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Plum school board mulls solutions to rising expenses

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By the numbers

Plum School District special-education costs:

2009-10 — $5,713,522

2010-11 — $5,540,747

2011-12 — $5,339,949

2012-13 — $5,601,005

2013-14 — $5,696,621 (budgeted)

Source: Plum School District budget comparison summary

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Plum School District officials are seeing expenses rise and the reserve fund dwindle as decisions on the 2014 budget loom.

“The cards we have been dealt are what we have to deal with,” Plum School Board member Tom McGough, newly appointed finance committee chairman, said during last week's finance committee meeting.

“Our eyes are wide open at this point.”

With a $1.5 million deficit projected in the 2014-15 budget, the board is looking to consider during its Jan. 28 meeting a preliminary spending plan that would ask the Pennsylvania Department of Education for permission to increase taxes higher than the prescribed index of 2.9 percent of the Plum School District millage that is 18.758.

One of the exceptions district officials are thinking about submitting to the Department of Education for consideration to raise taxes above the index is special-education costs.

Special-education costs declined from $5.7 million in 2009-10 to $5.3 million in the 2011-12 school year, according to the district.

Costs then increased in the 2012-13 to $5.6 million, and are projected to go up slightly for this school year, with $5.7 million budgeted.

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.

The district's rate of special-education students is about 11 percent, special-education Supervisor Kathleen Shirey said.

Districts are required to apply to the state Department of Education for approval for exceptions.

If the request 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 the exception.

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

Consideration to apply to the state Department of Education for approval for exceptions is being given in light of the fact, in part, that the district's fund balance has dwindled to $1.6 million as of July 1, according to an update Tommarello said he received from business Manager Eugene Marraccini.

Raising taxes to the index would net the district about $500,000, officials have said.

The projected deficit does not include additional costs the district is expected to incur from contracts that have yet to be negotiated including the one with the district's teachers.

Also, expenses for health benefits are expected to rise about 10 to 12 percent for the 2014-15 school year, Marraccini said.

“We have a lot of heavy issues,” he said.

Tommarello, too, is concerned about rising costs.

“We cannot continue to have exorbitant expenditures and not as much revenue,” Tommarello said.

“We have to get expenses under control.”

The next finance committee meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Jan. 21 in the board conference room at the high school, 900 Elicker Road.

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

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