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Improving technology could mean higher school taxes

| Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 11:10 p.m.

Gateway School Board members are debating whether to raise property taxes for 2013-14 to pay for the district's technology needs.

The proposed $67.8 million budget includes a 2 percent tax increase, which would be the sixth tax increase for residents in 11 years.

Another tax increase would place an unfair burden on senior citizens, school Director Dave Magill said last week.

A 2 percent increase would generate an additional $876,000, however, that number is subject to change based on property assessment appeals, said Gateway Business Manager Paul Schott.

Higher taxes discourage people from moving to Monroeville, school Director Jan Rawson said.

Rawson and Magill suggested reducing the amount of proposed funding for new technology next school year.

“How can we afford to spend all this money on technology?” Rawson said.

“There's money in the budget that we're spending that maybe we shouldn't be spending at this time.”

The first of a three-year technology plan is budgeted at nearly $950,000.

In addition to new laptops, an iPad tablet and an Apple TV would be installed in every kindergarten through fourth-grade classroom, as well as all Gateway Middle School classrooms, Superintendent Nina Zetty said.

The teacher's union is negotiating a new contract with the district.

Officials would not comment on negotiations as of Tuesday.

Dozens of taxpayers, students and teachers told officials this past school year that outdated technology was a hindrance to the learning process, board President Steve O'Donnell said.

Monroeville resident Maria Petruska — a teacher for 35 years at Penn Hills — told school directors at a June 4 meeting that she supports a tax increase if it means improving the quality of education at Gateway.

“If Penn Hills had raised taxes a little bit at a time, I don't think they'd be in this situation,” Petruska said.

Penn Hills officials last month proposed eliminating 46 positions — including 16 teacher furloughs — and shifting about $2.5 million of its 2013-14 debt service into future payments.

Updating technology at Gateway with a tax increase is necessary as public schools compete for students with charter schools, said school Director Skip Drumheller.

“We can cut ourselves with austerity measures … or we can make a stand for public education and slow down the privatization attempts that are coming from national interests with big bucks into this state and every other state in the country,” Drumheller said.

The proposed tax hike would represent an annual property tax increase of $39 for a home valued at $107,900, which was the average assessment in Monroeville as of last week.

It would represent a $13 annual increase for a home valued at $35,200, which was the average assessment in Pitcairn.

A majority of the school board requested that administrators present new cost-cutting options in lieu of a tax increase at the next school board meeting.

“Bring (other options) back” O'Donnell said.

“Bring them back, and let's understand the future impact on the kids.”

The board is scheduled to discuss the budget at its meeting Monday and is scheduled to approve a final budget at the June 26 meeting.

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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