BLAIRSVILLE-SALTSBURG: School directors hold line on taxes; size of pay raises questioned
BURRELL TOWNSHIP — The Blairsville-Saltsburg school board approved a 2013-14 budget with no tax increase at Wednesday’s meeting amid discord among board members regarding spending and salary increases.
This is the fifth consecutive year that the school board has not increased taxes.
The budget calls for $30,468,561 in both revenues and expenditures.
Both represent a $280,426 increase from last year’s budget — a 0.92 percent increase in revenues and a 0.93 percent increase in expenditures.
Millage rates for Indiana County remain at 126.34, and Westmoreland County millage remains at 109.36.
Residents who qualify for homestead/farmstead exemptions can expect a $305.87 discount in Indiana County and $305.85 in Westmoreland County from Act 1 funds.
The board also voted to keep other taxes in the district the same.
The per capita tax is $5 for each resident of the district age 18 or older, from July 1 to June 30, 2014. The earned income and net profit tax remains at 0.75 percent, and the real estate transfer tax is still 1 percent. The Emergency and Municipal Service tax is $10 for all employed individuals in the district.
The board set the real estate discount rate at 2 percent, and the penalty rate at 10 percent.
Property in the district is taxed at 126.44 mills of assessed property value in Indiana County, or $12.63 per $100 assessed value. In Westmoreland County, the rate is 109.86 mills, or $10.98 per $100 in assessed value.
The board voted 7-2 on the budget, with Holly Hall and Rick Harper against it.
Items of contention regarding the budget included raises awarded to administrators and an alleged lack of transparency in conjunction with the board voting again to not fund field trips for the 2013-14 school year.
The board issued the following salary increases, “in accordance with contracts”:
• James Brida, director of food services, $1,494
• Leigh Free, transportation coordinator/student services, $1,817
• Eric Kocsis, business manager, $4,000
• Ian Magness, assistant superintendent, $4,000
• H. Patrick Rosborough, director of maintenance & buildings/grounds, $1,862
• Dr. Tammy Whitfield, superintendent, $4,000
• Joseph Baker, BHS principal, $2,565
• Allan Berkhimer, SMHS principal, $2,325
• Regina Geesey, supervisor of special education, $2,610
• Tracy Richards, SES principal, $2,474
• Dr. Debra Shirley, BES principal, $2,681
• Jeff Soles, BMS principal, $2,472
The board voted 6-3 on the increases. Hall voted against the entire motion, and Harper and Holly Gibson voted against the increases for Kocsis, Whitfield and Magness.
Hall also voted against the following increases for nonunion personnel:
• Kathy Himes, administrative assistant to the superintendent, $2,000
• Alice Santoro, administrative assistant to the assistant superintendent, $2,400
• Becky Halberg, payroll specialist/accounts payable, $2,000
• Nancy Powell, administrative assistant to the business manager, $2,000
• Jay Batsa, information technology systems technician, $2,000
Hall, reading from prepared comments, said the “the manner in which our district spends money displays, in my opinion, a disregard for taxpayers.”
Board members, she said, ignored terms of employees’ contracts regarding raises, issuing increases “beyond the scope of these negotiated contracts” and did so with a “distinct lack of transparency in these discussions.”
By Hall’s calculations, Whitfield’s raise is above the 2 percent outlined in her contract, taking her salary of $129,792 to $133,792 by adding $4,000, instead of a 2 percent raise of $2,595.84.
She also targeted the salary of Magness, who resigned in October, only to immediately accept a new contract that raised his salary then from $102,752 to $115,000.
Hall voted against that contract, saying Magness should have honored his original five-year contract.
Magness’s raise issued Wednesday, she said, brings his “total raises to a whopping $24,000 over a three-year, eight-month span since he started employment with the district on Nov. 4, 2010.”
Other directors defended the increases, saying the administrators serve the district well.
Member Mary Whitfield said they are “worth their weight in gold,” and that the raises are nothing compared to what they have done for the district.
And Magness defended his work, saying he has brought in $3.5 million worth of grant money.
Also regarding finances, the board voted to continue the elimination of district-funded field trips for the 2013-14 year and all district-funded, out-of-district, nonrequired monthly principal meetings for 2013-14.
In other business, the board:
• Approved participation in the Title IIB/Math & Science Partnership Grant in cooperation with the Chester County IU24.
This is a three-year grant, according to a letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Chester County IU24 will receive $1,360,190 for the 2012-13 project year.
• Approved an agreement with Florina Paving for one-third of each parking lot at each school campus to reseal and repair cracks. Cost is $5,060 for Saltsburg and $6,675 for Blairsville.
• Recognized the 2013 Blairsville baseball team as the District 6 champions. County Commissioner Patty Evanko read a proclamation honoring the team.
• Announced that Blairsville senior Patrick McConnell received a $5,000 scholarship as the Indiana County Technology Center Student Scholar.
• Announced an executive session was held from 6:30 to 7:10 p.m. prior to the meeting. Another executive session was held immediately after, and another on June 5 to discuss legal and personnel items.
• Approved the 2012 audit report from the state with no findings.
• Approved an annual agreement for emergency medical services with Citizens’ Ambulance Service for the 2013-14 school year at a cost of $2,100.
• Will host a NASA Summer of Innovation Camp at Saltsburg Middle/High School from July 22 to 26. This is a science discovery program for middle school students. Thirty-five students have signed up for the free camp. Two district teachers will be trained by NASA to operate the program.
• Approved Creative Writing/Public Speaking as a new course.
• Authorized the following purchases of textbooks: Prentice Hall Literature Common Core 2012 and Common Core Readers Journey, grades 6 to 8, English/Language Arts, not to exceed $45,000.
• Approved the following nonprofessional substitutes: Ali O’Barto and Christopher Ramsden, both summer custodial help.
• Approved the following supplemental personnel: Mark DeMarines and Bryan Gould, BHS football, third assistant co-coaches (junior high); Alice Moore, BMHS middle and high school band director and choral director; Joshua Mottillo, BMHS band director assistant; Jared McCormick, SMHS football, first assistant coach, with Shawn Liotta as second assistant, and Marty Steele as third assistant (junior high); Mary Aikins, BHS Class of 2014 and 2016 adviser; Holly Tonkin, BHS Class of 2017 adviser; and Melinda Weimer, BMHS band front adviser.
• Authorized district students to participate in all Heritage Conference academic competitions, and district secondary choral and band programs to participate in all local, regional and state competitions for 2013-14.
• Approved family medical leave for the following: Megan Decker, SMHS math teacher, Aug. 23 to Feb. 23; Allison Weir, SMHS social studies teacher, Aug. 23 to Jan. 6; and Kevin Sasway, HVAC mechanic, effective Friday. Sasway’s resignation was also approved, effective June 26.
• Approved a five-year agreement for the administrative team with salary and benefits as negotiated.
• Terminated an employee identified only as #1332, effective June 19.
• Authorized the establishment of a cooperative sponsor for girls’ lacrosse with the Armstrong School District at no cost.
This program is in cooperation with Indiana Area School District.
• Passed resolutions urging reform of Pennsylvania’s Cyber Charter School Funding Formula and of the Pennsylvania Public Schools Retirement System, and one urging increased state funding for school construction and renovation projects.
• Heard from board member Holly Gibson about a recent trip to the Challenger Learning Center in Wheeling, W.Va. Gibson showed photos of the center’s space-related activities, which she described as very realistic.
The district recently entered into an agreement with the Indiana school district in an attempt to bring a center to Indiana County.
• Heard that initial results for PSSA testing showed both modest gains and declines. Most notable is the difference in special education students with Pennsylvania’s removal of a modified test for those individuals called the PSSAM, Magness said.
He said he is hopeful the state will reconsider the change.
• Heard from F. Dan McGregor, representing American Legion Post 67 of Saltsburg, regarding the board’s decision to charge the Legion $56.88 to reserve a room at the Saltsburg school campus for its recent Memorial Day service in the event of rain. The request for money devalued the service of those in the military, McGregor said.