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Apollo-Ridge budget calls for maximum tax hike

| Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 1:24 a.m.

The school board is considering a property tax increase of 2.5 percent, but that would still leave a nearly $2 million deficit in the coming school year, according to district officials.

The board voted 7-0 on Monday to approve a preliminary $21.6 million budget for the 2012-13 school year with such a tax increase.

School directors Lance Foster and Sharon Jaworskyj were absent.

Under the plan, Apollo-Ridge would spend about $1 million more in 2012-13 than was budgeted to spend in 2010-11.

The district would collect about $19.7 million in revenue, about $1.9 million less than it plans to spend, according to Business Manager Richard Day.

When equalized between Armstrong and Indiana counties, which the school district straddles, the tax increase becomes 2.2 percent in Armstrong County, from 59.5 to 60.8 mills, and 12.6 percent in Indiana County, from 143.2 mills to 161.3 mills.

For homes assessed at the median values in both counties, the increase would add $35 to an Armstrong County property owner's school tax bill, and $141 for an Indiana County property owner.

According to Day, additional costs next year include about $152,000 in salary increases; a $232,000, or 11.5 percent, increase in health insurance rates; a $329,000 increase in retirement costs; a $67,000 increase in debt service; and $147,000 more in special education spending.

The district would save about $450,000 in the first year by not replacing five retiring teachers.

The school board last night accepted the resignations of four retiring teachers -- Domenic Roberto, high school social studies; Diane Paulina, high school family and consumer science; and Renee Clawson and Sally Oliver, elementary school teachers.

The savings of not replacing the five teachers climbs each year, to $900,000 in the second, Day said.

Replacing each teacher would cost about $60,000 in the first year, he said.

Day noted that student enrollment, which has dropped by about 11 percent from the 2009-10 school year, is projected to continue to decline.

State funding is the same as it was in the 2008-09 school year.

The district would cover the $1.9 million deficit from its reserves, which is projected to be about $5.2 million on June 30, down from about $5.8 million a year ago.

Without "small sacrifices" and if current trends continue, Day said the district's reserve fund will evaporate by 2015.

In the future, he said the district may need to consider a variety of actions to cut costs or raise money, including elimination of late activity bus runs, fees for extra-curricular activities, labor contract concessions, nonprofessional staff cuts and increased class sizes.

Regina Liermann of Kiski Township asked why taxpayers would have to wait for those measures. She said students, not taxpayers, should pay if a student wants to participate in a "recreational activity."

"It's obvious you're going to put the burden on us," she said. "We have no more to give."

Contract changes, such as changing insurance co-pays and tuition reimbursement, can't happen until a labor contract comes up for renewal, board President Greg Primm said.

The district will begin negotiating with its teachers next January, he said.

The board will pass a final budget in June.

Brian Rittmeyer can be reached at brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

About the tax hike

The median assessed value of a house in the Armstrong County portion of Apollo-Ridge is $27,440, according to district officials. Here's what the 2012-13 tax bill would look like for such a property:

Current tax rate: 59.5 mills

Proposed tax rate: 60.8 mills

Old tax bill: $1,633

New tax bill: $1,668

Tax increase: $35

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