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McKeesport Area School District property owners to see slight tax hike

| Thursday, June 19, 2014, 4:21 a.m.

McKeesport Area School District property owners should expect to see a slight tax increase as a result of the 2014-15 budget.

School directors adopted a preliminary spending plan on May 21 with a .48-mill tax hike.

Business manager David Seropian said at Wednesday's workshop meeting the millage increase to 15.70 mills remains in the proposed final budget, which is slated for formal adoption at next Wednesday's regular meeting.

The budget is balanced at $62,403,163 and uses approximately $4.3 million of the district's $6.6 million fund balance.

The tax hike equates to roughly $30 more in real estate taxes for the average homeowner.

Seropian said the only thing that changed from last month is a $150,000 savings in personnel changes. Some staffers are retiring and resigning, and there are no plans to fill those positions.

“When we eliminate a position we try to recreate it in another way so that the students are still getting those educational programs that we feel are very important to the students,” Superintendent Rula Skezas said.

No programs are being cut in the proposed budget.

School districts have to adopt a final budget by June 30 unless there are special circumstances.

Seropian said there was an amendment to the state school code years ago that allows districts to adopt a budget within 15 days of the state's budget adoption, provided the state fails to pass a budget by June 15.

He noted the state has not adopted its budget yet and it doesn't look like Pennsylvania lawmakers will come to an agreement any time soon to impact the district's plans.

“I don't think we're going to know anything else to be able to make any changes by next week, so unless something changes between now and next week, we're going to go with what we have right now,” Seropian said. “It may go into July before they pass a budget, so to wait for that doesn't seem necessary ... If we don't adopt a budget it's going to affect our operations, our cash flow. We can't get our tax bills out. It's not worth the wait.”

The biggest expenditure increases are $617,330 to charter schools, $1,205,560 in retirement contributions and $386,049 in debt service payments.

Skezas said her administration is working toward bringing cyber/charter school students back into the district to help reduce costs.

This is the first district budget for Skezas as superintendent. She succeeded Timothy Gabauer, who left the district to become superintendent at Mt. Pleasant Area on Nov. 1.

“It was very, very difficult,” Skezas said about the budget process. “Especially the fact being a former teacher, being a principal in a couple of the buildings. I've worked with many of these people that we've had to make some decisions about with their programs and classrooms and class sizes. We really take a look at all of those things. Dr. Gabauer did a lot of this together.”

Skezas lauded Seropian's efforts in crafting next school year's budget.

School directors spent at least 40 minutes debating change orders for Twin Rivers Primary/Intermediate School and Founders' Hall Middle School projects, primarily bleachers vs. storage space in the latter facility's gymnasium.

Most school directors were in favor of adjusting plans to design a storage space for gym classes while school director Christopher Halaszynski and vice president Joe Lopretto vehemently opposed removing bleachers commonly used by senior citizens and season ticket holders.

Halaszynski expanded upon his comments following the meeting.

“Fourteen million dollars into the Sixth Grade Academy and gymnasium and no one could think of adding storage for volleyball equipment?” Halaszynski said. “Now we're gonna kick out our seniors, families and handicapped fans out of those end bleachers. Not only is the majority of the board going to raise our taxes next week, but now take away some convenience of seating to those that come to the games. I'm very disappointed I couldn't convince the board the importance of those end bleachers to our elderly and handicapped fans.”

School director Scott Smith regularly has his eye on district finances, particularly capital improvement projects and change orders.

Smith said he is for the storage space, and would reserve comment about the budget until it's voted on next week.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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