United School Board OKs proposed budget with 1.7-mill tax increase
United School Board on Tuesday approved a proposed 2014-15 budget that would include a 1.7-mill tax increase to help pay for planned expenditures of $20,503,611.
According to district officials, the tax hike will contribute about $70,000 toward the district's expected revenues of $19,360,678. United will dip into its reserve fund to cover the spending deficit of $1,142,933.
The district's real estate tax would increase from 98.76 mills to 100.46 mills if the school board adopts the budget as proposed when it acts next month to finalize a spending plan for the coming fiscal year.
The millage increase would add about $20 to the annual tax bill of an average district property owner, with a home having an assessed value of $12,000,
The proposed budget and tax hike were approved by a 7-2 vote, with Robert Lichtenfels and Eric Matava opposed. The budget will be placed on public display at the district pending final approval in June.
Earlier this year, the board had proposed increasing the school tax to 104.92 mills, but the hike has been scaled back following subsequent budget workshop sessions.
School board President Don Davis noted the 1.7-mill tax increase represents a commitment by a previous United board to annually raise the district millage by that amount over seven years in order to help pay for recently completed elementary school renovations. He indicated that annual tax hike isn't set in stone: “We can revisit that every year.”
District resident Jeannette Bracken of Vintondale asked the board if unnecessary or cosmetic items could be cut from a second renovation project that has begun at the high school, in order to eliminate the proposed tax hike.
“If we keep raising taxes, people are going to move out of the district ” Bracken said.
Davis replied that the board “agonized” about raising the tax rate, but he said he believes the district has arrived at a “bare-bones budget.”
He said he initially opposed the building renovations but came to realize they were needed to improve safety for students and to address aging items such as rotting window frames.
He explained a secure entrance was installed at the elementary school so that visitors will have to pass through the office before they can gain access to other areas of the building. Also, he said, sinks were moved to an outside wall of bathrooms so that teachers, regardless of their gender, can more easily monitor student conduct.
A similar secured entrance is being constructed at the high school and will require relocation of the building and central district office suites.
Board member Trudy DeRubis added that gates will be installed to limit the areas of the building members of the public can access when attending afterschool events. Conversely, handicapped access will be improved through the addition of designated parking spaces.
“I'm excited about the upgrades we can make to our facilities,” Davis said, referring to a proposal for replacing the high school's boiler system that runs on fuel oil with equipment that burns wood chips, at an expected long-term savings.
In a prepared statement about the proposed 2014-15 budget, district officials noted United is facing an expected increase of $265,241 in health care costs, representing an 11.9 percent jump, and an increase in pension contributions of $425,843, or 21.4 percent.
The district's costs for providing basic education and special education programs continue to rise while funding levels from the state to help pay for those operating costs is projected to remain unchanged from the previous year.
Also, because of a state moratorium on the process, United has been waiting several years for promised reimbursements to help pay for the elementary renovations.
High school earns bronze ranking
On a positive note, United officials learned that the district's high school has received a bronze medal in a national ranking of top secondary schools released last month by U.S. News & World Report. The report noted that students at United have the opportunity to take Advanced Placement course work and exams, with a participation rate of 25 percent.
In other business, the school board approved a $3,000 bill for the high school renovation project, from AGX Asbestos Abatement. The board also approved payment of a building permit fee of $20,087 for the project, payable to the Indiana Code Division.
Sandra Mack was elected as school board treasurer, with a bond set at $25,000.
United accepted a $6,000 grant from the Highmark Foundation to purchase exercise equipment at the elementary school — a treadmill and two rowing machines. District superintendent Barbara Parkins said the equipment will be used in conjunction with an afterschool program conducted by the Evergreen Boys and Girls Club.
United granted a one-year renewal agreement for Metz to continue providing food management services in the 2014-15 year. The board accepted the resignation of Mike Blankenship as head junior high wrestling coach.
Dr. Phillip J. Turco was appointed as the district physician for 2014-15 at a salary of $8,000 with Henry Baldinucci resigning from the post. Dr Michael Garver was appointed district dentist at a cost of $2 per examination.
Parkins was granted permission to teach a classroom discipline and management course June 23 to July 31 at Saint Francis University.
United renewed an agreement with Citizens' Ambulance Service to provide ambulance service on school premises and at school functions in 2014-15 at a cost of $2,400. Included is coverage for all home football games.
Chris Matava, Keri Miller, Thomas Whitcomb and Robert Penrose were authorized to accompany eligible students to the PIAA State Track and Field Meet May 22-24 in Shippensburg at a total cost of $4,310. Kristie Good will accompany two students to Penn State during FFA Activities Week, June 10-12, at a cost of $971.
The school board waived facility use fees for the local ministerium, which will conduct a baccalaureate service for high school seniors on June 5, and for the PTG, which will conduct a sixth-grade graduation and dance on May 30.
The board approved a list of about 82 seniors who will receive their diplomas provided they earn sufficient credits and complete all graduation requirements.
United approved an agreement with the Cambria County Association for the Blind and Handicapped, which will provide vocational assessment testing at a rate of $60 per student and pre-vocational/vocational training at $40 per student per half day of attendance.
Adelphoi Education will offer day treatment services for students at a cost of $72.25 per day for general alternative eduction and $80.10 per day for special education services. The agreement was subject to language recommendations by the solicitor.
The district accepted donation by DeRubis of the book “The Burglary, the Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI” by Betty Medsger, a member of the United High School Class of 1960, in memory of a fellow member of that class, Margaret June Cramer Wright.
The board recognized the achievements of several students who have advanced in academic and technical competitions.
Two United High School students who attend the Indiana County Technology Center — Shawn Naworol, who is studying auto technology, and Katilyn Smith, who is studying culinary arts — placed first in Skills-USA competitions at the district and state level and will now participate in the National Skill and Leadership Championships June 23-28 in Kansas City.
United senior Halee Reasor, who also attends ICTC, will participate in the National Leadership Conference June 29-July 2 in Nashville, Tenn., after placing second in the Digital Design and Promotion event at the Future Business Leaders of America state competition in Hershey.
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or email@example.com.