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Kiski Area trims real-estate tax increase to about 1 percent

| Thursday, June 19, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Kiski Area School District real estate owners will pay about 1 percent more in taxes next year.

The school board finalized its 2014-15 budget on Wednesday at $54.6 million.

The spending plan marks a 5.4 percent jump from last school year's budget of $51.8 million. The additional $2.8 million, according to Business Manager Peggy Gillespie, is because of increases in costs related to retirement, special education, transportation and salaries and benefits.

The school board approved a district-wide tax increase of about 1 percent. Because the average assessed values differ between the counties that the district straddles, the millage increase in the district's Westmoreland County communities differs from the hike in Parks Township, the only Armstrong County municipality.

The millage rate increased in its Westmoreland County communities by 0.62 mill to 83.45 mills. In Parks, the rate jumped 0.03 mill to 40.39 mills.

District officials originally proposed a 2 percent tax hike but reduced the rate after receiving more revenue than anticipated. Gillespie said the money came primarily through an increase in the district's earned income tax receipts and reimbursements for special education.

Even with the tax increase, the district still finds itself with about a $2.8 million deficit, which officials are erasing by tapping into the district's unreserved fund balance.

Board member Elizabeth Kovach cited the deficit when voicing her opposition to about $15,000 in supplemental contracts the district awarded on Wednesday. The extra money is divided among four elementary teachers who serve in head teacher positions in their schools.

“We have less elementary schools now, with administrators who are more than capable,” she said. “Do we really need to spend this money?”

The head teachers, according to Superintendent John Meighan, serve essentially as assistant principals of their schools on an as-needed basis, which he said is virtually daily. The supplemental positions, he said, are actually a cost-saver, since they're able to fulfill the responsibilities of a full-time assistant administrator on a supplemental contract.

The board approved about $750,000 in supplemental contracts relating to athletics, art and music. Board members said on Wednesday that they'll work to reduce the supplemental contracts designated for extracurricular positions when they negotiate the next teacher contract at the end of next school year.

School for sale

The Kiski Area School District is selling the shuttered Washington Elementary building along Route 66 in Washington Township.

The district is accepting sealed bids for the property through June 30. If the board chooses to accept one of the bids, it will do so at its August meeting unless a special meeting is called for the month of July.

The 10.3-acre property, which includes a 53,000-square-foot building, was appraised in January by a Greensburg appraisal service at roughly $560,000.

“It's definitely an attractive property,” Gillespie said. “The location is perfect for a commercial business.”

The district has received three bids for the property, according to Gillespie. Since the district is using a sealed bid process, Gillespie said she is unaware of any plans the prospective buyers may have for the property.

The school board decided to close Washington Elementary as part of a districtwide consolidation of its schools several years ago. It remained open through the end of this school year to house students who will attend Kiski Area East Primary, which is still undergoing renovations as it's converted from Vandergrift Elementary.

Board President Keith Blayden said the expansion and renovation project is on schedule. The school should open in time for next year's Aug. 25 start date, he said.

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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