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Valley News Dispatch

Proposed Allegheny Valley tax hike no sure thing

| Tuesday, May 15, 2018, 3:27 p.m.
Acmetonia Primary School in the Allegheny Valley School District on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Acmetonia Primary School in the Allegheny Valley School District on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017.

A 2.39 percent tax increase is in the Allegheny Valley School District's 2018-19 proposed budget, but whether it stays there is anybody's guess.

The suggested 0.488-mill tax increase, aimed at helping to offset a projected $510,000 deficit, made several members of the board balk at approving the proposed $23.1 million budget.

Eventually, the board voted 8-0, with Elizabeth Moretti absent, to approve it. That was after repeated assurances to reticent board members that the process is fluid at this point and the budget can change before the board passes a final version by the June 30 deadline.

The board also agreed to hold a public budget work session at 7 p.m. Monday in the high school to hash out options.

Business manager Hamsini Raj­gopal said the proposed tax hike is just short of the 2.4 percent the district is permitted by the state-formulated tax index. She estimates it would bring in an additional $320,000 in revenue.

Board member Joelle McFarland said she was surprised by the proposed increase because it was barely discussed when the board met last week and now it is part of the preliminary spending plan.

She and fellow school director James Gaschler suggested the board look more closely at possible cuts, including staff reductions, as an alternative.

Superintendent Patrick Graczyk said last week that the biggest expenses are salaries, pension costs, technology, special education and safety measures.

He said the option to reduce staff positions exists because of possible duplication with the planned shift of elementary students from Colfax Primary Center to Acmetonia.

Graczyk said the administration has identified four positions that could be eliminated at a savings of about $300,000. District officials would not say what positions might be on the chopping block.

“We get our biggest bang for the buck through reduction in (labor) force, but then we don't want to see anyone lose their job,” board member Stephen Puskar said.

Board member Larry Pollick said, “When we talk about furloughs, you do that because it's necessary.”

“We want to do not only the right thing for our students, but for our residents as well,” Pollick added. “We're saying we have a financial adjustment to make and we'll make it. I think the board will do the right thing.”

As a way to avoid staff furloughs, the board approved Monday an early retirement incentive agreement for the teaching staff, hoping to make retirement attractive sooner rather than later for about 12 older staff members.

Graczyk said he and Rajgopal worked together to craft a budget that they thought was in line with the board's priorities.

“We're open to making this reflect what the board wants,” Graczyk said.

He said they would rework the budget to include possible staff reductions.

Tom Yerace is a freelance writer.

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