South Fayette residents question school board about skyrocketing taxes
More than 50 South Fayette residents gathered inside the high school auditorium April 11 after many had raised concerns in recent weeks about the school district’s ever-increasing property taxes.
The South Fayette School Board held the public meeting to discuss the district’s finances and the school’s budget creation process, along with legislative proposals to eliminate property taxes and what state mandates drive school district funding.
The meeting, which had been rescheduled from March after being canceled due to inclement weather, was prompted by concerns and complaints raised by seniors at a school board meeting last year. “We felt that this issue required a more interactive space where we could actually have conversation and interaction, so your concerns and questions could be discussed,” school board member Jennifer Iriti told residents.
School property taxes are currently 26.7 mills in South Fayette – with another tax increase proposed this year – making it the third-highest rate in Allegheny County. In comparison, Mt. Lebanon is 23.93 mills and Upper St. Clair is 24.3388 mills.
The South Fayette School District has raised taxes nine times in the past 10 years.
South Fayette finance Director Brian Tony presented residents with information about exactly how the school board uses the money collected through taxes and how the budget is created, comparing South Fayette’s growing district to others in the area.
“Some of our numbers have almost doubled in special education, English as a second language and gifted programs,” Tony said of the influx of new students.
He pointed to the increase in residential development as a major factor in increased school enrollment. Between 2012 and 2016, he said, 508 new homes have been built in South Fayette and 589 additional students have been added to the district.
“As a district, we are trying to provide the best education possible for every child that comes through South Fayette,” Superintendent Bille Rondinelli added. “That is our goal.”
During the question and answer session following Tony’s presentation, residents questioned how far the district was willing to go and how much they were willing to spend to achieve that goal.
“You’re no nice that you feel guilty that you don’t give the little darlings enough,” a man who identified himself only as Victor said. “The kids don’t need to have the maximum of everything.”
His statement was followed by applause from residents in the audience. New additions to the school are all set to a high standard, which Rondinelli said is for the benefit of the students.
Other residents posed questions on notecards collected by Assistant Superintendent David Deramo and read aloud by Rondinelli. Skyrocketing pension obligations, teacher salaries, unnecessary expenditures and a boom in recent residential development in the township were all discussed and addressed by Rondinelli, Tony and the members of the school board who were present.
Township commissioners Gwen Rodi and Lisa Malosh, both of whom attended the forum, spoke briefly on the taxes that a new senior living facility planned for Mayview could bring to the community and the school district.
The looming question, however, was whether or not there would be another property tax increase for residents this year. The school district is in the process of reviewing and amending their approved preliminary budget, which would increase revenue by the maximum 3.2 percent index.
“We always operate under the assumption that we will not increase taxes,” Tony said.