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Greater Latrobe agrees to cap on possible tax hike

| Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

While the Greater Latrobe school district awaits state funding announcements, officials say they feel confident enough to stay within the state-mandated inflation index.

The school board approved a resolution during its meeting on Tuesday night to remain within the index of 2.7 percent for 2014-15 set by the state Department of Education.

Business administrator Dan Watson presented early budget numbers to the board last week, reporting that state retirement benefits are projected to account for half of the overall budget increases for next year, some of which will be reimbursed.

He said he will have a better idea by May if any property tax increase is necessary for the next school year, beginning with Gov. Tom Corbett's initial announcements in February.

“We're happy with our preliminary numbers right now,” Watson said. “There's more to come, way too early to tell.”

Superintendent Judith Swigart said staff and school board members have done well in accounting for those obligations.

“The fact that we're able to approve the motion to stay within the index, I think, is indicative of the hard work that the district has done to really try to curb expenses and increase revenues,” she said.

School board member Kathryn Elder said officials consider other long-term expenses, such as capital improvements, along with the state retirement contributions.

The index is calculated by averaging the percent increases in statewide average weekly wages and the federal employment cost index for elementary and secondary schools, according to the state Department of Education website.

School districts can request changes to the index with requests for exceptions or voter referendums.

“I would be very happy if we were able to stay below the index,” said Elder, head of the finance committee. “It's good to see the economy of the state recovering so the index gives us a little more breathing room.”

In other business, the board approved the inclusion of electronic cigarettes in the list of prohibited tobacco products on school property.

Elder said the Pennsylvania School Boards Association recommended the addition to the policy, which she hopes can further discourage tobacco use among students.

“You need to have a policy before it's a problem, because if you wait until it's a problem, then that problem shades what you're going to adopt as the policy,” she said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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