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Plum School Board approves budget without tax hike

| Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Property owners in Plum will not see an increase in their school millage for the 2014-15 year.

The Plum School Board on Monday night voted to approve a $58.3 million budget that was balanced by using $723,000 from a $2.5 million capital-projects fund, $574,561 from the district's reserve fund that is estimated to contain $2.1 million and eliminating the use of Kelly Educational Services that finds substitute workers.

The elimination of Kelly is expected to save the district about $67,000, Superintendent Timothy Glasspool said.

The budget also does not cut any district programs.

The vote was 5-4 with Michele Gallagher, Tom McGough, Michelle Stepnick, Joe Tommarello and Loretta White voting “yes.” Board members Sal Colella, Kevin Dowdell, John St. Leger and Richard Zucco voted “no.”

The budget holds the tax rate at 18.758 mills.

With that millage, the owner of a home assessed at $110,000, the median assessment in the district, will continue to pay $2,063 in property taxes to the district for the new school year.

The nearly two-hour discussion included a failed motion that reflected the preliminary budget and proposed increasing taxes by 0.54-mill of a mill or to the Act 1 tax index that is tied to an inflation-based formula. A tax-rate increase to 19.3 mills would have generated an estimated additional $790,000 for the district.

Colella, Dowdell, St. Leger and Zucco, all Republicans, advocated a millage increase.

Tommarello, a Republican, and Gallagher, McGough, Stepnick and White, who are Democrats, voted “no” on the measure.

Colella said the district going forward needed the added revenue from a tax increase.

“It (a tax increase) is the responsible thing to do,” Colella said. “It would be irresponsible not to raise taxes this year. If we continue down this path, this district will implode.”

Tommarello, who was the deciding vote, said he couldn't support raising the tax rate.

“With 20 percent of students on free and reduced lunches, people cannot afford it (a tax increase),” Tommarello said. “This is a highly taxed community.”

Tommarello previously had proposed a smaller millage increase that would have resulted in an extra $350,000 for the district but would required cutting two librarian positions and two foreign-language positions at Oblock Junior High School and using a portion of the money from the capital fund to balance the budget.

Tommarello found no support for his proposal — particularly in the area of staff cuts.

Glasspool at the beginning of the meeting told board members that the district's deficit was expected to be $312,561 higher, based on recent estimates of state aid.

Glasspool said district officials expect to receive $478,940 in Ready to Learn and Accountability Block Grant money rather than earlier estimates of $839,023.

Special-education funding is expected to increase by $47,522 — from $2,221,361 to $2,268,883.

Glasspool emphasized the numbers are estimates.

The superintendent had recommended the board approve a tax increase and retain the services of Kelly.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-871-2367 or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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