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District maneuvering cuts proposed tax hike

Joe Napsha
| Saturday, May 12, 2012, 11:56 a.m.

Greensburg Salem property owners may face a smaller real estate tax hike than anticipated last month, thanks to school officials fine-tuning the $31 million budget for the 2003-04 school year.

Superintendent Thomas Yarabinetz told the school board Wednesday during a discussion meeting that the district can cut the proposed tax hike from 3.9 mills to 2.97 mills and "still have a quality education."

The budget would allow the district to continue to offer 22 special programs that help provide academic assistance for students, including after-school tutoring programs. The superintendent said students' test scores have ranked Greensburg Salem in the top three among the county schools in reading and math, and the top four in SAT scores.

"If you do affect the quality of the programs ... you affect, I think, the kids. We can level the playing fields for all the kids by having those 22 programs," Yarabinetz said.

If the school board adopts the administration's recommended budget when it meets June 25, the district's real estate tax levy would increase from 58.33 to 61.3 mills. The board had increased property taxes for 2002-03 by 3.66 mills.

A real estate tax hike of 2.97 mills would mean a 5 percent increase in school taxes, rather than the 6.6 percent increase projected last month when the board introduced a tentative budget. A property with an assessed valuation of $13,990, which Yarabinetz said is Greensburg Salem's median assessment, would pay an extra $41.55 in property taxes next year. Residents whose taxes are included in their monthly mortgages would pay an additional $3.46 per month, he said.

The 2.97-mill real estate tax hike is projected to generate $641,382 in revenue, which will cover the difference between the $31,063,314 in projected expenditures and $30,421,932 in projected revenue. The revenue projections include a $931,000 carry-over in the district's fund balance as of June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

Thomas Ferraro, district business manager, said the district was able to reduce the budget deficit by increasing the revenue projections and cutting some costs.

Real estate tax revenue is expected to rise by almost $250,000 in the next fiscal year, and collections of earned-income and delinquent real estate taxes are projected to increase by $100,000.

Greensburg Salem, like all other school districts in the state, is faced with the prospect of adopting a budget before the Legislature approves the state's education budget. Yarabinetz said Greensburg Salem is following Gov. Edward Rendell's recommendation to base the school's budget on a 2.5-percent increase in basic education subsidies.

As the budget stands, Greensburg Salem does not plan to replace four retired teachers and will cut the equivalent of 5.5 teaching and support staff jobs through furloughs and attrition.

Because of a $105,000 cut in its federal Title I program for remedial math and reading, four teaching positions will be eliminated.

Yarabinetz said the district wants to challenge the cut in Title I funding because it is based on the number of low-income students in a school district. The superintendent said the number of students in the free- and reduced-price lunch program, which is based on income eligibility, has remained the same or increased.

But successfully challenging the federal government's decision "is very, very difficult, if not impossible," he said.

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