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McKeesport School Board Trims Budget, OK's Tax Increase

By Mary Shelly
The Tube City Almanac
July 05, 2017
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

McKeesport Area School District residents will pay a little bit more in property taxes next year.

The final budget of $65.6 million adopted June 28 by a 7-1 vote will increase the tax rate from 16.74 mills to 17.37 mills.

A tax increase of 0.63 mills would add 63 cents on every $1,000 of assessed value of a property. A taxpayer with a house valued at $50,000 will expect to see their annual school property tax go up $31.50.

School Director Scott Smith was the only board member to vote no, although Christopher Halaszynski was not in attendance.

About $3.5 million will be withdrawn from the district's fund balance, instead of $4.1 million as originally expected. The budget projects that the district's fund balance will be up $4.8 million next year, rather than $4.3 million, as expected.

Editor's Note: According to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, a "fund balance" is the difference between a school district's assets --- including cash, investments, money owed to the district and other assets --- and the amount of money the district owes. "A fund blanace is a necessary component of a fiscally healthy district," according to the PSBA's website.

Smith said he voted against the budget because of the amount being drawn down from the fund balance.

“My fundamental belief, which I voted no for the budget my first year here three years ago and today, is I don’t believe in using that much of your fund balance," he said. "It has nothing to do with taxes."

Business Manager David Seropian said district employees were able to make approximately $530,000 worth of changes to either revenues or expenditures since the passing of the preliminary budget.

The two main changes were for debt service. “We (re-financed) our debt and were able to save some money on our debt service payments," Seropian said.

“Things are going well as far as our current budget in expenditures and the way the revenues are coming in,” he said.

New Superintendent Mark Holtzman said some changes must be made to the budget going forward to keep the district financially healthy.

“Just adding and subtracting our fund balance, and (looking at) what we need to do to balance our budget currently, we’re going to have a minimal amount of money left in our fund balance throughout the 2018-19 school year,” he said.

In an effort to help balance the budget, Holtzman said, “recommendations were made by myself as well as (former superintendent) Dr. (Rula) Skezas and (assistant superintendent) Dr. Harry Bauman to cut or not fill some of the programs ... in our school district."

The district will not fill positions for some extracurricular activity advisors for the upcoming school year. Also, certain department head positions will not be filled, Holtzman said.

Other recommendations include:

  • modifying field trips,
  • using one law enforcement officer on campus opposed to two, and
  • contributing less to the Carnegie Library of McKeesport than in years past.

The district is also looking at ways to receive donations for the DARE program to save money spent on the program in particular, Holtzman said.

“We have to really consider strongly how we can save a million and a half (dollars) with these potential cuts," Holtzman said, “and (how to make) cuts to the '18-'19 school year so that we’re financially responsible.

“We’re doing more with less," he said. "We’re making the smart decisions and we’re making the right decisions, but we have to continue to be frugal. That’s sacrificing some things that we all love without compromising the education of children in our district (or) safety.”

Smith said he has "a high confidence level that (the administration) are going to head down a direction sooner rather than waiting till the budget needs to be looked at."

In other business:

  • School directors appointed Matthew Gergely as the school district treasurer for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

  • The board voted unanimously to approve a two-day trip for the boys’ basketball team to the State College Tip-Off Tournament in December. The team will fundraise to cover the cost of transportation and a hotel room for the driver.

Mary Shelly is a freelance writer and a student at McKeesport Area High School.

Originally published July 05, 2017.

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