- Grove City, Pennsylvania

Local News

July 11, 2014

Budget includes tax hike for new teachers

SLIPPERY ROCK — Property taxes in the Slippery Rock Area School District are going up by 3.62 mills for the 2014-15 school year to cover the cost of hiring four new teachers.

Board members on Monday approved the budget of $29,338,598, which includes three special education teachers - two at Moraine Elementary and one at the high school - and one elementary school teacher, whose placement has yet to be determined.

That brings taxes from 89.15 to 92.77 mills, and this is the first time in three years that the board has raised the rates; 3.62 mills equals about $474,000.

The measure passed 7 to 2 with Diana Wolak, the Rev. Michael Scheer, Heather Scott, President Polly Shaw, Mark Taylor, Karen McDowell and Matt Pyle voting in favor of the tax hike. Melissa Allen and Vice President Greg Angerett voted against it.

The preliminary budget approved in May was $29,390,324, meaning the board could not go above those expenses on Monday, the deadline to adopt the spending plan.

The Act 1 index for the district for 2014-15 is 2.5 mills, but they were granted permission by the Pennsylvania Department of Education to go above the index without needing voter approval.

Dr. Kathleen Nogay, whose last day as superintendent was Monday, has said there are critical staffing needs in the special education department, and she recommended the three new positions be included in the budget.

The fourth teaching position will be assigned to a class at Moraine Elementary or Area Elementary, depending on enrollment figures closer to the beginning of the school year. Both buildings house students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Before Monday's budget vote, Scheer questioned the hiring of a teacher specifically for kindergarten, a concern that had been raised by parents at recent board meetings; they had asked the board to hire at least one kindergarten teacher to accommodate what they expect to be large classes.

"We're still looking at that," Nogay said, later noting that issue could be addressed with staff transfers before the new school year starts.

Wolak had asked whether the board could pull from the district's reserves to help offset a tax hike, but Paul Cessar, the district's business manager and board secretary, reminded her the board was already set to vote on using some of the reserves for another expense.

"We have to be careful what's happening in our reserves," Taylor said.

The board later approved a transfer of $2,714,000 from the general fund to the capital reserve fund to pay for the stadium renovation and auditorium seating projects.

It was Scheer who made the first motion to adopt the budget and raise taxes, but he proposed a spending plan of $29,276,598 with a tax hike of 3.62 mills; that would have covered the three special education teachers only.

"We need to hold the line a little bit," he said.

Wolak agreed, but didn't think the board should hold the line at the expense of the students.

The district provides good educational needs for its students, including full-day kindergarten classes, which have aides where they're needed, Scheer said.

"We've had this discussion every year," he said.

Scott said she wouldn't regret raising taxes in order to hire an extra teacher, especially since the rates haven't gone up for the last three years.

But keep in mind that if enrollment drops next year, someone may have to be prepared to be laid off, Angerett said.

Hopefully there will be attrition through retirement so that no one will have to be laid off, Nogay said.

Scheer's initial motion was amended to include the fourth elementary school teacher, but it failed 5 to 4 since it would leave the district with a deficit of about $124,000.

Wolak made the motion to adopt the budget of $29,338,598 with a property tax increase of 3.62, including the four teachers.

There is "small deficit" of about $62,000, but Cessar expects the district to make that up once they get final figures from the state budget.

The 2014-15 budget also includes: an increase in real estate tax collections of about $119,000; a Ready to Learn Block grant with the amount to be determined by the state, which was still working on its own budget Monday night; and increases in medical insurance rates and retirement contributions, Cessar said.

The district covers Brady, Franklin, Mercer, Muddy Creek, Slippery Rock and Worth townships and the boroughs of Harrisville, Portersville, Prospect, Slippery Rock and West Liberty.

In other business at Monday's meeting:

Board members said goodbye to Nogay, who retired after 44 years in education. She came to the district in 2001 as assistant superintendent and was named superintendent in 2007.

"I leave you knowing the district is in a better place than when I came," she said.

The board presented her when an engraved bowl from Wendell August. Dr. Alfonso Angelucci took over as superintendent on Tuesday. He comes from Union Area School District, where he served as superintendent.

Published July 2, 2014, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.

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