Riverview holds taxes but cuts teachers
Riverview School District property owners will not have to pay more in real estate taxes, but students will see fewer familiar faces next school year.
School directors voted 6-3 on June 11 to approve the 2018-19 spending plan, which keeps taxes at 23 mills but includes the furlough of three teachers.
Directors Jon Nehlsen, Freda Aughenbaugh, Alex DiClaudio, Arlene Loeffler, Vice President David DiPietro and President Maureen McClure voted in favor of the budget. Ernest Tillman, Jeanine Hurt-Robinson and Lisa Ashbaugh dissented.
Ashbaugh, who was the only board member who explained her vote during the meeting, said she was against the budget because it did not include a tax increase to help add revenue and avoid staff cuts.
Other school directors talked afterward about why cutting staffing and not raising taxes was the best move.
“Local school districts, especially small ones, have to do everything they can to ensure that we're resilient to future cuts from the state,” DiClaudio said. He noted the district offered an early retirement incentive, but only two out of five eligible employees took the deal.
DiPietro said the district did not have as many savings options this year as in previous ones, such as transportation contract negotiations.
“The opportunities to find large reductions in costs were not available to us this year,” he said. “In the future of Riverview, we need to consider all the opportunities of how we leverage the resources that we have.”
The district raised taxes for the 2017-18 school year from 22.4462 mills to its current rate of 23.0073 mills. One mill generates approximately $605,000 in revenue for the district. It was the first tax hike in at least the past five years.
Board member and finance committee Co-Chair Jon Nehlsen said the district does not have a revenue problem, and its budget increased by approximately $800,000 from last year.
“This was a difficult process but a bipartisan majority of the board was unwilling to raise taxes, and I agree with them,” Nehlsen said. “We were not facing a revenue problem. What we have had is a spending allocation problem. The superintendent and her team responded with a budget that tries to put academics first. Their plan might not be perfect. No plan is. But they are the experts and ultimately the board asked questions based on public input but did very little tinkering with the plan that the superintendent presented.”
The board voted in the same fashion to furlough high school art teacher Glenn Garrison, high school music teacher Nathan Hart and elementary teacher Emily Lapcevic Alder.
“These cuts were made in the wrong places,” said resident Brandi Cooper, who advocated for the music and art programs.
Several students such as junior Seth Merryman told heartfelt stories about how their teachers got them through hard times and were the reason they chose to remain in the district.
He said after the meeting those personal accounts fell on deaf ears.
“As students, it really hurts us,” he said. “It makes us seem like everything we do is worthless.”
Sophomore Molly Collins told board members their actions do not reflect the district's motto of “Serious Success.”
“I don't see it anymore because there's no serious success if you want to get rid of these wonderful, amazing teachers,” she said. “There's not going to be serious success, and I'm just upset with you. It's really heartbreaking.”
High school tennis and seventh/eighth grade boys and girls soccer were cut as part of the budget.
DiClaudio said those cuts came as a recommendation by district Athletic Director Mario Rometo due to lack of student interest.
The district will not replace a retiring elementary teacher and a nurse, will move a reading specialist back to a classroom and have a guidance counselor at Verner Elementary in Verona share time at Riverview High School in Oakmont.
The final budget will not be posted on the district website until July 1.
Several board members said nothing changed from the proposed final budget approved in May. That budget is available on the district website, as well as at the district business office.It lists revenues at $23,077,403 and expenses at $23,078,197, a $794 shortfall.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.