautioned that additional layoffs were still possible. While he could not provide an exact number, he was hopeful that the early retirement package and approved staff eliminations would also decrease the number of potential furloughs.

The board plans to take action on the final budget at their next regular meeting on June 22.

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Though I do expect that the administrators will stream line as much as possible, I don’t mind a small tax increase….or even a larger one….when it is our kids’ education we are talking about.

In fact, how’s this for a taxation idea: Instead of us paying so much to federal taxes and so little to state and local, why not flip it… the larger share to city and school taxes and then state….then the smaller amount to federal. Eliminate the “Freebies” and grants etc that we have come to expect and depend on from the federal government. It would be a lot easier to see where our money is going.
Shadango - May 31, 2011

- July 16, 2014

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