Tube City Almanac

June 14, 2012

MASD Expects Tax Increase for 2012-13 School Year

Category: News || By Jennifer Sopko

McKeesport school directors wound down another school year by warily looking forward to the next, as financial concerns still top their agenda.  

McKeesport Area School District is once again challenged to balance a budget for the upcoming school year in the midst of an unresolved state budget, probable funding cuts, a proposed moratorium on PlanCon reimbursements and upcoming debt payments for the district's ongoing construction projects. 

At its regular meeting on May 23, the school board approved a $59.8 million preliminary budget for the 2012-13 school year by a vote of 6-3.  

"It's been extremely difficult to balance this budget since the governor has cut the state budget in education this year and last year," School Director Tom Maglicco said. 

Even with the cuts already made --- including elimination of 10 positions --- the board plans to not only raise taxes but also use $3.9 million of the district's $5.4 million fund budget to balance the next year's budget.

The preliminary budget includes a 0.44 mill increase for district taxpayers --- the maximum tax increase that the school board can pass under the current index without a state referendum --- bringing the new tax rate to 17.49 mills.

This increase translates into an additional $20 in school taxes per year for the average assessed household, Business Manager David Seropian said.

. . .

"I personally am not in favor of a tax increase, so I won't support that," said School Director Mark Holtzman, who voted against the preliminary budget along with Steven Kondrosky and Christopher Halaszynski.

The tax increase was chiefly spurred by the increase in debt service payments for the expansion of Francis McClure Intermediate and the new school currently being built at the site of the demolished Cornell Intermediate --- not for any operating expenses, Seropian said.

"With building comes finances --- we have to finance what we build," said Board President Patricia Maksin. "It's important that our kids have the facilities that they need that's been put off way too long." 

. . .

The most significant increases in expenditures for the 2012-13 school year are debt service payments (an increase of $1.4 million), charter school tuitions (an increase of $450,455) and retirement contributions (an increase of $941,360).

In addition, the district expects to once again lose over $400,000 in Accountability Block Grants, which were used to support the district's all-day kindergarten and tutoring programs, but a portion of this amount could be restored if approved by the state House of Representatives.

Holtzman suggested that the board look for more ways to reduce spending in the district, namely in administration.  The district hopes to avoid one painful way to cut spending when they revisit the budget next month: staff furloughs.

"We have been making a very conscious effort to try and eliminate through attrition [retirements] to the best of our ability," Superintendent Timothy Gabauer said.

. . .

However, the school board approved the elimination of over 10 professional positions in the district effective at the end of the 2011-12 school year: three elementary teachers, the equivalent of one full-time and one half-time high school math teachers, one high school English teacher, one high school social studies teacher, one high school science teacher, one Title I math teacher, one Title 1 reading teacher and one Special Education Teacher. 

They also eliminated a technology coordinator position.  

The board plans to vote on a final budget in June.  District officials said they are closely watching state budget talks in hopes funding will be restored, and that they continue to seek ways to reduce spending.

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