More money coming in, going out for Penn Hills schools

Patrick Varine
| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Penn Hills School District coffers have more money coming in through the district's new tax collector, but also more money going out in charter school payments.

Business director Rick Liberto said earlier this month that current invoices for charters had been paid, “but we can get bills through October for last year.”

Students who live in the district but attend charter and cyber charter schools numbered 810 in 2013-14, and this cost the district a total $10.6 million in state funding. The charter school enrollment has increased by more than 100 students since 2011-12, when figures reported to the state showed about 708 students in charters.

During the 2014-14 budgeting process, Liberto said he expects charter costs to top $12 million in the coming school year.

In reconciling their billing, charter schools have the leeway to bill through October for a student attending the previous school year, Liberto said.

Another “surprise” cost can come in the form of cyber students who, because they do not require transportation, are not required to register with their home school district.

“We don't even know about them until the invoices come in,” Liberto told the school board's finance committee.

Committee and board member Heather Hoolahan asked if there was a better way for the district to track real-time numbers for charter and cyber students.

“We're starting to work with the schools now,” Liberto said. “But a lot of them haven't sent their info and we have no way to pressure them.”

Asked about the business office's timeline for investigating and reconciling charter billings, Liberto said he does not pay an invoice until he's satisfied that it is legitimate, but the decision is not in his hands.

“If I wait too long, the charter just calls the state and they deduct it from our (state) subsidy,” he said.

Tax collections

The new tax collector for the district and municipality, Keystone Collections Group of Irwin is ahead of last year's pace for collections, Liberto said.

The $4.27 million that the firm collected in its first full month on the job and turned over to the school district is about $500,000 more than this time last year, Liberto said.

He expects that number to grow to about $30 million by the end of August.

“That's when mortgage companies start to pay (taxes),” he said.

Classroom microphones

The district will order 20 infrared wireless classroom microphones for the new Penn Hills Elementary School. Technology director Roger Myers said he would like to have the microphones in place to start the new school year. They allow instructors teaching and co-teaching classrooms to project and be heard more easily, and will cost about $5,200. Myers said the microphones will use the same system which already is in place at Penn Hills Senior High School.

Patrick Varine is a staff writer.

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