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Mt. Lebanon school board mulls tax hike

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Mt. Lebanon school board is weighing a tax increase of somewhere between .25 mills and .55 mills for the upcoming school year, driven mostly by increasing pension costs.

As the district works on its 2013-14 budget, administrators came to the school board Tuesday asking for general guidance as to how much of a tax increase they could work with.

Finance Director Jan Klein said the district has averaged a .55-mill increase over the past eight years. In 2011, taxes increased by 2.52 mills to cover the district's first round of borrowing for the high school renovation project. In 2008 and 2012, tax hikes were not required.

She presented these scenarios:

• Without a tax hike, the district would have a $1.8 million shortfall between revenues and expenses.

• If it raised taxes to the state-set limit of .46 mills and didn't claim any exceptions, the district would have a $960,000 shortfall.

• If the district raised taxes by the eight-year average of .55 mills, the shortfall would be about $870,000.

• A .89-mill tax increase would be enough to eliminate any anticipated budget deficits without cuts, but would require claiming all the available exemptions to the state's Act 1 limit.

Projected shortfalls are driven mostly by a state requirement that the district increase its pension fund contributions from 12.36 percent to 16.93 percent of payroll. A 5 percent increase in health-care costs, contractually mandated raises for teachers, and a potential grievance from the teacher's union also contribute, Klein said.

Klein and Superintendent Timothy Steinhauer said they have started considering potential cuts under the .55-mill tax increase scenario, including further reductions to custodial and IT staff; fewer travel expenses for administrators, teachers and board consultants; and leaving more staff positions unfilled as employees retire. Officials want to avoid making cutbacks that will affect learning, Steinhauer said.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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