HOMER-CENTER: Directors hold the line on taxes
CENTER TOWNSHIP — A decade of annual real estate tax increases has ended in the Homer-Center School District, where the school board on Thursday enacted a budget that keeps the tax level at the 2012-13 rate for the fiscal year starting Monday.
The budget shows $15.2 million of expenses and keeps the property tax at 125.6 mills.
There was a hint that the district has turned a financial corner.
If budget factors remain stable, some of the programs slashed in a round of budget cuts in 2011-12 could be restored, board President Vicki Smith said.
“We still have a very high tax rate compared to the rest of the school districts in our area, but a lot of them are just now making the hard decisions we had to make in the past,” Smith said. “We are thrilled not to have to raise taxes this year, and keep the programs that we have intact. … Our goal is to reinstate the shop classes if we can at some future point.
“The graphic arts class, that is a loss to all of us, is still something that we talk about. We’re still not able to afford it, but we are working toward that goal if we can.”
The budget passed with no opposition.
In connection with the spending plan, owners of qualifying homestead and farmstead properties will save $212.52 on the tax bill for each property through the district’s share of casino gambling tax money.
Property owners also may make installment payments of their real-estate tax bills, with one-third due July 31, Oct. 31 and Dec. 31. Taxpayers using the program will not receive discounts or pay penalties, unless they make a late payment, said Business Manager Greg Cessna.
In other business, the board:
• Accepted the retirement notice of elementary school teacher Sherry Dellaposta retroactive to June 6.
Dellaposta worked 42 years for the district, and reflected with board members on teaching in the old Graceton elementary school in 1971-72, then the early “open classrooms” configuration of the current elementary school when it opened in 1974.
The directors stood to applaud Dellaposta’s service after voting on her retirement.
• Refinanced the remaining $1.7 million of debt from bonds issued in 2007, and achieved about $40,000 in savings.
Homer-Center’s financial adviser, Gregg McLanahan, of PFM, said the district solicited offers from six financial institutions and accepted a proposal from S&T Bank, which offered interest rates ranging from 1.35 to 2.1 percent over the next seven years. The rates for the original bond ranged from 3.7 and 4 percent. Most of the savings result from lower principal payments in the first two years of the seven-year payment plan.
• Approved a transfer of $259,000 from the general fund to the capital reserve fund, and announced a plan to spend about $100,000 on security enhancements for the schools this summer. The work will include strengthening the entrances to the elementary and high schools and installing video and audio monitoring systems for the entrances.
• Heard high school Principal Jody Rainey’s report of the final days of activity before school recessed for the summer. Rainey announced that a video recording of the commencement ceremony has been copied on DVDs and the just-graduated seniors may pick up disks at the high school office.
• Heard comment from district resident Ted Predko, who praised the board for imposing no tax increase and cautioned the board against adopting the Common Core curriculum standards being advanced by the U.S. and Pennsylvania departments of education.
“I think it’s going to lower the standards in the education system,” Predko said.
“I think you’ll find this district fighting against that,” Smith said. “If they lower their standards, it doesn’t mean that we as a district have to lower ours. We will do the best we can to educate our kids to the best of our ability.”
• Approved a proposal for consideration by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association’s legislative platform, which would enable school districts to freely negotiate with municipalities to arrange police protection in schools without regard to jurisdictional issues. The proposal originated at the Indiana Area School District board and has been submitted to all school boards in the area for their support, Smith said.
• Approved a workers’ compensation insurance policy through the Reschini Agency, of Indiana, at a total cost of $38,000 for the year, saving about $12,000 from the premium of $50,000 paid this year.
• Committed $718,000 of the anticipated fund balance for future payments to the school employees’ retirement system.
• Approved Provine Studios, of Altoona, to provide the annual elementary school portrait photos for 2013-14. The company’s photo packages for students range in price from $8 to $25.
• Granted tenure to elementary teacher Erin Hildebrand and high school teacher Joshua Tobin, who have completed three years of satisfactory teaching in the district.
• Acknowledged Superintendent Charles Koren’s anniversary of employment with the district.
“I think we were lucky to get Dr. Koren. He has worked extremely hard to get us on the path back to success,” Smith said. “A preliminary review of raw data from PSSA scores and the Keystone shows we have stopped the slide. We still have a lot of work to do but we are not going any further down … and now we can work on bringing those scores back up.”
• Hired Carie Cavalier as a secretary for the high school office and athletics department at a starting salary of $10.79 an hour.
• Appointed Hilary Scheuermann as the junior varsity assistant volleyball coach at a salary of $2,212; approved Emily Gates as head junior high volleyball coach at a salary of $1,317; and approved Melissa Jones as the assistant junior-high volleyball coach at a salary of $1,317.
• Approved for public display new textbooks for physics, U.S. history, algebra and trigonometry.
• Authorized teacher Christine Yurky to attend the National Affairs Conference from Saturday through Friday in Asheville, N.C., at no cost to the district.
• Approved a series of revisions to the student handbook for the 2013-14 school year.
• Voted to purchase an automated external defibrillator for use by the athletic trainer at high school sporting events. The district will apply for state grant money to pay for the AED, but would use district funds if no grant is available.
• Approved a contract between the district and Citizens’ Ambulance Service for the 2013-14 at a cost of $2,250. The contract was approved on a vote of 6-0 in favor: President Smith, Vice President Gerald Bert and board members Daniel Fabin, Fred Hayes, Julie Rado and Joy Sasala. Directors James McLoughlin and Sherri Williams were absent, and board member Kimberly Thomas abstained.
The board voted 7-0 to approve all other matters of business.