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Consultant to review financing options in West Jefferson Hills

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 10:15 a.m.

A consultant will help West Jefferson Hills School District officials determine if public approval is needed to finance a high school construction project.

School board members, in a unanimous vote Tuesday, approved a consulting agreement with Patrick Sable, retired assistant executive director of finance at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, to review funding options for the district's building plans.

Sable will be paid $60 an hour, with a daily rate not to exceed $400. His total pay cannot exceed $4,000.

“We've been running some preliminary numbers as to what the district can afford and what kind of tax increases we can afford and are allowed under (state law) and what the chances are to have a successful referendum,” board Vice President Shauna D'Alessandro said. “The basic question that we're asking him to help us answer is: is referendum our only option?”

District architects earlier this month presented options to the board for the renovation or building of a new high school. The costs of the project ranged from $60 million to $72 million.

To finance the project, the board could seek voters' permission, through referendum, to raise taxes above a Pennsylvania Department of Education-issued index, officials said. That, though, would not occur until at least spring 2014.

Mike Paston, who served as a school director in Upper Dublin — the only district in the state to successfully pass a referendum — spoke to West Jefferson Hills School Board members last week about the process.

“It's something that we should be actually starting to work at now. It involves public awareness of the needs of the school,” said D'Alessandro, noting that about 78 percent of people in the district do not have children in the schools and likely are not aware of the facilities needs.

The district has not raised taxes since the 2008-09 school year.

Board members said they want to review all options and determine if a referendum is the only way to finance the project.

“This is just another step in that process to make sure that we are looking at every avenue we have in order to carry out the building projects that await us,” board President Anthony Angotti said.

Board members are ranking the three options for high school improvements and could vote to select a project next month.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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