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Blairsville-Saltsburg taxes remain steady for 2013-14

| Friday, June 28, 2013, 6:33 p.m.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Saltsburg American Legion chaplain Dan McGregor complains about fee to use the Saltsburg High School auditorium at the June 19 Blairsville-Saltsburg school board meeting at Blairsville High School.

The Blairsville-Saltsburg School Board has adopted a balanced 2013-14 budget that will require no tax increase for district property owners for the fifth consecutive year.

But above-contract pay raises for administrators and uneven distribution of tax revenues gave a few board members pause during voting at the June 19 meeting.

Holly Hall and Rick Harper each voted against approving the budget, which lists $30,468,561 in revenues and expenditures.

Harper said he was bothered by the amount of tax money generated in the Blairsville area, which he said ends up paying for expenses incurred by the Saltsburg-area schools.

“We don't pay for field trips, we can't afford an extra fourth-grade teacher, we can't afford to fix up our football field or hire assistant coaches,” Harper said. “I'm a Blairsville guy and I'm looking at these numbers and I'm telling myself ‘Yes, we can. We can afford these things.' But our money goes over to Saltsburg.”

The board unanimously voted to keep tax rates steady.

Property tax rates for district residents in Indiana County remained at 126.34 mills while the Westmoreland County property tax rate stayed at 109.86 mills.

The board also approved homestead and farmstead exclusion real estate tax assessment reductions of $305.87 for Indiana County and $305.85 for Westmoreland County, for those who qualify.

Personnel items constituted the main points of contention at the meeting, specifically pay raises for top administrators that exceeded the percentage-based increases negotiated through contracts.

Hall read from a prepared statement, criticizing proposed $4,000 raises for the superintendent, assistant superintendent and business manager before voting against motions to approve administrative personnel salaries and non-union personnel salaries.

“I personally am opposed to any increases beyond the scope of the negotiated contracts,” said Hall, who noted superintendent Tammy Whitfield's contract calls for a 2 percent increase to her $129,792 salary. “I take this position because I've not been provided with any empirical data, no written proof, and little to no explanation as to why these increases are deserved. I believe there is a distinct lack of transparency in these discussions, and furthermore, I believe we are being rushed to judgement in direct violation of the timelines dictated by the contracts in question.”

Hall was not present at a June 5 executive session, during which the school board discussed personnel matters up for vote at last Wednesday's meeting.

Harper and Holly Gibson voted against the pay raises for Whitfield, assistant superintendent Ian Magness and business manager Eric Kocsis. Hall, Harper and Gibson voted against continuing the district's practice of not funding student field trips.

The board heard from American Legion Post 57 chaplain Dan McGregor about the group's disappointment that the district sought to charge $56.88 for use of the Saltsburg High School auditorium for two hours in the event of rain during the town's Memorial Day service. McGregor said the auditorium had been reserved as a contingency option for the event “for decades and never involved a fee, a tax, a levy or an assessment of any kind.”

In other business, the board:

• Approved an agreement with Fiorina Paving to reseal and repair cracks on one-third of each parking lot at each of the district's campuses. The district will pay $5,000 for work at Saltsburg and $6,675 for work at Blairsville.

• Approved an agreement for emergency medical services with Citizens' Ambulance Service, Inc. in the amount of $2,100 for the 2013-14 school year.

• Approved the district's participation in a Title II B Math and Science Partnership Grant in cooperation with the Chester County IU24. The Chester County intermediate unit was awarded $1,360,190 through the competitive grant program.

• Approved a motion to host a NASA Summer of Innovation camp at Saltsburg Middle-High School July 22-26. Two district teachers will be trained to conduct the free science discovery program for middle-school students.

• Approved Creative Writing/Public Speaking as a new course offering, along with a corresponding text.

• Authorized the administration to purchase Prentice Hall Literature Common Core 2012 and Prentice Hall Common Core Readers Journey as the selected texts for Grades 6-8 English and Language Arts courses, at a cost not to exceed $45,000.

• Authorized the administration to approve and pilot Prentice Hall Literature Common Core 2015 as the selected texts for Grades 9-12 English courses.

• Authorized the administration to develop and deploy an in-school, one-to-one program at the middle schools using Google Chromebook computers for the 2013-14 school year, and approved purchase of the computers at a cost not to exceed $120,000.

• Agreed to purchase of three mobile iPad carts and covers for the elementary schools at a cost not to exceed $60,000, and two mobile iPad carts and covers for the Middle School Business/Technology classrooms at a cost not to exceed $38,000.

• Approved purchase of Macbook Pro laptops for High School/Middle School eAcademy/B-S Virtual Acadmey teachers at a cost not to exceed $35,000.

• Approved purchase of EdInsight Observation Tool for Principals at a cost not to exceed $4,200.

• Renewed Microsoft Enterprise licensing through Lancaster-Lebanon IU13 at a cost not to exceed $15,000.

• Approved purchase of the Photon for Education application and associated services for all students at a cost not to exceed $10,000.

• Approved purchase from Apple of an App Volume Voucher for an amount not to exceed $4,000.

• Approved purchase of a kiln for the art department at Saltsburg Middle/High School at a cost not to exceed $8,000.

• Approved a Family Medical Leave request and June 21 retirement for HVAC mechanic Kevin Sasway.

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or

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