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Staff cuts may help Penn Hills SD balance budget

| Thursday, May 23, 2013, 11:33 a.m.

By pushing some of its debt further down the road and cutting staff, Penn Hills School District officials say they can balance the 2013-14 budget.

Business Director Richard Liberto recommended a budget at the May 20 finance committee meeting which projected a $400,000 surplus.

The budget includes 17 teacher furloughs and pushes some of the district's debt into the future.

Liberto's recommendation was a mix of staff cuts and debt restructuring which would balance a $5 million budget deficit.

Proposed staffing reductions include 17 teacher furloughs, four teacher retirements where positions would go unfilled and the elimination of:

• Four administrative positions

• Five service aides

• Four clerical positions

• Eight teacher aides

• Four technology aides

In all, 46 positions would be eliminated.

Liberto noted, however, that he felt the furlough number was “probably a little inflated,” saying some teachers, particularly in kindergarten, likely would be recalled based on next year's enrollment numbers.

Liberto also proposed a “scoop-and-toss” approach to the district's debt service, restructuring it and shifting about $2.3 million into future payments.

At present, the district is scheduled to pay down about $7.5 million in debt service next year.

“I know we're sort of kicking the can down the road (with regard to district debt), but we've fixed everything that is in our control to fix,” Liberto told the finance committee.

Restructuring the 2009 debt would be a one-year fix, Liberto said.

The budget in recent years has been balanced with several one-time fixes.

Last year the district sold off twice its usual amount of tax-delinquent real estate to plug a $2 million gap in the 2012-13 budget.

Taking that measure last year added about $1 million to the current budget deficit.

There is no tax increase proposed; in fact, the school district's millage technically dropped, from 24.81 mills to 23.39 mills.

However, that is an adjustment because of the 2013 Allegheny County property reassessments.

The school board will meet today to take a preliminary vote on the budget.

The meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Linton Middle School, located at 250 Aster St.

A final budget vote will take place at the June 10 board meeting, and Liberto told the finance committee that if changes occur to either state or federal funding, the board has the option to call a special meeting to vote on an adjusted budget.

The district must adopt a final, balanced budget by June 30.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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