Higher mandated costs, more students drives North Hills property tax hike
Property owners in the North Hills School District will pay an additional 2.2 percent — or $52 for a home at the district’s median value — to fund the 2019-20 school budget.
The board voted unanimously June 6 to approve the more than $83.9 million spending plan, which includes additional revenue to cover the increasing costs for pension payments, special education programs and more staff for the district’s growing student population.
The tax increase adds $52 a year to the annual tax bill for a property assessed at the district’s $135,900 median value, according to district officials.
The additional 0.4 mills raises the rate to 18.65 mills.
At the new rate, property owners will pay $18.65 for every $1,000 of their home’s assessed value.
The tax increase, which is the sixth in as many years, is expected to generate about $1.04 million in additional revenue for the district.
Board members said much of the need to increase taxes is being driven by the higher cost of providing programs and services over which the district has little or no control.
“There’s nothing we would like better, and that I would like personally, than to deliver you a zero tax increase,” said school Director Annette Giovengo Nolish, who chairs the board’s finance committee. “That’s where we start, that’s where we try. That’s what we hope to happen. But we’re not in a position to do that and a lot of things are out of our control.”
The board noted that the district’s required annual payment into the state-maintained teacher pension plan was nearly $13 million this year, which represented a 127-percent increase over the payment five years ago and is 500-percent more than the required payment 11 years ago.
Nolish criticized the state for poor management of the once fully funded pension fund.
“They (the state) used the money for other things and never replaced it,” she said. “And now we are paying for it. We have no choice. The state sends us a bill.”
Tuition payments for students who attend charter and cyber-charter schools also has been cited as a cost over which the district has no control.
Officials said about $1.2 million in tuition was paid to charter schools for the 2018-19 school year.
The district’s growing student population during the past several years also has required more spending.
In the past seven years, 20 teachers were hired to educate the 476 students attending districdt schools, which adds about $1.2 million to the s annual budget.
The district also hired four additional special education teachers, four math specialists, two reading specialists and a speech therapist at an approximate cost of $660,000 a year.
The annual cost of providing state-mandated special education services has gone from from $7.9 million in 2014 to $9.5 million, an increase of more than 20 percent.
Board President Ed Wielgus said the district has tried to offset the cost of educating the additional students by transferring the 6th grade students next year to the middle school to create more room in the elementary buildings.
He noted that even though the move will cost the district about $850,000, it is a far cheaper alternative to the several million dollar it would cost to construct another school or expanding existing buildings.
Wielgus said while the board is sensitive to the impact multiple tax increases have had on residents over the past several years, North Hills has managed to maintain the quality of its education while keeping the tax rate the lowest among nine neighboring school districts and the fifth lowest of the 41 districts in Allegheny County.
“I don’t think you can get better than being the lowest,” he said.
Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368, [email protected] or via Twitter .