Penn Hills school board seeks to plug $4 million deficit
Penn Hills school board members are trying to close a nearly $4.44 million deficit in the proposed budget for the 2018-19 school year.
State law mandates that final budgets be balanced .
District officials plan to combat the deficit by selling the former Forbes Elementary building for $2.5 million, accepting more retirements and resignations, possibly saving $1 million should employees agree to a pay freeze and by asking the state Department of Education for financial assistance.
Penn Hills received a $2 million grant from the department in December. No buyer for Forbes has been mentioned.
The board voted 7-2 at a special meeting May 29 to adopt the proposed 2018-19 spending plan, which contains a real estate tax increase and calls for 12 teacher furloughs.
The state school code requires a school district budget to be on display for 30 days prior to final adoption, which means board members cannot approve the spending plan at their regular meeting June 25. A special meeting to pass the budget is scheduled for 11 a.m. June 30 at Linton Middle School.
District documents estimate next school year's revenue at $89.26 million and expenses at $93.7 million.
Revenue includes $3 million from the sale of the former Washington Elementary School building to the Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship, which was approved May 22 by the school board.
The administration proposed a 1.1076-mill tax hike, which would set the real estate tax rate at 28.6646 mills.
A property owner with a $75,000 home would pay about $83 more, and a home assessed at $100,000 would generate $110 more in taxes next year.
The district raised taxes by 1.5 mills this school year after receiving approval from the state Department of Education to raise millage above the Act 1 index, citing additional expenses for special education and retirement costs. The index is a formula that limits tax increases.
Each mill generates approximately $1.383 million for the district.
The May 29 special meeting was necessary after the board failed to pass the proposed budget at its regular monthly meeting May 22.
Board Vice President George Sens and members Marlon Ferguson, Michael Tauro, Yusef Thompson Sr., Evelyn Herbert, Denise Graham-Shealey and Kristopher Wiegand voted in favor of the preliminary budget.
Board President Erin Vecchio and Catherine Mowry dissented.
“I think it's the realest budget that we've seen in a long time,” Graham-Shealey said.
Wiegand echoed those comments.
“This was not what anybody wanted, but it's the best that we've got,” he said. “Sometimes you've got to play the hand that you have.”
Vecchio was adamant about voting against any district financial matters until the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office completes its investigation into district finances.
District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr.'s office launched its investigation in response to the May 2016 release of an audit by state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, which alleged that mismanagement of funds, bad decisions and lack of oversight put the district more than $170 million in debt.
The debt is largely due to high school and elementary construction projects. Penn Hills also borrowed $18 million in October 2015 to fund day-to-day operations.
“I cannot vote on something that I've stood firm on for two years now,” Vecchio said.
The board approved Donesha Thompson as payroll specialist with a $36,000 salary. She's the district's special education secretary.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @MikeJdiVittorio.