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Tentative Greensburg Salem budget hires 17, hikes tax

| Friday, May 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Greensburg Salem school directors have approved a tentative budget that calls for hiring staff to ease classroom overcrowding and increasing property taxes to the highest level allowed by the state.

In a 5-3 vote on Wednesday, directors approved the preliminary $41.11 million budget for 2013-14 that calls for raising property taxes by 1.75 mill and hiring 16 full-time teachers and support personnel, along with a part-time physical education teacher.

President Nat Pantalone, who voted to support the proposed budget, said board members hope to trim the tax increase before final adoption, slated for June 26.

“They're looking at several items to cut,” Pantalone said. “That's been the plan.”

A 1.75-mill hike would cost the average taxpayer — who owns a home with an assessed value of $16,410 — nearly $30 more annually.

Pantalone said the district must hire staff to ease overcrowding, especially in elementary schools, where as many as 30 students are in a classroom.

“We've been cutting for years,” Pantalone said. “We need to address the class size and guidance issues.”

For elementary schools, directors propose hiring five teachers, a reading specialist, two learning-support people and a guidance person.

At the secondary level, they want to hire a guidance counselor and teachers for music, math, science and physical education, and a half-day physical education teacher.

Directors met behind closed doors last week to discuss hiring a guidance counselor to address emotional needs of middle school students.

Directors have accepted 11 resignations via an early-retirement incentive program and one general resignation.

Business Manager James Meyer projected savings of at least $50,000 through the retirements, even taking the hires into account.

Director Lee Kunkle said he joined directors Barbara Vernail and Angela DeMarino-Tooch in voting against the tentative budget because the district wants to hire more teachers than are leaving.

At the same time, Kunkle said, directors keep turning to the financial reserve to balance the budget.

“We'll be broke in two years,” he said. “I just don't think we can sustain these expenditures.

“Once you add personnel, they're in there for the long term,” he added.

Director Ron Mellinger did not attend the meeting.

The proposal calls for $41.11 million in expenses and $39.87 million in revenues, which includes almost $400,000 through the proposed tax increase and use of $1.2 million of the financial reserve to balance the proposed budget.

The proposal leaves about $1.47 million in reserve with the 1.75-mill hike.

Last week, Meyer cautioned directors that he is projecting nearly $1.5 million in increased expenses for 2014-15, much of it related to salaries, pension and health insurance costs.

In another matter, after a closed-door meeting, directors approved a sabbatical leave for health reasons for administrator Lisa Rullo. The leave runs from May 6 to middle of September, district officials said.

Rullo has filed notice in Westmoreland County that she intends to sue the district and school directors Pantalone, Mellinger and Kunkle, claiming harassment.

Rullo and her attorney, Charles Steele, did not return telephone calls.

Pantalone, Mellinger and Amato declined comment.

Kunkle wouldn't talk about the proposed suit directly, but said people file suits and threaten to sue all the time.

“That doesn't mean everything alleged or stated is correct,” Kunkle added. “That's why the legal process has to take its course, and I feel very confident, in the end, the district and three (directors) will prevail.”

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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