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Gateway officials consider tax hike

| Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Citing rising employment costs and a shrinking student body, Gateway officials said a tax increase is possible for next school year.

Members of the district finance committee met Tuesday night to discuss the 2013-14 budget, which the school board is scheduled to consider for preliminary approval on May 20 and final approval on June 26, said Gateway Business Director Paul Schott.

A proposed 2-percent millage rate increase that officials are considering would generate an additional $876,000 for the school district.

A tax hike of that amount would cut into an anticipated 2013-14 deficit that was estimated at $3.4 million when officials began tackling the budget.

The increase would raise taxes by about $38 for a Monroeville home assessed at $108,000, which represents the median property value in Monroeville.

In Pitcairn, the tax increase on a home with the borough's median property value of $35,200 would amount to $12.50.

Due to the 2012 county property reassessments, district officials are waiting for a more accurate projection from Allegheny County of the overall property value in Gateway for 2013-14, Schott said.

“Hopefully, that will give us some cleaner numbers to look at,” he said.

Regardless of the final numbers, the district cannot increase millage rates next school year by more than 2 percent because of state law that limits the size of school tax hikes, Schott said.

Total district expenditures in 2013-14 are projected at $68.7 million, while total revenues are projected at $67.5 million, which includes the proposed tax increase, according to the preliminary budget proposed on Tuesday. That still leaves a deficit of about $1.23 million.

A shrinking student body has affected state funding for Gateway in recent years. The eighth-grade class is the last grade with 300 or more students, said Bob Reger, assistant to the superintendent.

School districts are mandated by the state to pay for students who live within their boundaries and attend a charter school. Gateway officials project to lose about $3.6 million of state funding to charter schools next school years, Schott said. The district lost 190 students to charter schools last year, said Robert Reger, assistant to the superintendent.

The state also mandates an increase in pension contributions for district employees, which adds to employee costs that represent nearly 70 percent of expenditures to the budget that officials are working on.

“What kinds of outside-the-box things are we looking at to change some stuff when it comes to the expenses associated with employees inside the district?” asked Monroeville resident Robert Clemens.

School Director Dan Nowak said although the cost of employee salaries should be reassessed by district officials, the retirement contribution rate is determined by the state.

“But as (salaries) go up, (retirement costs) go up,” interjected another resident.

There were about 15 personnel cuts — including 10 lunchroom aid positions and two secretary positions — proposed on Tuesday. A reduction of staff was not included with the projected overall expenditures for next school year, said school board President Steve O'Donnell.

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or klawson@tribweb.com.

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