Districts need to set fiscal priorities

Published Jan 22, 2014 at 6:05 am (Updated Jan 21, 2014 at 10:27 am)

As school districts make moves to settle on preliminary budgets, what their money is being spent on is often the topic of discussion at school board meetings. Last week, we ran two stories that highlighted what we can only call ridiculous spending.

First, on top of its multi-million dollar high school renovation, Mt. Lebanon is actually considering spending nearly $74,000 on a trophy case for the athletic building. To put that into perspective, the district recently approved a contract with Kristen Friedrich Schaffner for psychological services on an as-needed basis. Mt. Lebanon assistant superintendent Dr. Deborah Allen noted that she didn’t expect the cost of said services to exceed $15,000 – and should that expenditure increase, it will be brought to the board’s attention.

We ask you this – what is more important, a trophy case or the mental well being of students?

The high number includes both the design and build of the case. Some board members are less than thrilled about spending that amount on a trophy case. Take board member Dan Remely’s comment: “For $74,000, I would say take pictures of the trophies and frame them. This is a huge amount of money in the current budget environment.”

He’s absolutely right – thankfully, at the board’s Jan. 20 meeting, it was decided to delay the vote on the bid. The board is now trying to decide if they will fund the trophy case with funds from the district’s capital campaign or as a capital project.

In neighboring Upper St. Clair, the school board will vote on Jan. 27 as to whether to proceed in applying to the state for an exception to raise taxes beyond the 2.1 percent inflation rate of 0.450 mills; the extra revenue is needed to help the school district balance the budget. Yet, the school is looking at a bid of $490,000 to replace the track and inner fencing that separates that track from the spectator’s area of its stadium.

We understand the desire for schools and campuses to be up to date and attractive. However, school boards need to take a serious look at their priorities when these aesthetic improvements come at the cost of much higher taxes. Such frivolous spending is absolutely unnecessary. We would rather see $74,000 being spent on iPads or laptops for students, or funneled back into educational areas that have been cut.

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