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Plum School Board budget talks focus on teachers, programs

| Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Joe Tommarello wants concessions from Plum's teachers to help eliminate a portion of the projected $3.3 million deficit in the upcoming budget.

“Our biggest hurdle is the teacher's contract,” said Tommarello, a Plum School Board member. “Everyone knows that.”

Tommarello is calling for the Plum Borough Education Association, the union that represents the Plum School District's nearly 275 teachers, to agree to a wage freeze, a smaller increase and/or a larger contribution to the health benefit package.

“If we use all of the fund balance, which we can't do, and raise taxes to the (maximum permitted), we still won't have enough to cover the deficit,” Tommarello said.

There is $3.3 million in the district's fund balance, business Manager Eugene Marraccini recently told the board.

The number is expected to decrease to $2 million when the district pays for expenses anticipated for the remainder of the fiscal year that ends June 30, board member Sal Colella said.

PBEA President Martha Freese wrote in an email to the Plum Advance Leader that teachers do not have to take a wage freeze to prove their commitment to the district.

Freese said teachers' dedication is evidenced by, in part, an improvement in student performance on state tests.

“Our students' accomplishments and love of learning prove this commitment on a daily basis,” Freese said.

Tommarello said district officials and board members continue to whittle down the projected deficit.

As of last month, the 2013-14 spending plan projected expenses at $58.6 million and revenue at $55.4 million, Marraccini said. He wrote in an email to the Plum Advance Leader that he will have revised numbers for the April 23 finance committee meeting.

The current millage is 22.2. A mill generates about $1.2 million.

Tommarello said at last week's budget work session, board members discussed the possibility of the district pulling out of the Boyce Campus Middle College High School program at Community College of Allegheny County in Monroeville.

The program is an alternative school for students from Plum, Gateway and Penn Hills.

“We have 17 students and three teachers (at the middle college high school),” Tommarello said.

Tommarello said the program costs the district about $234,000 a year.

Tommarello also said board members are discussing cutting back on some programs that have three or more teacher positions, including Spanish and business education.

Plum also has four librarians that cost the district $449,000, Tommarello said.

Board member Loretta White doesn't want to cut educational programs and said the cuts going forward will be in “smaller things not big-ticket items.”

The next finance committee meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 23 in the board room at the high school.

The board typically votes on a budget during its June meeting, to submit a balanced spending plan to the state by July 1.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8753 or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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