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Plum School Board considers tax increase

| Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, 3:30 p.m.

With a $1.5 million deficit projected in the 2014-15 district budget, Plum School Board members want options with the spending plan.

The board is considering the possibility of approving a preliminary budget in January that would ask the Pennsylvania Department of Education for permission to increase the property-tax rate higher than the prescribed maximum increase of 2.9 percent of the millage because of exceptional expenses.

The district's current millage is 18.758. A property owner with a $150,000 home currently pays $2,814 a year in school taxes, according to tax collector Harry Schlegel. The owner of a $300,000 home currently pays $5,627 a year in school taxes.

Raising the tax rate to the maximum allowed would generate about $450,000 for the district, Superintendent Timothy Glasspool said during last week's finance committee meeting.

“We have a lot of work to do, and we only have 60 days,” Plum School Board member Sal Colella said after the meeting.

District business manager Eugene Marraccini during the Nov. 19 meeting gave board members a schedule of deadlines for the administration to adhere to in order for the board to have a preliminary budget to consider during the Jan. 28 school board meeting.

Marraccini said the district can seek exceptions from the state Department of Education in three categories: debt service, contributions to the Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) and special-education expenses.

Districts are required to apply to the department for approval for exceptions.

If the request for an exception is approved, the department determines the dollar amount of the expenditure for which the exception is sought and the tax-rate increase required to fund it, according to the department website.

If the department denies the request, the school district must reduce the tax-rate increase to no more than its maximum or submit a referendum question for voter approval in the next primary election.

“It's tough to get approval by taxpayers to raise their own taxes,” Marraccini said.

The business manager said the district does not qualify for an exception under the debt-service category.

The district's PSERS contributions have continued to increase in recent years and potentially could qualify as an exception, Marraccini said.

Glasspool said during last month's finance committee meeting that about $1.2 million of the $1.5 million projected deficit in next year's budget is due, in part, to the PSERS cost.

The final potential exception is special-education costs, which continue to increase, Marraccini said.

“We have had a steady increase in special-education costs,” Glasspool said.

The district has received about $2.2 million in state funding for special-education costs in each of the last few years, according to the district website. District officials did not provide by this paper's deadline how much the district has spent in recent years on the special-education program.

About 11 percent of the district's students are in special education, special-education supervisor Kathleen Shirey has said.

Also, district officials plan an increased focus on autism in the 2014-15 school year.

Board members last month approved the creation of an autism-support classroom at Center Elementary School. Shirey said 17 percent of the district's special-education children have been diagnosed with autism.

Marraccini said if the board decides to refrain from asking for a tax increase above the maximum, the board would vote on a preliminary budget in May and a final budget in June, as it traditionally has done.

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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