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Tentative budget holds line on Monessen school taxes

| Thursday, May 13, 2010

City property owners might receive a break in their school taxes this year.

After raising the real estate tax rate two years in a row, the Monessen School Board has posted a tentative budget for the 2010-11 school year that requires no tax increase.

"We knew going into this we wanted to try and not raise taxes," Superintendent Dr. Cynthia Chelen said.

The board unanimously adopted the tentative spending plan Tuesday.

Chelen said the $15,370,237 budget is 5.3 percent more than last year, but the board was able to hold the line on taxes because of federal stimulus money the district received.

The millage rate will remain at 65.20. One mill generates about $59,965.

A property owner with a home at the median assessed value of $14,430 currently pays $938.08 in school district property taxes. The Westmoreland County Tax Bureau sets the median assessed value of property.

Chelen said the board also found excess in the fund balance, which helped keep taxes down.

"But that reserve is dwindling, and we need to watch it," she said.

The district received about $912,000 in combined federal stimulus money for this school year and next school year.

While Chelen is confident the board will adopt the budget without an increase, she is concerned about the future.

The board is negotiating a contract with the teachers' union. The current pact expires June 30.

More than half of the budget is spent on teacher salaries.

Chelen said negotiations are continuing with the Monessen Education Association. She said the two sides have resolved most nonmonetary issues related to the contract.

"We still have salaries and benefits to work on," she said.

Chelen said the board is concerned about the future district contributions for teacher pensions.

She said the district, by 2013, could face an increase as large as 29 percent in its contribution to the Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System. Chelen said the state hasn't contributed to the fund in 10 years.

"That is a lot of money for districts to have to put in, and it's going to hurt everyone," she said.

The board's next meeting is set for June 8. State law requires districts to adopt budgets by June 30.

In other matters, graduation is scheduled for June 11 in the high school gymnasium.

About 20 parents who attended the board meeting claimed they had heard commencement would take place in the auditorium, which holds fewer people than the gymnasium.

Chelen said it will be held in the gymnasium, but added the board is mulling a plan to limit the number of guest tickets given to each graduate.

She said the gym was filled beyond capacity last year for commencement exercises. Chelen said spectators were standing in the hallways and sitting on the floor.

She said the parking lot was filled and couldn't accommodate all of the traffic. Chelen said some graduates had a hard time leaving the building because of the large crowd.

The board also decided not to rent portable air conditioners for the graduation ceremony.

Chelen said it cost about $6,700 last year to rent the systems to cool the gym.

She said about 68 students are expected to graduate this year.

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