No program cuts, furloughs or tax hike in Plum School District’s 2019-20 budget |

No program cuts, furloughs or tax hike in Plum School District’s 2019-20 budget

Michael DiVittorio

Plum School District property owners will not have to pay more in real estate taxes, and students will have the same programs next school year as a result of the final 2019-20 budget.

School directors voted 6-3 Tuesday night to adopt their $64.7 million spending plan. Board President Scott Coulson and board members Sue Caldwell, Angela Anderson, Karin Acquaviva, Steve Schlauch and Scott Kolar voted in favor. Board Vice President Vicky Roessler and members Jim Rogers and Rich Zucco dissented.

The board unanimously approved a tax ordinance maintaining the tax rate at 21.0757 mills.

Schlauch, the board’s finance committee chairman, lauded the efforts of his colleagues and district administration for eliminating a $1.1 million deficit projected in January without an additional tax burden or staff furloughs.

“We worked hard on this all year long,” he said. “There’s no program cuts, no tax increase. It’s a fiscally responsible budget for both students and taxpayers. I’m pleased.”

District Business Manager John Zahorchak said the budget shortfall was erased through a $250,000 increase in state subsidies in basic and special education funding, six teacher retirements and more than $600,000 pulled from the district’s Access fund.

That fund includes about $100,000 from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and more than $500,000 from the district billing other entities for special education services.

He also noted after the meeting that increased delinquent real estate tax collection through the firm Weiss Burkardt Kramer and maximizing state formulas for transportation subsidies are expected to increase revenue as well.

“We feel pretty comfortable with the numbers we have in the budget,” Zahorchak said. “We’ve had everything really fall in our favor this year.”

Roessler was not as content with the lack of a capital projects fund in the budget. She said the district identified at least $18 million in maintenance, upgrades and related projects, and only $3.1 million or so in borrowed money to pay for it.

“I don’t think anybody in this community wants us to take out another loan and head toward a different direction than we’re headed,” she said. “I just think money should be earmarked out of the general fund into a capital improvement fund to start that process.”

Schlauch said capital improvements would “come in phases,” and a fund would be established through savings from refinancing a 2010 bond issue, the sale of Regency Park Elementary and other possible moves. Bond refinancing is projected to save the district up to $2 million.

“One of our duties is to develop a financial plan that anticipates both short- and long-term needs, and I don’t think this budget addresses them,” Zucco said.

The capital fund discussion got more intense between Zucco, Schlauch and Rogers, which prompted responses from Caldwell, Zahorchak and Superintendent Brendan Hyland to keep current finances in perspective.

“I think it’s important we don’t step on some good news tonight,” Hyland said. “The good news is that we have a balanced budget … I think everyone’s opinion here is valid. We do have an awful lot of things that need to be done in this district. There’s no question about that. We’ve had to make very, very difficult decisions. We’ve made those.”

District officials increased taxes, closed Regency, reduced kindergarten from full- to half-day and furloughed more than 20 teachers for the 2018-19 budget.

Zahorchak agreed a capital projects fund should be established, and everything cannot be done in a year’s time.

The newly approved budget will be posted on the district’s website,, in the Business Office section of the departments tab.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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