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No plan to raise taxes, Montour School District official says

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Construction continues on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2013, on an access road at Montour High School.

The Montour School District will not raise taxes to pay for an access road and planned elementary school, despite concerns to the contrary, a school district official said.

The $1.5 million secondary access road project, including lighting and sewer work, will stretch from Clever Road to the rear parking lot of the high school.

The road, which is under construction, will be paid for with school district savings, said Scott Suess, school board treasurer.

The planned school for kindergarten through fourth grades would cost $50 million to $55 million and be located on the high school campus, Suess said. The school will be paid for with savings that the school district will start accruing when a tax increment financing agreement with The Mall at Robinson ends in 2015. That will free up about $1.6 million a year, he said.

Through a TIF granted by the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County, portions of real estate tax payments on the mall are diverted from Robinson, the school district and Allegheny County to pay off a 2000 bond issue on the mall. When the bond issue is paid off, “the plan is for that money to go toward the debt service on the new school, and we won't have to raise taxes,” Suess said.

The secondary access road is scheduled to be paved in November, said Robert Capo, director of facilities and operations.

Robinson required the access road as part of the $47 million renovation of the high school, which was completed in 2010, and refused to grant an occupancy permit for the high school until the district agreed to a second road.

The school board has not officially approved construction of the elementary school, which is tentatively expected to be opened by fall 2015 or spring 2016. Public hearings on the plan will be held in November, he said.

The school would put all elementary school students on the same campus, and the district's other two elementary schools — Forest Grove and Burkett in Robinson — would be closed.

One reason for combining the schools is to increase academic performance by having all elementary school students follow the same curriculum, officials said.

Before 2012, the district had three elementary schools for kindergarten through fourth-grade students. But the district designated Forest Grove for kindergarten through second grade and Burkett for third- and fourth-graders, starting in the 2012-13 school year. Ingram, where state test scores lagged at least 20 percent below those of Burkett, was closed.

Consolidating schools has helped students, Suess said,

“Our test scores have been outstanding in our elementary schools. … It has definitely been the right decision,” he said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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