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Ligonier Valley School Board approves 1.5-mill tax increase

| Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Property owners in the Ligonier Valley School District will see a 1.5-mill increase in school taxes.

School directors voted unanimously to approve a $28.2 million final budget that takes the levy on real estate to 76.5 mills at its June 11 meeting. The budget estimates revenues at $27.7 million, and it proposes using $574,756 from the district's fund balance to cover expenditures, such as the Laurel Valley Elementary School roof replacement.

Board member Kim Dickert-Wallace was not present.

The district's average taxpayer, with a home with a median assessed valuation of $16,890, will see an increase of $25.34 from last year. One mill brings in about $169,000 to the district, and there are 4,745 properties in the district.

Business Manager Michelle Krebs said according to state budget updates, it does not appear the school will receive Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed Ready to Learn Grant because of shortfalls in state revenue.

At last month's meeting, Krebs said there were “no huge items” being cut in the budget, and wages and benefits were the biggest increases. She expressed concern about the rising costs of health care and the Public School Employees' Retirement System over the next few years.

Last week, board member Irvin Tantlinger said he hated to increase taxes, but he was in favor of the 1.5 increase because of the outlook for future years with pension and health care costs increasing. Board member Carolyn Shafer agreed with Tantlinger.

Board member Irma Hutchinson thanked Krebs for providing projections for upcoming years' costs.

“We have to look beyond this year,” Hutchinson said. “We have to look down the road as well.”

Board member John Maier expressed frustration with how the state has not passed a budget, yet schools are expected to do so.

Superintendent Dr. Chris Oldham said the board made a “necessary decision.”

“There are just too many unknowns right now,” Oldham said, citing uncertainties with the state budget, future of kindergarten enrollment and unsettled contracts within the district and the Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center.

Oldham said the district budgeted for two additional kindergarten teachers at both elementary schools, and if summer enrollment holds true, she said they will need to add at least one teacher. If enrollment holds as it is, she said the district will be able to maintain the current staff numbers and could show a surplus of funds at the end of the school year.

“There are just too many unknowns today, and I think that it was necessary that they had to put on the one and a half,” she said.

In other business, the board approved implementing a STEAM class at Ligonier Valley Middle School for sixth and seventh grades.

Students will have the class every six weeks, with teacher Adam Storey at the helm.

Last August, the district debuted a STEAM class at Laurel Valley and R.K. Mellon Elementary Schools, taught by Adam Petalino. Some of Petalino's lessons included learning to build and program LEGO robots and exploring engineering and art concepts.

“We've had a lot of success at the elementary (school), and it has become a very popular program among the students,” Oldham said.

Middle school principal Dave Steimer said the new class will likely focus on different types of energies, like solar and wind energies.

The next meeting is 7 p.m. July 14 with a work session at 6 p.m.