State gives Armstrong district OK to raise taxes above inflation rate
State education officials granted Armstrong School District permission to raise property taxes 1.11 mills above its inflation rate for the 2013-14 school year.
During a school board meeting on Monday evening, Superintendent Stan Chapp said the district applied for 4.13 of additional millage to offset the rising costs of pension obligations and special-education.
Act 1 of 2006 was established to keep school districts planning tax increases within an inflation-based cap decided by the state.
In return, district residents receive a share of state gambling revenue through reduced tax bills.
“We got the one exemption for Pfizer (employee pension benefits), but we were denied for special-education,” said Chapp. “So the maximum the tax rate can go up is 1.11 mills above the index.”
Although it was announced last week that about half of the 171 districts in the state requesting exceptions were granted the full amount requested and all five Alle-Kiski Valley districts received permission to exceed the inflation cap, the issue became a point of contention during Monday's meeting.
Adam Grafton of South Bend said he had looked at the numbers in question and believed ASD could've faced a potential 5-mill increase.
“I want to say emphatically that I think this action is an outrage and a slap in the face to ASD taxpayers,” said Grafton, a candidate for school director in the May 21 primary election.
“The board chose to bypass the ASD voters and taxpayers by applying for and getting state exceptions. The exceptions do not make expenses go away.”
After the meeting, board president Joe Close clarified the district's position.
“The only reason you apply for these exceptions is because of increased costs above normalcy,” said Close. “School districts have to do this to save their own money. Unfortunately, the only way for a district to bring revenue in is to increase taxes. Nobody likes to do that, but that's the only way. We're not the federal government. We have to have a budget. But we also obviously aren't raising them 5 mills.”
Grafton also questioned the recent announcement that moving the district administration offices into West Hills Primary School in East Franklin before the next school year will cost roughly $300,000 when he remembered Chapp saying during a meeting in January the project would primarily consist of installing temporary walls.
Close again clarified, saying the $300,000 cost was expected all along.
“As that (move to West Hills) was proposed by Dr. Chapp in its infancy stages, it was always proposed we'd spend that much money,” said Close. “It's nothing that's changed and it's not new.”
In other news:
• Chapp announced that West Shamokin Junior-Senior High School was recognized for the second straight year by US News & World Report in its annual list of best high schools. West Shamokin received a “bronze” rank thanks partly to its 11:1 student/teacher ratio and high state test scores. “It's quite an honor for the building and the school district,” said Chapp.
• Kittanning Senior High wrestler Jason Nolf was honored for becoming a two-time state champion in March. “He's also a three-time WPIAL champion for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013,” said Chapp. “He's ranked in the top five nationally and I believe he's only ever lost one match. That's an amazing accomplishment.” Board member Larry Robb said Nolf also is competitive in the classroom. “I believe he's ranked second in his class and I know he's pushing to be No. 1,” said Robb. “So that discipline carries over from the mat.”
Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303 or email@example.com.