Mt. Lebanon schools announce savings, look for more cuts

Published Apr 9, 2013 at 8:39 am (Updated Apr 9, 2013 at 8:39 am)

Mt. Lebanon neared a resolution to its budget quandary at the April 8 school board discussion meeting. The administration presented a new list of proposals to effectively close a $100,000 budget gap. Proposed savings total an estimated $630,405.

Board members opted to preserve the district’s elementary foreign language program in its present form, as well as to implement student activities fees and increase the student parking fee from $50 to $75. Club sports such as hockey and lacrosse were spared funding cuts. The board also rejected the idea of increasing class sizes at the secondary level.

A host of other savings (such as reducing the cost of field maintenance, trimming costs associated with the facilities department and slimming technology department accounts) leaves the community facing a projected .54 mill tax increase.

Board member Jo Posti emphasized how grueling the budget process had become, not only for Mt. Lebanon but all Pennsylvania school districts. “Every district is seeing the same thing we are seeing,” she said. “We have cut any fat there is in our budgets. We are cutting into muscle now.”

Other board members continued to advocate shared sacrifice from district staff as the most effective long-term solution to the funding crunch.

Dale Ostergaard said the district had done well managing its discretionary spending but that this had been offset by rising personnel expenses. “What’s driving our budget is people costs, plain and simple. The only real option left on the table is to request concessions from our employees in the district.” He continued to advocate for a .25 mill tax increase. “The employees need to know the community has taken a significant hit. We faithfully gave salary increases throughout the recession – the worst recession since the Great Depression.”

He said halving staff wage increases for the 2013-2014 school year would allow the district to hit his millage target.

Dan Remely echoed those statements. “We need your help,” he said, addressing district staff. “It’s the only way we will bring this system back into line.”

Board member William Cooper, on the other hand, advocated for the full proposed .54 mill increase, comparing it to “two large pizzas” on a $100,000 house. He laid the blame for the pension crunch on the state and individual school districts, which held back pension contributions in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis.

If the board would like to further reduce millage, and the superintendent is unable to make headway with the union on pay concessions, the best option would be to use leftover fund balance to rein in taxes.

The board did not reach consensus on how much, if any, fund balance should be used to offset tax increases, as thinning budgetary reserves remain a concern.

The superintendent will present the board with a preliminary budget for approval next week. This budget must be made public for 30 days before receiving final approval in May.

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