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Plum school board plans series of budget meetings

| Monday, May 5, 2014, 11:48 a.m.

With no consensus on a preliminary spending plan, the Plum School Board plans three budget sessions this month in an attempt to find common ground.

“I am extremely disappointed,” board member Michelle Stepnick said late last week. “I voted for (an immediate decision on a preliminary budget) that I did not love to let students know programs would be saved and to let taxpayers know there would be no increase.”

The Plum School Board during the April 29 meeting postponed consideration of a preliminary budget for the 2014-15 school year.

The vote was 5-4 to table a vote on a $58.1 million proposed spending plan that used nearly $800,000 in money from the district's reserve fund to balance it and did not include a tax increase. The proposed spending plan held the line on taxes at 18.758 mills.

The vote was along party lines with the five Republicans voting for the delay while the four Democrats voted against it. Stepnick, a Democrat, voted against tabling the motion.

The first workshop was scheduled for Tuesday evening, after the deadline for this edition.

A finance-committee meeting that is to include discussion on the budget is set for May 13 after the 6 p.m. facilities-committee meeting.

A third budget session is scheduled for May 21 after a 6 p.m. public hearing and the policy-committee meeting.

The meetings are scheduled in the Plum High School board room, adjacent to the cafeteria, 900 Elicker Road.

A vote on the preliminary budget is expected during the 7 p.m. voting meeting May 27 in the Plum High School auditorium.

Board vice President Joe Tommarello made the motion to table consideration of the proposed budget.

“We believe there is a lot more information to digest,” Tommarello said last week. “There is still a lot to be figured out.”

Tommarello said some board members want to take another look on whether to use nearly $800,000 in reserve money to balance the budget.

Tommarello also wants to further explore board President Sal Colella's suggestion to raise the property-tax rate to the state maximum, give the money back to property owners as a rebate and put them on notice that the maximum tax increase would be enacted for the 2015-16 school year.

Board member Kevin Dowdell during an April 22 finance-committee meeting suggested the board also consider program cuts.

In particular, Dowdell suggested phasing out French. 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.

Rather, Brennan suggests the board raise taxes.

“They need revenue,” Brennan said.

Raising taxes to the state maximum would generate nearly $800,000 for the district, said Superintendent Timothy Glasspool who recommends the measure.

The maximum tax increase would mean a $60-increase in school taxes for the owner of a home appraised at $110,000, considered the median home appraisal in Plum.

Stepnick wants to again discuss balancing the budget by taking money from a fund for capital improvements. The board two years ago voted to place $2.5 million from reserves into that fund.

“It was overzealous to put $2.5 million away (in the fund),” Stepnick said.

Board member Tom McGough, finance-committee chairman, said members will go back over the budget “item by item.”

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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