Indiana Area Junior high School

Indiana Area Junior high School

A compromise on taxation of Indiana Regional Medical Center properties will leave a gap of more than $100,000 in the Indiana Area School District budget beginning in July.

The Indiana school board on Monday ratified revisions to a 1998 agreement called PILOT, Payment in Lieu of Taxes, as approved earlier by the hospital’s corporate management, its property management division Indiana Healthcare Properties Inc., and the Indiana County board of commissioners.

The hospital long enjoyed tax-exempt status as a charitable nonprofit organization but agreed 23 years ago, after a change in a state tax law, to begin making payments of $43,000 shared by the school district and the county in years when the hospital operated profitably.

The agreement provided a break from taxation on the full assessed property value of the main hospital and the nearby Citizens’ Ambulance Service building, and “nonprofit” portions of the surgical center and medical arts buildings on the IRMC campus.

However, the updated PILOT, as approved two weeks ago by the county commissioners, shifts the remainder of the medical arts and surgical center buildings and adds the “Overlook Building” and a hospital property on Kolter Drive to nonprofit status and exempts them from paying full-value tax bills.

While the PILOT now calls for IRMC to pay $75,000 annually ($58,200 to the school district and $16,800 to the county), it reduces the hospital’s actual tax bill to the school district by $110,000, according to IASD Business Manager Jared Cronauer.

“It has been a six-year process to come to this agreement as some properties that were once taxable have now become tax exempt,” Cronauer said. “We have been working as a partner with IRMC. They do not want to see the district and the county harmed by moving these entire four properties to tax-exempt status, and we appreciate their willingness to work with us to come up with a compromise to meet us in the middle, so we as a district or the county are not at a complete loss of those tax revenues.”

The agreement is retroactive to Jan. 1 for county tax purposes. It calls for all sides to drop all current legal efforts, including assessment appeals, that would bear on the taxation of IRMC, and it remains in effect through the 2030-31 school year.

It is unclear what amount the county would forfeit under the nine-page agreement.

In other business, the board:

• Learned from district Superintendent Michael Vuckovich that IASD is closer to full opening of the schools under revisions to recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The district is in alignment with all of them; in fact, we have been from Day One,” he said.

Vuckovich said the CDC recently made three central changes to COVID-19 safety plans for schools.

Wearing masks was recommended but is now required, but IASD has required it under the state’s pandemic plan, he said.

Others pertain to 6-foot distancing and size of groups that work or study together, Vuckovich said, “and that’s what we’re doing, when you look at our hybrid model.

“I’m pleased to say that our work has put us in a position to stay open and avoid longer shutdowns. I think the one thing no one has an (answer) for, and I wish there was some idea, is when vaccines would be available to staff so we could fully reopen. I know that’s one thing that this board values and desires and wants.”

Vuckovich commended students, families and school staff “for doing their part to help mitigate the breakouts and I think that’s shown in the most recent results. … Indiana County went down below 5 percent mark on percent positivity rates on coronavirus tests. … Only a couple of months ago we were at 49 percent. So you can see that result of everyone’s hard work.”

• Agreed to contribute $2,206 of additional capital reserve money for an overhaul of the sound system in the Indiana Area Junior High School auditorium. Overhauled almost 20 years ago, the facility was a gem of the community but advances in audio technology have left the analog master control board obsolete and the wireless components in violation of federal communication rules (the frequencies have been reassigned by the FCC to other purposes).

“We have no choice but to do this,” board member Thomas Harley said.

Board members roundly praised former administrator and teacher Jill Earman, who donated $5,000 toward the project. The district had budgeted $10,000 for the upgrades; in all, the project is estimated at $17,206.

“The donation is an unexpected gift, knocking down a tremendous amount of this,” Harley said. “We also have allocated $10,000 to the senior high school for a similar thing with the sound system. Having the $5,000 gift makes it a lot less painful.”

“It’s is absolutely thrilling to see a former employee give back to the district like this,” Schroth said.

• Approved the purchase of live-streaming equipment at a cost of $9,613 to enable the broadcast of junior high stage productions on the internet, for the benefit of viewers who cannot attend in person because of pandemic restrictions and to reach distant family and friends of performers who cannot travel to Indiana to see the shows.

• Approved the Armstrong-Indiana Intermediate Unit No. 28 general operating budget for 2021-22 of about $3.4 million, including the district’s share of $159,051, which represents no increase over the current budget.

• Approved the purchase of new office furniture, including a conference room table and chairs and furnishings for the secretaries’ area in the rebuilt East Pike Elementary School front office suite at a cost of about $7,500. The principal, nurse and guidance offices would be outfitted with existing furnishings.

• Approved lists of substitute nurses and custodians; hired Erin Janetski as a long-term substitute senior high science teacher from Wednesday through the end of the school year at $247.93 a day; hired Leann Knapik and Garth Clabaugh as paraeducators beginning today at $12 per hour subject to completion of 90-day probationary periods; and granted a sabbatical leave to an employee for medical reasons for one-half term beginning March 1.

• Approved revisions to board policies concerning Trauma-Informed Approach and Facilities and Workplace Safety and Policy.

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the county courthouse; Indiana Area and Homer-Center schools; Blairsville, Homer City, Clymer, Center and Burrell; and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.