Norwin OKs tax hike; maintains staff, programs
For the fifth consecutive year, Norwin property owners will be hit with an increase in school taxes under a tight 2019-20 budget the school board narrowly adopted Monday.
By a 5-4 vote, the school board approved a $73.6 million budget that includes a hike in property taxes in the Westmoreland County portion of the district — North Huntingdon, Irwin and North Irwin — by 2.4 mills to 82.4 mills. For the 18 properties in a sliver of Allegheny County — South Versailles and White Oak — taxes will be raised 0.36 mills to 12.36 mills.
The tax levy for properties in the two counties differs because tax assessment varies, requiring the state tax equalization board to apply a formula to equalize the impact for taxpayers across county borders.
A homeowner whose property is at the median assessed value of $22,000 will pay an additional $52 in school taxes, district officials said.
Norwin raised the taxes the maximum level — generating an estimated $970,000 — permitted under a state formula governing tax increases without seeking education department approval. The tax levy for the Westmoreland County portion of the district includes 1.2 mills — about $490,000 — that the school district collects and gives to the Norwin Public Library, as a result of a 2000 referendum approved by voters.
To balance the budget, the district will transfer $1.1 million from its fund balance to cover a projected shortfall.
Directors Raymond Kocak, Bob Perkins, Dennis Rittenhouse, Donald Rhodes and board President Barbara Viola favored the spending plan, while directors Brian Carlton, Darlene Ciocca, Tracey Czajkowski and Bill Essay voted against the budget. Three of the opponents — Ciocca, Czajkowski and Essay, are running for election in November.
Unlike last year, when the possibility of teacher layoffs loomed over the 2018-19 budget, Superintendent William Kerr said there are no layoffs of faculty, administrators or staff planned. The budget replaces 10 teachers who have left the district and adds one new one. A full-day kindergarten class will be added so that there will now be two full-day kindergarten classes at each of the four elementary schools.
“(The budget) sustains academics, arts and athletics,” Kerr said.
Carlton said he was against the budget because the administration restored assistant principals for Hillcrest Intermediate and Norwin Middle schools, at the expense of programs for students.
Kerr, in his final meeting before retirement June 28, said there was a “void” when those schools did not have assistant principals.
Perkins said he was not happy about raising taxes, but without additional tax revenue, Norwin would have to cut 12 teachers and programs. Perkins said he could not find a way to avoid a tax hike and “no one else has come up with a viable solution.”
“We need to stop playing politics with the budget,” Perkins said.
Czajkowski was concerned about how the middle school was preparing students for the transition to high school.
Rhodes, who voted against previous tax hikes, contended the budget was the best for the students. He claimed there was “political posturing … and a personal agenda” in opposition to the budget.
Essay was concerned the board could not make an informed decision without getting input from faculty and staff on how the budget impacts the district. To Essay, the elementary class size is “unacceptable” and he was concerned about cuts to the swimming program at the high school.
Norwin “is headed in the right direction,” compared to last year, when programs and services were cut, Viola said. During contentious budget debates, the school board last year did not approve a budget until June 29, the day before the June 30 deadline.
“It will take us more than a year to get out of it,” Viola said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .