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Plum/Oakmont

Plum school board furloughs 26 teachers, raises taxes

Michael DiVittorio
| Tuesday, June 26, 2018, 10:06 p.m.
Plum School District.
Tribune-Review
Plum School District.

Plum School District's 2018-19 spending plan carries significant changes to staff, taxes and curriculum.

The board voted 5-3 June 26 to approve a 2018-19 budget including furloughs of 26 teachers and one administrator, a 0.8327-mill hike and a move to half-day kindergarten.

Board members in favor of the budget were Angela Anderson, Jim Rogers, Brian Wisniewski, Rich Zucco and board Vice President Vicky Roessler.

Scott Kolar, Sue Caldwell and board President Steve Schlauch dissented. Scott Coulson was absent.

The bulk of the furloughs come from the closure of Regency Park Elementary School. District officials did not publicly name the affected employees.

The adopted tax resolution sets next year's millage rate at 21.0757 mills. Owners of a $121,000 assessed property would pay $101 more in taxes as a result of the increase.

The move to half-day kindergarten is a cost-saving effort.

The budget lists revenue at $63,240,102 and expenses at $64,681,312, with the shortfall covered by $1,441,210 in reserve funds.

Schlauch said he opposed the budget due to the tax increase.

“My top priority has always been to provide the best education possible for our students at a cost affordable to the hard-working families and seniors of this borough,” he said.

Caldwell expressed frustrations about the teachers' union not pushing an early retirement incentive offered by the district, which could have saved a few furloughed teachers. She also said the budget kept too many classes with low enrollment and little student interest, referencing high school courses with only three to 10 students signed up.

Superintendent Brendan Hyland said the district must continue to have “a comprehensive high school,” and cutting those low-enrollment classes would not have been enough to eliminate another position.

“We need to get the enrollment up in some of those courses,” Hyland said. “We need to get our kids to start taking more (advanced placement) courses. I think it's important that we keep those. Once we lose some of those courses, it's very difficult to get them back.”

Roessler said she reluctantly supported the budget and tax increase, and that the board needs to fix mistakes made in previous years.

“The last two years, the majority of previous boards voted for budgets that were against the recommendation of experts, then borrowed $13 million, raised taxes and called it a day,” she said. “Then, add the $4 million accounting mistake by the (former) business manager that helped bring us to where we are today,” she added, referring to an overestimation of local real estate taxes made over time.

Zucco agreed previous boards did not do enough to address revenue and expense problems, but that the problems the district has were predicted by former board President Kevin Dowdell about four years ago.

“We kicked the can down the road,” Zucco said. “The can is at the end of the road.”

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.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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