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Plum school board looks to dodge tax hike

| Wednesday, April 30, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Plum School Board members are taking steps toward having a balanced budget for the 2014-15 school year.

The board on Tuesday night was expected to consider a $58 million preliminary budget that has no tax increase or program cuts and retains the services of a much-debated firm that finds substitute workers including teachers.

“It (a balanced preliminary budget) holds our feet to the fire,” board member Tom McGough who chairs the finance committee said during last week's meeting.

“We need to move forward and get off dead center.”

Revenue for 2014-15 is projected at $57.3 million, and expenses are estimated at $58.1 million.

Board members during last week's meeting reached a consensus to use nearly $800,000 from the district's reserve fund to balance the spending plan.

Superintendent Timothy Glasspool said an estimated $1.4 million is projected to be in the reserve fund as of June 30, 2015.

Prior to reaching a consensus, members debated a variety of scenarios to balance the spending plan for the 2014-15 school year including program cuts, raising taxes to the Act 1 index as recommended by the administration and cutting Kelly Educational Staffing, a firm that has worked for the district for a few years and finds substitute teachers, teacher aides, nurses, secretaries, food-service workers and custodians.

Previously, administrative assistants had the duty of calling substitutes from a district list.

The district pays Kelly $73,000 a year for the service.

Board member Loretta White, who has been a vocal opponent of Kelly, said she opposes any budget that retains the firm.

White said she has concerns that Plum isn't getting the most qualified substitutes because candidates who work for Kelly are assigned solely to Plum, Pine-Richland and Fox Chapel. The three districts have contracts with Kelly.

“Why don't other districts jump on board?” White asked.

Board member Kevin Dowdell, who supports retaining Kelly, said he is more concerned about the fact that there were 3,600 teacher absences during the 2012-13 school year.

The number of teacher absences during this school year through March was 2,654, according to the district.

Glasspool believes the $73,000 cost for Kelly is well-spent.

Glasspool said during his time as the district's assistant superintendent, he dealt with the substitute worker issue “every day.”

“I believe it (Kelly) is a valuable partner,” Glasspool said. “It is one less thing to worry about.”

Glasspool also said he has had no complaints about the quality of the substitute workers.

Dowdell said he wants more work on the budget and suggested phasing out French classes.

The move would result in cutting two teaching positions at the junior high school at a savings of $126,588.

“We could add another Spanish teacher at the junior high and save $50,000,” Dowdell said.

Patti Brennan, whose son, Patrick, 15, is a freshman at Plum High School, opposes any program cuts.

“As a parent, I am concerned that any educational programs would be considered,” Brennan said.

The next finance committee meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on May 20 in the board 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 kzapf@tribweb.com.

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