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Holtzman Defends $71.2 M Proposed Budget:
‘We Need Every Dollar’

By Richard Finch Jr.
The Tube City Almanac
May 29, 2020
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

McKeesport Area School Board has approved a $71.2 million preliminary budget that includes a 0.80-mill property tax increase.

At Wednesday’s meeting, school directors voted 6-2 to approve the preliminary spending plan for the 2020-21 fiscal year. School board members James Brown and David Donato voted against the budget.

The tax increase will take the district's millage from 20.16 mills to 20.96 mills and represents a $40 increase on a house assessed at $50,000. It will be the third year in a row that MASD has raised its property tax rate. School property taxes increased 2.11 mills in 2018 and increased 0.68 mills in 2019.

The uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing increases in charter school tuition are among the reasons for the tax increase, school Superintendent Mark Holtzman Jr. said.

“Every dollar is needed to make (us) whole as we get into the next school year,” Holtzman said, under questioning from school board President Joe Lopretto.

The millage increase will be used for issues beyond the school district’s control, said Holtzman, pointing to a lack of any “dramatic” increase in basic education funding from the state, as well as flat funding in special education and increases in debt service costs.

“We are faced with the possibility of not receiving the same revenue after the budget is passed,” Holtzman said.

Lopretto asked Holtzman if money from the millage increase will be used in funding the district’s construction projects. “Absolutely not, it’s something that had to be considered prior to these decisions,” Holtzman said.

State cuts in education funding dating back to the administration of former Gov. Tom Corbett and “the way in which the state uses funding for our public-school system,” contribute to the need for increased taxes, according to Holtzman.

“We are just recovering from a nasty scenario financially, and at this point, unfortunately, some kind of increase has to be addressed yearly to stay up with the (changes) and the increases of all the things I mentioned earlier,” Holtzman said.

In other business:

The board approved an agreement with MGI Risk Management, Inc. for Student Accident and Voluntary Accident Renewal Insurance for the 2020-21 school year in the amount of $9,500.

The school board also:

Approved agreements between the school district and PA-Educator.net and accepted a proposal from The Food Service Group for food service management for the 2020-21 school year with a financial guarantee of $338,000.

Authorized the superintendent and business manager to utilize funding from the federal coronavirus pandemic stimulus package to purchase electronic devices to provide virtual options for students.

Approved the operation of the Virtual MASD Extended School Year Services program from June 15 to July 10.

Approved a services agreement with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit for the 2020-21 school year.

Approved a contract with CM Regent Insurance for worker’s compensation insurance for the 2020-21 school year at a cost of $224,181.

Richard Finch Jr. is a freelance writer who covers McKeesport Area School District, White Oak and a variety of other topics for Tube City Almanac. He may be reached at finchr43@gmail.com.

Originally published May 29, 2020.

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