United School District eyes 8-mill tax hike

| Thursday, May 23, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Property owners in the United School District could face an 8-mill tax hike next school year, based on a tentative 2013-14 budget the school board approved Tuesday.

School officials said they hope to trim the planned expenditures of $20,380,945 as well as the proposed tax increase by the time a final version of the budget is adopted in June.

The tentative budget was approved by a 5-2 vote following an executive session for personnel reasons at Tuesday's special meeting. Robert Lichtenfels and John Poorbaugh voted against the budget, both indicating they wanted more time to review and discuss the spending plan. Robert Dill and Sandra Mack were absent.

The district has the ability to raise its real estate tax rate by up to 8 mills without local voter approval thanks to approved state exceptions for special education, retirement contributions and maintenance of local revenues.

President Don Davis noted the school board can reduce that rate but can't increase it as part of possible modifications in the final 2013-14 budget.

“The best case is we could go down a little lower than that,” Davis said. “There are still some things we're looking at to make reductions.”

An 8-mill hike would increase United's real estate tax to 104.35 mills. With proposed revenues of just $18,393,869, the district would have to dip into its fund balance for more than $1.9 million in order to bridge the funding gap.

Based on the latest figures, which are not finalized for the current school year, that would leave a remaining fund balance of about $4.5 million.

District officials have been discussing possibilities for reducing personnel costs through attrition. Superintendent Barbara Parkins confirmed there are no plans to fill a custodial position that has been vacant for almost a year.

Davis indicated he believes there are other areas of the budget where the board can pursue cuts that would not involve furloughing teachers.

“We didn't think it was a good idea to furlough teachers where we would approach a class size of 30,” he said. “I don't think we want to do anything that would increase class sizes. That would be detrimental to our students.”

Parkins said the district is looking at a cut of about $8,000 in spending for special education while United's technology budget may increase slightly. She noted that the district may choose to update equipment in its computer-assisted drawing lab with the current computers still capable of being used for other programs.

At its regular meeting a week previously, the board approved a 10-cent hike in school lunch prices in response to the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. New prices will be $2.20 for elementary students and $2.30 at the junior-senior high school. Breakfast and reduced lunch prices will remain the same.

The board agreed to implement an elementary autistic support program and a secondary education life support skills program at the high school beginning in the 2013-14 school year.

United also adopted a resolution supporting an effort by other Indiana County districts — including Indiana Area, Homer-Center, Blairsville-Saltsburg and Marion Center — to develop a Challenger Learning Center in the county that would offer students science, technology and mathematics enrichment through space mission simulations. United pledged $1,096, a figure based on its student enrollment, toward initial project costs.

United approved a dual enrollment agreement that will allow qualifying students to take select courses at St. Francis College. Also approved was an articulation agreement with Delaware Valley College that will provide three college credits to United students who complete animal/vet science instruction and the agriculture science curriculum with at least a B average.

The board awarded a contract of $137,600 to Mid-State Construction for replacing the gymnasium floor at the elementary school.

In other business related to renovation of the elementary building, the board approved several change orders totaling $117,827.84 and a credit for $33,837.50.

Subject to review by the district solicitor, the board approved contracts with Simplex Grinnell for an elementary dialer, at a cost of $689, and monitoring systems at the elementary school and high school, for $420 each.

United approved the Indiana County Technology Center's 2013-14 budget with total expenditures of about $5.9 million and revenues of $3.1 million. The district will contribute a share of $439,750, representing a decrease of slightly less than 1 percent from the previous year.

In personnel matters, the board accepted the resignations of Greg Mytrysak as head football coach and Erik Foust as assistant varsity football coach.

Drs. Henry E. Baldinucci and Phillip J. Turco were appointed as school district physicians for 2013-14, each at a salary of $4,000. Dr. Michael Garver will serve as the district dentist at a cost of $2 per exam.

The United board adopted resolutions urging state officials to increase funding for school construction and renovation projects and to pursue pension reform and reform of the funding formula for cyber charter schools.

United agreed to participate jointly with Indiana Area School District in playing host to as many as four French exchange students Oct. 10-25.

The board approved a list of about 100 seniors as candidates for graduation on June 5. The district agreed to waive facility use fees for two related functions — a baccalaureate service planned by the local ministerium on June 4 and a sixth-grade graduation and dance sponsored by the PTG on the evening of May 31.

The district accepted donation of flat screen monitors from Concurrent Technology Corporation and donation of $250 from Sharon DeRubis to purchase high school library books in memory of her brother, Gilbert DeRubis, who was a United earth science teacher.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or jhimler@tribweb.com.

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