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Southmoreland School District budget steady on taxes

| Friday, May 24, 2013, 2:31 a.m.

Southmoreland School District has a preliminary budget in place and if approved in its current form it would not include a tax increase.

School directors voted Thursday to post a spending plan for the 2013-2014 school year that shows expenditures at $26,378,342 and revenues at $25,424,558, which would create a deficit of $953,784 to be offset by the fund balance.

“We are looking to not spend approximately $650,000 of that, so that would obviously reduce that fund balance figure,” Superintendent John Molnar said after the meeting.

Molnar said the fund balance at the end of the 2012-2013 school year is approximately $5.9 million.

The proposed budget will be advertised for 30 days.

Millage in the proposed spending plan would be set at 71.0579 mills for Westmoreland County and 14 mills for Fayette County. One mill generates approximately $108,000 for the school district.

Molnar said the millages were actually slightly lower than last year. Molnar said the millage for Westmoreland County in the 2012-2013 school year was 71.06 and the Fayette County millage rate was 14.0281.

The motion passed by a 7-1 vote, with School Director Catherine Fike voting against it. School Director Ken Alt was not in attendance when the vote on the proposed budget was taken.

Fike reiterated her stance that the district is in financial trouble and her feeling that money should not be taken out of the fund balance.

“When that money is gone we don't have anything, that's bankruptcy,” Fike said. “I'm deeply concerned about what is happening to our fund balance. I'm very concerned what is going to happen at the end of the 2013-2014 school year. I think as school board members we have a duty to act responsibly. I believe that we have been put on notice. We have been informed many times, many ways what is going to happen.”

Board President Levi Miller said he was confident in the financial state of the school district, citing a letter recently received from the Pennsylvania Department of Education that said the district scored above the state mean in student performance and below the state average in expenditures based on 2010 data.

“I think we've been prudent. I think the administration's been prudent,” Miller said. “What is the source of what is being said? Is it somebody who knows what he or she is talking about or is it somebody who is crying wolf?”

School Director Gail Rhodes agreed with Miller that the district is not in bad shape financially.

“I think this district has been very prudent,” she said. “I think if bankruptcy was on the horizon, the administration and our new business manager Mr. (Jim) Marnell would tell us that and would warn us about that. I think we should listen to the people who know, who do this for a living. That's where I think the credible figures should come from and that's what I'm going to go by.”

The board is expected to approve a final budget at its June 27 meeting. School districts have until June 30 to approve a final budget.

Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101 or ppaterra@tribweb.com.

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