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Elizabeth Forward directors OK proposed general fund plan with no change in tax rate

| Thursday, March 20, 2014, 3:51 a.m.

Elizabeth Forward school board has unanimously approved a $39,472,132 proposed general fund budget for fiscal year 2014-15.

It is the latest step in a process that is supposed to lead by the end of May to a final, balanced budget for the coming fiscal year — amid legislative wrangling over state aid and assessment appeals in Allegheny County.

“(An estimated) $195,000 in potential revenue is lost because property values are down $10 million by appeals,” district director of finance and operations Richard Fantauzzi said.

As approved, the proposed budget assumes no change in a real estate tax rate of 20.6052 mills, so the district fund balance may end $1,460,390 in the red on July 1, 2015.

District officials said Elizabeth Forward could use all but $861,240 of a $2.9 million fund balance it had on July 1, 2013, to balance this year's $38,836,748 spending plan.

Then the proposed budget projects spending over $2.3 million more than the district may take in during the next fiscal year.

Some costs will increase because of contracts, such as salaries ($500,000) and pensions ($400,000), Fantauzzi said.

The school board previously passed a pledge to keep any tax increase within a 3 percent index set under the state's Act 1. That would raise the millage only to 21.2233.

“If you take the index it means only $389,000,” board budget chairperson Margaret Morgan said. “We're still over $1 million short.”

Meanwhile, as the district puts together a budget by June 30 as required by law, state lawmakers are doing the same thing, negotiating what subsidies will be approved for Elizabeth Forward and 499 other school districts.

As Superintendent Bart Rocco noted, “We're in the dark.”

Morgan said her committee will meet to further hammer out a budget on April 8 at 5 p.m.

The board voted 4-3 to approve a $4,088,563 Allegheny Intermediate Unit program of services budget for 2014-15, from which Elizabeth Forward's expected contribution is $23,002.13 and its shared cost for instructional media services is $2,532.

“The school district will be paying this no matter if it is voted down,” Morgan said. She voted for it with colleagues Jamie Evans, Megan Ferraro and Francis Posa.

Voting against it were board president Philip Martell and colleagues Scott McVicker and Dorothy Wycoff. Board vice president Michael O'Rourke and treasurer Charles Bakewell were excused from the meeting.

The district sees other unfunded mandates in its future. It approved a two-week summer remediation program for students who fail to pass the Keystone Exams in Algebra I, literature and biology.

“It absolutely is something that is not funded,” Assistant Superintendent Todd Keruskin said.

The district still is coping with multiple days off or delayed because of the weather. Pending state approval, Act 80 days were approved for June 16 and 17, while pending any further school closings commencement is scheduled for June 13 at 7 p.m.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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