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Westmoreland

Norwin School District raises real estate taxes by 3 percent

Joe Napsha
| Friday, June 29, 2018, 11:45 p.m.
Norwin High School
Tribune-Review
Norwin High School

Property owners in North Huntingdon, Irwin and North Irwin will see their real estate taxes increase by 3 percent in the new school year because the Norwin School Board on Friday approved a 2.4-mill tax hike.

Norwin's $70.9 million budget for the fiscal year beginning today will raise property taxes to 80 mills for those Norwin residents in Westmoreland County and by 0.32-mill, to 12 mills, for about 18 property owners living in Allegheny County but within the Norwin boundaries.

A 2.4-mill increase will cost an extra $52 in school taxes for a property with a median assessed value of $21,630 in Westmoreland County, the district said.

The school district receives about $390,000 from each mill of tax it levies.

School officials had said a tax increase was necessary to cover a deficit that had been projected at $2.4 million in April. By cutting costs, the district saved $796,000 since the preliminary budget was introduced in May.

The district tapped into its fund balance for $533,000 to help balance the budget, leaving about $3.3 million at the end of the coming school year.

The total tax levy of 80 mills in Westmoreland County includes 1.2 mills the district collects each year for the Norwin Public Library. That dedicated tax was approved by a referendum of Norwin voters.

The school board approved the budget on a 6-2 vote, with Director Shawn Petrisko absent.

“I can't vote for a budget that raises taxes and gives kids less instruction,” said Director Tracy L. Czajkowski, referring to cutbacks in some programs, such as family and consumer science.

The school district sent furlough notices to three teachers in family and consumer science, art and physical education. Troy Collier, assistant middle school principal, also was furloughed, although Superintendent William Kerr said he could be moved to a teaching position.

Director Dennis Rittenhouse said he opposed the budget because the district is cutting educational programs while replacing them with study halls for students.

Rittenhouse contended that the district could have saved about $84,000 if Norwin's administrators agreed to a pay freeze for the coming school year. If the administrators had deferred their pay hikes, it would have saved about one-fourth of a mill from the tax hike, Rittenhouse said.

While Norwin has furloughed teachers as part of its cost-cutting moves, Kerr said the district carefully reviewed all the options in terms of the budget and staffing.

Those teachers who received layoff notices could be rehired if they get additional certifications and approval from the state Department of Education, he noted.

The teachers were notified last year of the possibility of staffing cuts, and they had a year to add a certification to teach additional subjects.

“The ball was in the court of the teachers,” Kerr said.

Kerr noted that other school districts are laying off as many as 25 teachers and administrators. The New Kensington-Arnold School District initially furloughed 29 teachers in April, then recalled 10 in May.

While there were cuts in the family and consumer teaching staff, Kerr said only 45 days of instruction in that subject would be eliminated.

Norwin is faced with higher teacher salaries in the new school year because 31 teachers will go through a “jump step” on the salary scale, which will cost $390,000.

Those teachers with a bachelor's degree will get a $12,500 raise, and teachers with a master's degree will get a $13,500 salary increase, Kerr said.

Salaries and benefits had been estimated to account for 74 percent of the budget, or almost $53 million, according to an April budget review.

“Challenges exist for the 2019-2020 school year,” Kerr warned.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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