ShareThis Page

Blairsville-Saltsburg School Board holds tax line, approves erosion repair at stadium

Jeff Himler
| Thursday, July 3, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

Blairsville-Saltsburg School Board has approved work to repair soil erosion at Blairsville's football stadium while also agreeing to hold the line on district property taxes for the sixth year in a row.

At its June 24 meeting, the board moved forward with two contracts for reconstructing a slope on the northwest side of the stadium. Heavy rainfall late last summer triggered soil erosion there that affected a nearby section of the stadium's running track.

The board accepted the bid of BNC Construction of Champion to complete the soil erosion fix, at a cost of $143,900. School directors also authorized a contract with GeoMechanics Inc. of Elizabeth for geotechnical engineering services related to the project.

According to its proposal, the latter company will oversee the work, verifying that “the excavation is extended down to proper depths and that the replacement fill materials are compacted accordingly.”

GeoMechanics cited a cost estimate for its services of $16,140 if the construction work can be completed in three weeks. If the project takes longer to finish, the fee will increase based on unit prices including a combined $205 per hour for two geotechnical engineers.

School board member Rick Harper, who chairs the buildings and grounds committee, noted the project costs came in under budget.

In a related matter, Harper reported that the committee has recommended against pursuing improvements to the visitors' bleachers at either the Blairsville or Saltsburg football stadiums. “The feeling is the visitors' bleachers are not a must-have,” he said.

However, he said the district should continue with a feasibility study for installing a new storage building at the Saltsburg athletic field.

Turning to other capital improvement projects, the school board authorized district administrators to seek bids for replacing the air-conditioning system in the Blairsville Middle/High School auditorium, which is showing signs of its age.

There was a decision not to pursue installation of air conditioning either in the Blairsville Middle/High School cafeteria or in the Saltsburg Elementary School.

According to Harper, his committee felt it would be better to reserve funds for future improvements on the Blairsville campus. He said the district is anticipating replacing 20-year-old windows and paving the parking lots there next summer. The school board followed through by authorizing its architectural engineering consultant, HHSDR, to prepare a cost analysis for that proposed work.

In the meantime, the school board agreed to hire Fiorina Paving to perform some more immediate touch-up work in the parking lots at each of the two school campuses. The contractor will reseal and repair cracks over one-third of each lot, for a cost of $9,150 at the Blairsville campus and $4,745 at the Saltsburg campus. That work will be paid for from the district's 2014-15 capital reserve budget.

Harper noted the district is withholding a payment to the contractor for the recent Blairsville campus roof project because of some “bubbling” in the roofing material.

The school board finalized the district's overall 2014-15 budget, which will hold real estate taxes at the current rates — 109.86 mills for properties in Loyalhanna Township, Westmoreland County, and 126.34 mills for properties in the remaining portion of the district, located in Indiana County.

The new budget totals $31,517,344, reflecting an increase of just over $1 million from the amount budgeted for 2013-14.

According to Business Manager Eric Kocsis, one of the largest cost increases the district faces in the new school year is its pension obligations, which are expected to rise by about $250,000.

The school board set a discount rate of 2 percent for those who promptly pay their real estate tax and a penalty rate of 10 percent for those who pay late, after the face-value period has expired.

The board also authorized real estate tax reductions for 3,725 homesteads and farmsteads in the district that have been approved for the tax breaks funded by state gambling proceeds under the Taxpayer Relief Act of 2006. For the 2014-15 fiscal year, approved properties in Indiana County each may receive a maximum tax reduction of $306.50 while those in Westmoreland County may receive a maximum break of $306.62.

Administrator pay hikes OK'd

In personnel matters, the school board approved new employment contracts for Kocsis, district superintendent Tammy Whitfield and H. Patrick Rosborough, the director of maintenance and buildings and grounds. Salary increases for the 2014-15 school year also were granted to those three as well as other administrators and additional non-union personnel.

Whitfield was granted a new five-year contract that begins April 8, 2015 — before her current contract expires — and extends through April 7, 2020. She received a raise of 2 percent, or $2,676, on July 1 of this year. for a salary of $136,468, and then a 3 percent annual increase under the new contract.

Annual 3-percent pay hikes were approved for Kocsis, whose new contract extends from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2019, and for Rosborough, who was granted a contract from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2017. Salaries in 2014-15 will be $106,806 for Kocsis and $65,841 for Rosborough.

Similar to the provisions of new union contracts recently approved for the district's teachers and support personnel, the three administrators will be switching to a high-deductible medical benefits plan that is expected to reduce the district's cost.

Raises granted in 2014-15 for other administrators include: James Brida, director of food services, $1,532 (representing a 2.5-percent hike); Leigh Free, transportation coordinator/student services, $1,871 (3 percent); Joseph Baker, Blairsville Elementary School principal, $1,761 (2 percent); Allan Berkhimer, Saltsburg Middle/High School principal, $1,597 (2 percent); Regina Geesey, supervisor of special education, $1,792 (2 percent); Tracy Richards, Saltsburg Elementary principal, $2,549 (3 percent); Jeff Soles, Blairsville Middle/High School principal, $2,636 (3 percent).

The following non-union employees received flat pay hikes of $1,500 each for 2014-15: Kathy Himes, administrative assistant to the superintendent; Alice Santoro, administrative assistant to the assistant superintendent; Becky Halberg, payroll specialist/accounts payable; Nancy Powell, administrative assistant to the business manager; Jay Batsa, information technology systems technician.

Board members Harper and Holly Hall voted against the three new contracts, noting they were not informed in advance about a negotiating committee meeting where the agreements were discussed.

Citing the same reason, Hall also voted against the salary increases for 2014-15, but Harper said he felt those pay hikes simply fell in line with the terms of previous contracts.

District officials said, through an oversight, notice of the committee session was sent only to members of that panel, not to all school board members.

“I'm sick of the oversights and the lack of transparency,” Hall responded.

The board approved a plan, effective in September, that allows eligible employees to choose to receive cash in lieu of medical coverage and to make pre-tax contributions to their Health Savings Accounts.

School board member Anthony Canzano was appointed district treasurer for the 2014-15 year, bonded for $10,000 through Ohio Casualty Insurance.

Mark DeMarines was hired as a teacher at the secondary level, with his specific assignment to be determined. He will receive a salary of $46,000, at the second step of the Instructional I salary scale.

The board accepted resignations from music teacher Karen Marshall, who has accepted employment elsewhere, and from Karen Sulkosky, an instructional assistant at Blairsville Elementary. The board agreed to seek applicants to fill the music vacancy and, if necessary, the elementary assistant post.

The board approved hiring a food service intern for the month of July, at a cost not to exceed $1,000.

Named to supplemental contracted positions for 2014-15 were: Josh Mottillo, assistant Blairsville band director; Melinda Weimer, Blairsville band front adviser; Mary Aikins, Blairsville 11th-grade class adviser; Jason Mottillo and Zack Cable, assistant band co-directors at Saltsburg Middle/High School; Sharon Highberger, Saltsburg social studies chair; Heather Droste, Saltsburg science chair; Melissa Milanak and Brandy DelleDonne, girls' track head and assistant co-coaches.

Field trips to stay cost-free

As a way to conserve funds, the school board voted to continue a policy of eliminating all district-funded field trips for 2014-15. Also eliminated will be district-funded athletic conferences and out-of-district, non-required monthly principal meetings.

The board specifically authorized students to travel for Heritage Conference academic competitions and choral and band competitions.

The field trip policy passed by a 5-4 margin, with Hall, Harper, Holly Gibson and Linda Brown opposed.

The board approved three field trips next spring that will not require district funding. Saltsburg fifth-graders will visit the McKeever Outdoor Education Center Feb. 18-20 and the Gettysburg National Battlefield on May 14. The district's gifted support students will take a trip to Chicago May 28-30.

In other business, the school board accepted a state audit report of district operations for the year ending Jun 30, 2013, with no findings listed.

Blairsville-Saltsburg school directors approved adding Purchase Line as a member district of the Indiana County Technology Center. Purchase Line is the last county district to join the center in White Township.

In curriculum matters, the school board approved purchase of Science Fusion instruction materials for grades K-8 from Houghton Mifflin at a cost not to exceed $90,000. The district also is purchasing high school biology instruction materials from Pearson Mill/Levin at a cost not to exceed $10,300 and chemistry and AP chemistry materials from Pearson at a cost not to exceed $22,000.

Physics materials, from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, will cost up to $14,700. The district also will buy four microcams for microscopes in biology classrooms, at a cost not to exceed $4,000, and will purchase Current Science magazine for middle school instruction at a cost not to exceed $615.

The school board also approved a license agreement with National Network of Digital Schools for curriculum services and a 2014-15 contract with NHS School of Apollo, which provides services for children with autism or an emotional disturbance.

The school board approved voluntary separation agreements with two students identified only by six-digit numbers.

During public comment, resident Tara Bartolini repeated her objection to the half-day instructional schedule that will continue on Fridays, allowing teachers more time for staff development.

Bartolini asked if the impact of the schedule on students' standard test scores has been evaluated, and Whitfield noted the district is still waiting to receive the scores.

“The scores will be looked at, and the professional development the teachers receive — that will be looked at as well,” Whitfield said.

Bartolini suggested that the district should have demanded that teachers work more days per school year rather than altering student instructional time on Fridays.

Kocsis said, during negotiation of the recently approved new teachers' contract, district representatives initially asked teachers to work three extra days per year, but the two sides finally agreed on adding one day for teachers.

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

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.