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Mt. Lebanon eyes options to limit millage increase

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Mt. Lebanon School Board is weighing student activity fees and potential concessions from unionized employees as a means to reduce a 0.55-mill tax increase in next year's budget.

District staff are working on an $84.47 million preliminary budget that would be balanced with the tax money and about $515,000 from cuts in non-instructional areas. At a special meeting on Tuesday, board members listed about 20 potential cuts or sources of money to gauge support.

“We'll continue to work on bringing the millage increase down,” said Superintendant Timothy Steinhauer. “By the time we hit (final budget discussions in) May, it's likely you'll see reductions in that.”

The board approved doubling the $50 per semester fee for students to park at the high school, and is considering whether to charge a $50 fee for students participating in after-school activities.

The proposed tax increase would bring the school district's tax rate to 27.68 mills, or $2,768 for every $100,000 of a home's assessed value. Neighboring Upper St. Clair and Bethel Park have rates of 25.78 and 25.49 mills, respectively.

State law says that once the district accounts for property reassessments that took effect this year, it will have to lower the rate so total revenue would be the same as before the reassessment.

The district hasn't committed to a rate because many property owners are appealing their assessments, but Mt. Lebanon municipal officials said the average assessed value of residences in the community went up about 25 percent.

The board asked Steinhauer to talk to unions representing teachers and staff about concessions, such as taking half of the promised raises for next year or rescheduling professional days.

Pete Bouvy, a 10th-grade math teacher and president of the Mt. Lebanon Education Association, said the teachers' union would be willing to hear any proposals from the district but would require a vote from the entire membership to approve such concessions.

“If they make a formal request, we've been willing to listen,” he said. “Taking half a raise would be pretty substantial.”

Most board members wanted to discard many proposed cuts. They voted against ideas such as cutting reading specialists, elementary school librarians, a high school math lab teacher, instructional support team members and/or an elementary school principal.

“I'm disappointed in what we've had to work with here,” said board member Dan Remely. “The only choices we've been given would be affecting students in the classroom.”

Board members turned down suggestions to stop broadcasting board meetings on public-access cable, or to cut the high school musical from every year to every other year.

“How would you feel asking the football teams not to play half their games?” said board member Larry Lebowitz.

Board members are willing to consider eliminating the district's financial support for the hockey and rowing clubs; increasing the size of some secondary school classes; and seeing whether the state would allow some sports and clubs to count toward the district's physical education course requirement so there could be fewer gym classes.

Administrators will study those items and present recommendations before the board's second meeting in April.

“There needs to be more income to offset our increasing expenses,” Lebowitz said. “These fees will be ... a reasonable offset to ensure our programs aren't cut.”

The board will meet at 7:30 p.m. Monday and on April 15 in Jefferson Middle School library.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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