BURRELL TOWNSHIP — For 10 consecutive years, the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District has been able to avoid a tax increase.
But that streak appears to be in jeopardy after the school board Wednesday night delayed making a decision on the tentative 2019-20 budget until next month.
“At our next finance committee meeting (June 19), we’ll discuss whether to raise or not to raise (taxes),” board President Rick Harper said.
Harper said he is not sure if the district will be able to hold off a tax increase.
“It’s uncertain,” he said. “My fingers are crossed that we can.”
Business manager Angela Mellinger reported that the school district has a projected budget of $35,419,149 for next year and expenses totaling $35,078,776, leaving a surplus of $340,372.45.
Mellinger recommended the board accept the tentative budget with no tax increase.
“If all things remain constant, I think we should almost be at a break-even point in terms of this year and the prior year,” she said.
But Mellinger’s motion was met with some opposition.
“I’m not talking about a huge tax increase,” board vice president Holly Hall said. “I’ve been saying this for the last two years — are we going to wait until we tell the taxpayers we have to increase you 5 mills?
“Maybe just a little increase. … There’s not a whole lot of money to play with (in surplus). That’s nothing. To keep continuing this path of saying, ‘No tax increase, no tax increase,’ is scary to me.”
Harper said he understands Hall’s concern.
“You don’t want to raise taxes to the maximum,” he said. “Now you’re telling somebody you owe $150 more per year. That can have a little bit of an impact.”
Mellinger said the rising cost of teachers’ salaries and benefits continues to drive up the overall costs for the district.
“Because of the way teachers are paid, when people move up in their degree and when they move up in their years of service, they move up a level,” Mellinger said. “We have to recognize that every dollar in salary they gross, it’s going to be a district expense.
“Our teachers’ salaries are over $10 million and they keep climbing.”
Board member Michael Bartolino said he understands the district’s predicament.
“You can’t have revenues continue to stay flat or down and have costs go up without something having to give,” he said. “I think everybody’s just got to understand the circumstances and what sometimes is driving those things.”
Mellinger did not release potential millage increases for Indiana County or Westmoreland County during her budget presentation.
“We tried to discuss that, but nobody knew the exact millages,” Harper said. “We have some projects we want to work on. Our buildings need some attention and there’s very little cushion there (with the surplus). (Mellinger) was conservative with her numbers. We’re in negotiations with all the bargaining units right now.”
In other business Wednesday, the board:
• Rejected a motion to approve McClure Company for ESCO (Energy Services Companies) project and instead approved an amended motion to accept ABM to handle it.
• Approved the purchase of a robot at a cost of $4,795 that will help teach learning support students how to pronounce words properly.
• Signed off on a list of graduates for the May 29 ceremony.
• Approved math curriculum textbooks at a cost of $156,500.
• Agreed to a three-year agreement with Capital Area Intermediate Unit for Barracuda Services (Energizer updates and unlimited Cloud storage) at a yearly cost of $7,851.80.
• Approved the hiring of teachers Emma Firment ($50,420) and Danielle Dinizio ($51,420), effective Aug. 16; and Felix Noy as a long-term substitute for Blairsville High School at a prorated salary of $30,000, retroactive to April 23.
• Agreed on the voluntary transfer of Emily Miller to a learning support position at Blairsville Elementary School in 2019-20 and Cory Walker to an emotional support position at Saltsburg Elementary School; and the involuntary transfer of Barbara Stile to a learning support position at Blairsville Middle/High School.
• Approved the resignation request of Carey Harper, cafeteria aide, effective Friday.
• Appointed board member Anthony Canzano as treasurer for the district for the term of July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020. Also agreed to secure a bond for the treasurer for $50,000 with Western Surety Company.