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Penn Hills School District eyes $5M budget shortfall

| Monday, April 7, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

At the outset of planning for the 2014-15 school year, Penn Hills School District officials are looking at ways to deal with a roughly $5 million shortfall.

At the school board's finance committee meeting on Monday night, Business Director Rick Liberto outlined an $82 million spending plan for next year, with about $77 million in revenue.

Major contributors to the shortfall include payments to cyber/charter schools, which are projected to top $12 million next year; an increase in teacher-retirement contributions that is expected to go up $2 million as school-district percentages jump from just under 17 percent to just over 21 percent; and a $2 million bump in the district's debt service, a product of this year's refinancing, which Liberto has described as “kicking the can down the road” with respect to district debt.

Compounding the district's charter difficulties, two new charters in its service radius are expected to open next year, in Hazelwood and Homewood, and three existing schools — including PHSD's largest single draw for charter students, Imagine Penn Hills — will be adding a grade level in 2014-15.

In the cost-savings department, 22 district teachers have accepted an early-retirement package as of April 2. It is expected to save about $2.3 million.

At the finance-committee meeting, Liberto said fixed costs now represent more than three-quarters of the budget.

“You add in the charters, and we're at 9 percent discretionary spending, which doesn't leave a lot of room to purchase things for students and staff,” he said.

While many of the figures will change somewhat between now and May 31, when the district is required to pass its preliminary 2014-15 budget, Liberto presented early budget options that include a 0.68-mill tax increase, which would bring in about $1.1 million in additional revenue, teacher furloughs and the retirement package, noting that some combination of the three would likely be necessary.

The district must pass its final 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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