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Norwin School Board may raise property taxes to cover $2.2M projected deficit

| Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, 2:33 p.m.

An increase in pension, health care and cyber school costs coupled with only a slight increase in state aid may push the Norwin School Board to raise property taxes by 2.41 mills in the 2017-18 school year to help cover a projected deficit of $2.2 million, according to a preliminary budget analysis.

District officials are projecting expenses of $70.8 million but anticipate generating $68.6 million in revenue with the current tax rate of 75.20 mills in the Westmoreland County portion of the district, Jude Abraham, Norwin's interim director of business affairs, told the school board at Monday's workshop session.

That projected deficit of $2.2 million assumes no additional spending for curriculum or technology, Abraham said.

“The situation we are in is not unique. Public education is really at risk. There is no way we can sustain our education and programs” without further funding from the state, Superintendent William Kerr told the board.

Because of the deficit, the district will have to consider reducing the number of administrators through retirement or attrition, Abraham said, as well as cuts in music, art and family consumer science, formerly known as home economics. Norwin also may have to consider subcontracting some services, he said.

The district has been restructuring and realigning its resources, but that can't continue “without hurting students and programs,” Kerr said.

Norwin can raise real estate taxes as much as 2.41 mills in Westmoreland County, equal to 3.3 percent, the maximum permitted under the state's index. That would generate about $924,200 in revenue, Abraham said.

The district raised property taxes in North Huntingdon, Irwin and North Irwin by 2.25 mills for the 2016-17 school year. Norwin anticipated receiving $27,200 in revenue by raising taxes in the Allegheny County portion of the district — fewer than 20 residences in South Versailles — by 1.69 mills to 11.68 mills.

Under Gov. Tom Wolf's budget proposal for 2017-18, Norwin would receive a $116,000 increase in basic education subsidies, but its transportation reimbursement would be reduced, Abraham said.

The district will look at other options for raising revenue, including hiking the fees it charges outside groups to use school facilities such as the stadium and gymnasium, Kerr said.

“I think it is safe to say that every­thing is on the table,” Kerr said.

The big drivers in the deficit are the district's $990,000 contribution to the Public School Employees' Retirement System, health care insurance, cyber and charter school costs, special education, cost-of-living allowances and transportation, Abraham said.

Norwin's contribution to the state retirement system has increased about $1 million over the past four years, said Robert Perkins, school board president.

Perkins blamed the state for the financial difficulties, saying “they've done nothing to control charter school (costs) or PSERS.”

Abraham expects school officials will know more by mid-March about the budget for next school year.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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