indiana area senior high school totem sign

The Indiana Area School District and the owners of Indiana Mall have agreed to a reduction in the mall’s property assessment, which will slash the real estate tax bills on the property by almost two-thirds.

The reassessment will save $222,720 on the Indiana Mall Company’s school tax for 2019-20 and retroactively require a refund of the same amount the company had already paid for 2018-19.

Indiana school board members on Monday approved the settlement as negotiated in Indiana County Common Pleas Court among attorneys for the mall, the school district, Indiana County and the county Board of Assessment Appeals.

The not-unexpected hit on the school district budget, just approved in June for the current fiscal year, will take the shape of a $445,440 drawdown from the district’s unreserved fund balance, which stood at $6.34 million on July 1, according to Business Manager Jared Cronauer and Finance Committee Chairwoman Julia Trimarchi Cuccaro.

“We knew about it. We had budgeted for a worst-case scenario than that for 2019-20,” Cronauer said. “We’ve been working on it for almost a year.”

The loss of the revenue won’t immediately mean a reduction in programs or services but more than likely will force the school board’s hand in setting higher real estate tax rates in 2020-21 and future years. The district kept the real estate tax at 15.36 mills for the new school year.

At that rate, Indiana Mall had paid a tax of $345,600 on an assessed market value of $22,512,400 until last year.

The mall was denied a reduction following a hearing Sept. 13, 2018, by the county Assessment Appeals Board, but further appealed to the county court and negotiated a proposed settlement that sets the value at $8 million. At the current tax rate, Indiana Mall’s tax bill is $122,880.

Cuccaro said the assessment of the mall, as a commercial property, is based on more than just the value of the land and building. A “capitalization rate” factor takes the fair market value and the income as a business into consideration.

In other business Monday, the board:

• Approved the construction of a gaga ball court on the grounds of Horace Mann Elementary School by parents volunteering their labor and materials provided by the district at an unspecified cost.

Horace Mann School was selected for the gaga ball court because it has available space and because of the offer of donated labor, director John Barbor said.

• Employed Lisa Mazey as a certified school nurse at a salary of $50,732, beginning Thursday.

• Hired Chelsea Palmer as a long-term substitute English/drama teacher at the senior high school beginning Thursday at daily pay of $245.48 through Dec. 3.

• Employed David Houseman as a long-term substitute school counselor at the senior high from Thursday through Jan. 15 at daily pay of $254.48.

• Hired Chaya Matos as a part-time long-term substitute Spanish teacher at the junior high effective Thursday at daily pay of $122.74 through Jan. 15.

• Hired Heather Miller as a behavioral support specialist effective Thursday at $15 an hour.

• Authorized the creation of two additional paraeducator positions beginning this month — one for the autistic support classroom and one for the IDEAL lab at the junior high — and hired Alex Clark, Maria Tyger, Chandler Toman and Mary Stracka as para-educators effective Thursday at $12 an hour.

• Accepted a letter of resignation from certified school burse Nicole Reilly, for personal reasons, effective Wednesday (Aug. 14) and authorized the position to be filled.

• Accepted with regret the resignations of custodian Michael Yurky, for retirement, effective Aug. 9; food service driver Chad Baumgardner for relocation, effective immediately; and paraeducator Christy Kimmel for personal reasons, effective immediately. The board directed the administration to post and advertise the vacancies.

• Without comment, terminated custodian Jordan Crane, effective July 23.

• Created the position of dean of students for the senior high school and approved a proposed job description.

• Approved revisions to the common core mathematics, Course One; common core math, Course Two; and pre-algebra (common core math, Course Three) classes as submitted by the Academic/ Extracurricular Committee.

• Authorized attendance by Superintendent Michael Vuckovich, Federal Programs Director Justin Zahorchak, Senior High Assistant Principal Douglas Johnson, Junior High Principal Michael Minnick, East Pike Elementary Principal Donald Springer, Eisenhower Elementary Principal Erin Eisenman, and Horace Mann Elementary Principal Krista Sevajian at the PATHS/Mental Trauma/SEL training program held Aug. 7 in Cleveland at a cost to the district of $2,180.

• Authorized the senior high school’s participation in a Novice Driver Education and School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports research-based opportunity with Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

• Approved an affiliation agreement with Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania for placement of Bloomsburg students as interns with the district.

Staff writer/Web Editor, The Indiana (Pa.) Gazette

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the Indiana Area and Homer-Center school boards and White Township, Center Township, Homer City and Burrell Township, and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.