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Jeannette schools faced with furloughs, tax hike and realignment

Renatta Signorini
| Tuesday, May 9, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Jeannette school directors will vote next week on a preliminary 2017-18 budget that includes a property tax increase, staff furloughs and a realignment of seventh and eighth grades.

The board directed business manager Paul Sroka to prepare a spending plan that includes a 1.5-mill property tax increase — which would cost the average taxpayer about $17 more annually. The median house value in the district is about $11,340 based on the last countywide property assessment conducted in 1973, Sroka said.

One mill brings in $61,000.

Several directors balked at a proposal to raise taxes by 3 mills. The district currently assesses a tax rate of $85 — or 85 mills — per $1,000 of assessed property value.

“People in this town cannot afford a tax increase ... year after year after year,” said Director Joseph Yorio. “We have to do what's necessary now.”

Taxable properties in the city have decreased by $3.7 million since the 2011-12 school year as businesses have left and properties have been revalued, Sroka said. In the past year alone, the amount of taxable properties decreased by $293,270, he said.

“A one-mill increase nets you nothing,” Sroka told the board.

Property taxes in the district are collected at a rate of 76 percent.

Officials said they will still have to use money from the district's $1.2 million fund balance in addition to the proposed 1.5-mill increase to bridge the remaining budget gap. Expenses for 2017-18 are pegged at about $19 million — a $100,000 decrease from the 2016-17 school year, Sroka said.

The budget shortfall was almost $1 million earlier this year. Enrollment has declined steadily over the past several years.

Directors have wrestled with a realignment proposal that would move seventh- and eighth-graders from McKee K-8 School into the high school in an effort to better disperse students and save about $400,000.

About three-quarters of the district's students attend McKee.

Sroka said he is preparing the budget for a vote next week with the two grades that would be realigned, even though directors did not state which budget they preferred during a public meeting Monday.

“I was told by the board at the conclusion of the meeting, when asked, to put a K-6 budget together,” Sroka said.

That proposal comes with a furlough of 9.5 staff members.

The district has 93 teaching positions and about 1,000 students.

An alternate suggestion that would keep the two grades at McKee came with a furlough of 7.5 positions, which would save about $250,000. If the students stay at McKee, the number of programs would be reduced.

Paul Shifko, Jeannette Education Association president, told directors that teachers support the board making a decision that will prolong the district's viability.

“You have our support if it's in what we think is the best interest,” Shifko said. “And if it's not, I think you know we will speak up.”

If the realignment is approved, district officials have a preliminary plan to keep the seventh- and eighth-graders separated from older students. The groups would have different arrival, dismissal and class schedules, separate bus transportation and different meal periods.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374, or via Twitter @byrenatta.

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