Norwin board members at odds over school budget |
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Joe Napsha

Norwin School Board will meet Monday to vote on a 2019-20 budget that would include raising taxes by 3% for most of the district’s property owners and transfer $1.1 million from the fund balance to cover a shortfall.

Five votes are needed to approve the budget.

But during a meeting last week, only three members indicated they would support a $73.6 million spending plan that is similar to the preliminary version approved by the board in May. A 3% tax hike is the largest the district could approve under the state’s adjusted index, without getting approval from the Education Department.

Real estate taxes would increase in the Westmoreland County portion of the district — Irwin, North Huntingdon and North Irwin — by 2.4 mills, to 82.4 mills. The 18 property owners in the Allegheny County portion of the district — South Versailles and White Oak — would see their property taxes increase by 0.36 mills, to 12.36 mills.

A homeowner with a property at the median assessed value of $22,010 would pay an additional $53 per year in school taxes.

Directors Barb Viola, Bob Perkins and Dennis Rittenhouse said they would support the budget, but Brian Carlton, Darlene Ciocca, Tracey Czajkowski and William Essay said they would oppose it in its current form. Director Donald Rhodes declined to discuss his vote and Ray Kozak was absent from the Monday meeting.

“I can’t vote yes on a budget when we are raising taxes and the kids are getting less,” Czajkowski said. She was pleased, however, the number of study halls for grades seven and eight were replaced by added courses.

Carlton wanted more time to review the budget. He voiced disappoval that an assistant principal’s position was restored this school year.

“There is no low-hanging fruit anymore,” Rittenhouse said, referring to cutting costs. “There are tough decisions to be made … do we cut arts … do we start pay-for-play?”

Superintendent William Kerr, who is retiring at the end of the month, said the “budget has been very tight and very challenging,” but it does not cut programs and retains all teaching positions.

If the board does not pass a balanced budget by June 30, the district would have to shut down, Kerr said. He felt that would be unfair to incoming superintendent, Jeff Taylor, who is currently an assistant superintendent at North Hills.

Cindy Kohlmeyer of North Huntingdon voiced disapprove for an increase in property taxes, which have been raised the past five years.

“It’s very hard to come up with that money. You are taking food off my table,” Kohlmeyer said.

The board meets at the administration building, 281 McMahon Drive, at 7 p.m. Monday.

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