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Upper St. Clair OKs maximum tax increase

| Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Upper St. Clair School Board's $69.52 million budget will raise taxes the maximum increase allowed by state law while adding technology, including a plan to lease enough iPad tablet computers for every student in grades 5 through 8.

The 2014-15 budget approved Tuesday by a 6-1 vote will raise the property tax rate by 0.783 mills. The tax hike raises the millage rate to 22.197, or just under $2,220 a year for a property assessed at $100,000.

Board member Louis Oliverio cast the lone opposition vote, though he acknowledged that district staff members did everything they could to pare costs. Board members Buffy Hasco and Frank Kerber were absent.

One program in the budget is intended to establish a one-to-one ratio of iPads to students in the district's two middle schools, starting with the seventh grade in the 2014-15 school year.

Deputy Superintendent Sharon Suritsky said the budget includes $77,000 in lease payments for about 400 iPads next year, worth a total of about $194,000 over the course of three years. The district raised another $45,000 toward the program with its fundraiser gala.

The board awarded $129,000 worth of contracts to Apple Inc. earlier this month that include the iPads, along with laptops, desktops and Apple TVs, she said.

Officials plan to expand the program in 2015-16 to cover all students in grades 5 through 8.

“We're targeting the seventh grade in the upcoming school year, then the plan is for the following year to go throughout the middle school,” Suritsky said.

Other schools and districts in Western Pennsylvania, including Quaker Valley School District and Seton-La Salle High School, have embraced tablet computers or lightweight laptops as a teaching tool and an alternative to textbooks.

Elizabeth Forward School District distributed about 2,700 iPads to every student in kindergarten through 12th grade in October in a five-year, $370,000-a-year-lease.

A program in the Upper St. Clair budget funds will establish a “Fab Lab,” or fabrication laboratory, in the high school with computers for creating three-dimensional designs and equipment to build those designs.

Budget increases largely were driven by rising pension costs, but the budget established programs by redirecting staff and making new investments, said board member Angela Petersen.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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