In marathon meeting, Riverview cuts art and music positions
Riverview High School junior Meredith Kocur fought back tears as she pleaded with school board members not to cut music and art teacher positions.
More than a dozen students joined her in support during a four-hour school board meeting Monday — the lengthiest meeting some could remember.
By the meeting's conclusion, however, their pleas went unanswered. School directors made cuts to both programs as part of the 2018-19 budget. The board voted 6-3 to adopt the proposed plan.
"This feels like a slap in the face," Kocur said. "I can't contain all the emotions I've had this past month. I'm angry. No, I'm more than angry. I'm furious knowing something as important as the arts will be curtailed. … I know I can speak for all the students when I say that we feel confused and disappointed about all that is going on."
School directors Jon Nehlsen, Freda Aughenbaugh, Alex DiClaudio, Arlene Loeffler, Vice President David DiPietro and President Maureen McClure voted in favor of the proposed budget. Ernest Tillman, Jeanine Hurt-Robinson and Lisa Ashbaugh dissented.
Board minority members said they opposed the plan because there's no tax hike and it does not meet strategic plan goals.
The district raised taxes for the 2017-18 school year from 22.4462 mills to its current rate of 23.0073 mills. One mill generates approximately $605,000 in revenue for the district.
The district passed a resolution in January not to raise taxes above the Act 1 index — a state formula for capping taxes.
Tillman said a tax increase to the index would net approximately $325,000 for the district.
"It will go a long way," Tillman said. "We're punishing our young people and we're rewarding the older folks."
DiClaudio said cuts would have to be made even if the district were to raise taxes.
"I think we're in a position where we have to tighten our belts a little bit," he said.
The district plans to not replace a retiring elementary teacher and a nurse, reduce physical education and music classes and eliminate a position for each. The new plan will also move a reading specialist back to a classroom and have a guidance counselor at Verner Elementary in Verona share time at Riverview High School in Oakmont among other staffing changes.
The moves are designed to stave off a tax increase for the second straight year and close an estimated $830,000 shortfall.
The proposed final budget as amended this month lists revenues at $23,077,403 and expenses at $23,078,197, a $794 shortfall.
The meeting began around 7:10 p.m. as people lined up from a table at the auditorium stage to outside the entrance doors to sign up to speak. The board did not take action on agenda items until three hours later. They adjourned into a work session around 11:45 p.m.
"This was the biggest within the two years that I've been on the board," Hurt-Robinson said. "This was the largest crowd. I was very encouraged to see so many people come out."
Riverview Educational Foundation President Regina Vitti-Lyons said the board needs to look at central office administration first and education last when it comes to budget cuts. Getting rid of nurses and guidance counselors causes safety concerns, she said.
"I find it unconscionable that you're asking these music teachers to do more and these art teachers to do more to keep all of these programs, and we're not asking our administration to do more," she said. "There's not one administrator cut in this budget.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.