Next West Jefferson Hills superintendent to be involved with the new high school construction project
By Stephanie Hacke
Published: Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
The next West Jefferson Hills School District superintendent should help determine how to finance a new high school, board members said Tuesday.
After several years of interim and acting superintendents in the district, board members plan to name a person to fill the permanent post within the next month, board President Anthony Angotti said.
The board is interviewing candidates, and already have spoken with as many as 12 people, he said.
“I think it is important that we hear from this person,” board Vice President Shauna D'Alessandro said.
The next superintendent should weigh in on future construction projects, the final facilities master plan study – or a blueprint of how to improve all district facilities – and how to finance a new $73 million high school, leaders said.
The options are to either to “phase in” tax increases – raising the millage rate up to a state-allotted index each year – or seek voter permission, through referendum, either for the construction of a new high school or to allow the district to go above the index, said Patrick Sable, president of Sable Solutions LLC. The district hired Sable to review financing options.
The estimates assume the project would be to build a new high school on the 151 acres the district is working to secure on Old Clairton Road. The board plans to vote in May on the facilities master plan which includes a new high school project.
“This building will not sustain us for another 50 years. All things come to an end,” Angotti said. “This board will not make a decision to do something until we know that we can pay for it.”
Jamie Doyle, director of The PFM Group, recommended the district take several steps to finance a new high school, including: increasing millage each year beginning in 2013-14 to the allowable index and seek exceptions to that when possible; contribute from the district's reserve to the project; and borrow money in smaller portions over several years. This proposal would not require a referendum vote.
The district currently has a fund balance of about $20 million, with $9 million of that set aside for construction projects, director of finance Tracy Harris said. The Pennsylvania Department of Education set index for West Jefferson Hills for 2013-14 is 2.2 percent.
Assuming that number stays the same for the next several years, Doyle charted out borrowing and tax increases needed to finance the high school project.
Bonds would come in increments of between $4.6 and $22.5 million, with one bond being taken out each year between 2013 and 2018.
Proposed millage increases, under this plan, would range from .38 in 2013-14 to .46 in 2019-20.
The district's current millage is 21.08.
District leaders, though, plan to reduce that rate later this year, likely to about 17.46 mills, to abide by state laws and not receive a windfall from the countywide reassessments, they said.
Proposed millage increases in Doyle's plan would take the district rate from 17.46 in 2013-14 to 20.45 in 2019-20.
A resident with a property valued at $100,000, would have their tax bill increase by $38.41 the first year, district officials said. At the end of seven years, that homeowner would end up paying an additional $299 in district taxes, leaders said.
“The idea with all of this is a phase in. It's not hit the taxpayers all at once,” Sable said. “It is an investment for all of the community, not just for the people that have children in schools.”
There are many factors that could change this plan.
If exceptions are granted it could reduce the number of years that it would take to get to the required tax rate for the project, Doyle said. Sable recommended using the remainder of the district's reserve not tapped for this project to help with day-to-day spending and other improvements needed in the district.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or email@example.com.
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