Mt. Lebanon mulls budget options

Published Jan 15, 2013 at 11:24 am (Updated Jan 15, 2013 at 11:37 am)

Financial items dominated the agenda at Mt. Lebanon’s Jan. 14 discussion meeting, with the board facing both a preliminary budget deadline and the future of the district’s high school rifle team.

Act 1 of 2006 limits the amount by which school districts may raise property taxes unless they apply for specific exceptions. However in order to qualify for those exceptions, boards are required to post preliminary budgets for public review early in the year. Hence, to preserve maximum flexibility to raise revenue, the district must post a preliminary budget for public view in January, then approve it in February.

“If we would approve this it allows us to preserve the option of increasing millage to the index limit,” board president Elaine Cappucci said. “It does not mean we will. In my opinion, I would not foresee taxes being raised to the maximum level.”

Like all Pennsylvania school districts, Mt. Lebanon faces a number of uncertainties in terms of its budget. The district does not yet have accurate information regarding state funding, student course selections, staff retirements or healthcare cost increases for the upcoming school year. Legislative changes to the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) may also impact the budget.

“All these factors create a lot of uncertainty in this budget,” explained director of fiscal services Jan Klein. “I would recommend we preserve all our options going forward.”

The board also briefly discussed the fate of the high school’s rifle range.

It has been in limbo ever since the district’s revised high school renovation plans went out to bid. In the bid documents, the rifle range was listed as an “add alternate” – meaning it was not included in the base bid, but may be added back in if the project comes in under budget.

Board members have proposed numerous solutions in the course of the renovation project: funding a scaled-down range as part of the high school project, moving the rifle program off campus and funding a new rifle range as a capital project are all under consideration.

The current range design could cost as much as $400,000. However, school superintendent Dr. Tim Steinhauer reminded the board it could scale any plans to what it deemed a “reasonable cost.”

“I have a hard time discussing a rifle range in a school after the Connecticut shooting,” said board member Dan Remely. “I have no problem with the team. They and the coaches are exceptional. But for financial reasons as well I think I would prefer to see the program moved off-site. Even at a cost of $10,000-$20,000 a year, we would not be paying interest on that as part of our high school bond.”

Ultimately, board members requested more information from the administration, including more detailed cost estimates for the various options and input from students participating in the sport. The rifle team’s coaches will also answer board questions at a future meeting, most likely in February.

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