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Homer-Center School District holds line on real estate millage

| Thursday, July 4, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

The Homer-Center School Board has some good news for taxpayers: There will be no millage increase associated with the school district's new 2013-14 budget.

Also, the district expects to save about $40,000 by refinancing some bonds that were issued in 2007.

At its June 27 meeting, the board unanimously approved a final budget with $15,220,696 in expenditures while keeping the property tax rate at 125.6 mills. James McLoughlin and Sherri Williams were absent.

The tax freeze follows hikes of 3 mills, approved last year, and 9.2 mills, passed the previous year.

“We're just really thrilled not to have to raise taxes this year,” said school board President Vicki Smith.

School director Julie Rado, who has voted against past district spending plans that required tax hikes, said, “This is the first year I can vote for the budget, and I'm happy to do that.”

The school board set $212.52 as the maximum property tax reduction that would be credited next year to properties that have been approved for a homestead or farmstead exclusion under the state's Taxpayer Relief Act. The reductions are made possible through the district's expected receipt of $393,167.09 as its share of state gambling tax revenues.

The board also approved a plan that allows property owners to pay their real estate taxes in three equal installments — due by Aug. 31, Oct. 31 and Dec. 31. No discount applies but a 10 percent delinquent penalty will apply for amounts not paid by the installment due date.

Smith noted the 2013-14 budget does not provide for restoration of high school wood shop and graphic arts programs that were eliminated in 2011-12, when the board adjusted to steep cuts in state funding. But she said district officials hope to bring those courses back at some point.

Superintendent Charles Koren noted the district will be “hardening the entrances” to both the high school and elementary buildings, for increased security. The cost of the improvements, which will allow an audiovisual check of visitors before they enter each school, is estimated at about $100,000, to be drawn from the district's capital reserve fund. In a related motion, the board approved transfer of $259,249 into that fund from the general fund.

H-C also committed $717,778 from the district's general fund balance toward future obligations for employee pensions, which are expected to rise sharply in the immediate future.

The school board agreed to refinance through S&T Bank about $1.7 million in bonds the district issued in 2007. The bank is offering interest rates of up to 2.1 percent on the bonds compared to rates of up to 4 percent the district originally would have paid.

Cessna said the refinancing should save about $40,000. Most of the savings will be realized in the first two years of seven years of scheduled payments.

Several staff milestones were recognized.

The board approved the retirement of elementary teacher Sherry Dellaposta, retroactive to June 6. She has completed 42 years of service to the district.

“I enjoyed every minute of it,” said Dellaposta, who received a standing ovation from district officials and audience members.

She recalled that she initially taught students at the Graceton elementary school, beginning in September 1971, before moving to the current  Homer-Center Elementary School when it opened in April 1974. She noted the current school initially had an “open space” design with permanent interior classroom walls added in a 1999 renovation.

Elementary teacher Erin Hildebrand and high school instructor Joshua Tobin were granted tenure after each completed three years of satisfactory teaching in the district.

The board recognized Koren's first anniversary as superintendent at H-C. Smith credited Koren for getting the district “back on the path to success”

Based on preliminary results from the past year's standardized academic testing, she said, “We have stopped the slide. We still have a lot of work to do... Now we can work on bringing those scores back up.”

The board presented a bouquet of flowers to central office secretary Carol Black, recognizing her 31 years also serving as recording secretary at board meetings. Rhonda Clifford was named last month to succeed Black as board secretary.

The board hired Carie Cavalier as a high school/athletic department secretary, at a starting wage of $10.79 per hour, and approved new volleyball coaching staff: Hilary Scheuermann, jv assistant, starting at $2,212; and junior high head coach Emily Gates and junior high assistant Melissa Jones, at $1,317 each. Those salaries will be adjusted for 2013-14 according to labor contracts.

Copies of a DVD recording of the recent high school commencement ceremony are available for members of the Class of 2013 to pick up in the high school office.

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

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