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Plum/Oakmont

Latest Plum school budget looks at raising taxes, cutting staff, keeping full-time kindergarten

Michael DiVittorio
| Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, 9:57 a.m.
Plum High School
Michael DiVittorio
Plum High School

The proposed Plum School District budget for 2018-19 looks at raising taxes, cutting staff and would be balanced with borrowed money.

Board President Steve Schlauch said the budget is a work in progress.

“Nothing's tied down or set in stone,” Schlauch said.

Business Manager John Zahorchak said the district will seek to raise taxes beyond the Act 1 index — a formula that limits tax increases — because of increased pension and special education costs.

He said he was unsure what the tax hike would be after the state reviews the district's request for exemptions, but it could be at least 3.2 percent.

The proposed budget has a millage rate of 21.215 mills, which is a 0.972-mill hike compared to this year. A property owner with a median home value of $116,000 would pay $113 more a year as a result of the increase

“That is a very speculative number, but that is what we have to use to get to the revenues in our budget,” Zahorchak said. “That millage rate is really a shot in the dark. We really don't know what the exemptions are going to be at all. We have to go out and submit documents to the state.”

Plum could raise taxes to 20.891 mills under the Act 1 index, should the state not approve the exemptions. That would equal a median home value property owner paying $75 more in taxes.

The proposed budget will be adopted and submitted to the state in February — a requirement to be eligible for raising taxes above the index. The final budget does not have to be adopted until June 30.

Schlauch stressed the board's commitment to not raising taxes and that the final budget will likely not be close to what's currently proposed.

“I am looking at balancing a budget with cost reductions, closing a school and consolidation with no tax increase,” said Schlauch.

The board raised taxes last year by 0.866 mills and took out a 12-year, $5.6 million loan. It used approximately $1.4 million of the borrowed money to balance the budget. The proposed spending plan projects using nearly $1 million of the money to offset revenue shortfalls.

Staff reductions will come from closing Regency Elementary School and cutting high school foreign language classes nearly in half in favor of more online options.

Closing the school is estimated to save the district at least $1.1 million annually. The board has not decided what to do with its 250 students.

Plans discussed included changing Pivik and Center elementaries to kindergarten through fourth-grade and Holiday Park would be for fifth- and sixth-graders, or having the elementary schools K-5 and shifting sixth grade to Oblock Junior High. All of the elementary schools are now K-6.

Board members had talked about reducing kindergarten to part-time to save money, but the latest budget keeps it at full-time.

“We don't know what the educational programming's going to look like, so therefore we don't know what it's going to cost,” acting Superintendent Gail Yamnitzky said.

Parent Amy Beninati hopes the board leaves Oblock alone.

“It's the one school that the board has not sabotaged, and now you're going to do this? Great,” she said at a recent board meeting. “This board has a reputation of not considering the future impact of any decision they make.”

Chuck Griffin has two daughters who go to Center Elementary. He read the names of teachers from a list in his hand during the meeting.

“Everything's numbers with this board,” Griffin said. “I'd like to put a name to those numbers.”

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367, mdivittorio@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.

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