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Residents opting for Plum budget cuts, not tax hike

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 3:48 p.m.

Borough residents said they want more cuts rather than an increase in the property-tax rate to help balance the proposed 2014-15 Plum School District budget.

“Everyone has to sacrifice,” Paul Lawrence told Plum School Board members last week during a town hall meeting on the budget. “You should not overlook anything. The last person to take the pain should be the students.”

The proposed budget has a deficit of about $1.7 million, Superintendent Timothy Glasspool said.

Board President Sal Colella said the deficit could climb to $1.9 million if board members decide to transfer $200,000 from the general fund to the contingency fund.

Money in the contingency fund pays for emergency purchases or unforeseen situations, such as a replacing a furnace.

The fund currently is budgeted to contain $50,000 for the 2014-15 school year.

Board members in January declared any increase in the property-tax rate won't be more than 0.54 of a mill.

District business manager Eugene Marraccini said raising the tax rate by that amount would generate an additional $795,960 for the district.

One mill generates about $1.4 million. The district's current millage is 18.758.

Glasspool said that with an increase of 0.54 of a mill, the owner of a home assessed at $110,700, considered the median in Plum, would pay about $60 more in district taxes during the next school year.

Board members last week indicated they are not in favor of higher taxes.

“This is not a wealthy community,” Colella told audience members.

The budget draft also contains no increase for teacher salaries. The current five-year teacher contract expires Aug. 31.

District officials and the Plum Borough Education Association, or PBEA, are in negotiations on a new contract. The PBEA represents the district's 268 teachers.

Some residents said teacher salaries need to be reduced.

Plum teachers were the second-highest paid in Allegheny County in the 2012-13 school year, with an average salary of $79,442, according to Pennsylvania Department of Education records.

The countywide average last school year was $65,300.

“We cannot afford the salaries, benefits and pensions,” said Ken Westrick of Plum.

Borough resident Harry Schlegel who also is the Plum property tax collector, wants a lot of changes in the next contract with the district's teachers.

“Teachers should not be paid for duties outside the classroom,” Schlegel said.

“There should be a wage freeze, no early-retirement incentives and elimination of step movement or lengthen the time between steps.

“Teachers need to share the pain with the rest of us in the real world.”

PBEA President Martha Freese disagreed with Schlegel's views.

“We do not appreciate Mr. Schlegel's disrespectful words,” Freese said. “We work very hard every day preparing our children to be responsible citizens,” Freese said.

Lawrence suggested wages for both administrators and teachers should be frozen or cut.

“If you think teachers will accept salary decreases without sharing the pain, you are wrong,” Lawrence said.

Mike Sotace of Plum suggested the board establish maximum salaries for teachers.

“I will be maxed out on my salary at work,” Sotace said. “If I don't like it, I can go somewhere else.”

Melanie Mills of Plum urged board members to forego a tax increase so senior citizens are not burdened.

“Some people cut their prescription pills in half to survive,” Mills said. “There is another group not here tonight. They are struggling.”

Lou Lavarro, a retired teacher, said he feels for senior citizens, but he doesn't have a problem paying more in taxes.

“Without an education, children may not succeed,” Lazzaro said.

The board plans another finance committee meeting to discuss the budget at 6 p.m. April 1 in the board room at the high school, 900 Elicker Road.

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