South Fayette schools looking at a ‘difficult year’

Published Jan 23, 2014 at 10:35 am (Updated Jan 23, 2014 at 10:35 am)

At the beginning of the first South Fayette School Board meeting of 2014, President Leonard Fornella stressed that this year will be a difficult one for the district.

“We have many special issues this year,” Fornella said at the Jan. 21 meeting. The matters include the 2014-15 budget, negotiations with the district’s non-professional employees and the hiring of a new athletic director.

“We critically have to address the high school expansion,” Fornella added. The district has been working with demographer Dr. Shelby Stewman regarding projections for growth in the district. Stewman will be on hand to discuss his findings at a special meeting to be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 6 in the Pride Room above the high school stadium.

“It’s a year that will require a lot of time, effort and hard work,” he said.

The district has started out the year by saving a net of $1.7 million by refinancing Series A and B of its 2004 bonds. The board voted unanimously to refinance the bonds.

In a competitive internet auction held Jan. 21, Janney Montgomery Scott, LLC was the low bidder at an interest rate of 2.6 percent, which included insurance on the bonds. The district’s previous interest rate was between 3.5 and 4.35 percent. Jamie Doyle of Public Financial Management presented the findings to the board via phone at the meeting.

She said the bonds have a five-year call feature and will come up again for refinancing in March 2022.

“We are not extending the debt, just replacing it with today’s low interest rates,” Doyle said.

Doyle said the district will see a savings of $272,000 in the current fiscal year and a $944,000 savings in fiscal year 2015, or an eight percent savings overall. In total, refinancing the Series B bonds will save the district about $486,000, or 9.25 percent.

Budget process

Several principals presented preliminary budgets to the board at the Jan. 21 meeting. The board must vote on a preliminary budget by its Feb. 18 meeting.

District director of finance Brian Tony said at the meeting that he has recently received a disc from the county with the new assessment and appeals data. He said so far, it looks like the new assessment data would give the district a $900,000 increase in revenue and another approximately $600,000 if the board decides to go to the index. However, he said he has no firm numbers as of yet.

Primary dchool principal Laurie Gray presented the kindergarten through second grade budget. She said she is anticipating about 217 kindergarten students next year. As of the meeting, she said there are 123 students registered for kindergarten next year. Gray is not requesting any additional staffers in her budget.

The increases in the primary school budget include $2,000 for supplies and materials in all grades because of the school’s new “make shop” classroom. Gray likened the make shop to the primary school’s version of a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) room. Gray is also asking for an additional $1,800 for fine arts supplies and a new AED machine as well as increases in the guidance budget and furniture.

Intermediate School Principal Greg Wensell is requesting an additional teacher and reading specialist as well as increasing the strings teacher to 75 percent instead of 50 percent.

Wensell is requesting $24,000 in each grade level for a new math program as well as instruments for the strings program, and new furniture for the library to convert it into more of a classroom setting.

Wensell is also applying for a grant for an artist in residence and is requesting about $5,000 in matching money for that.

Middle school principal Dave Deramo is requesting one new teacher for sixth grade and $5,900 in fine arts supplies, which includes items like sheet music, chimes and guitars. The middle school is also in need of new Spanish, German and French textbooks at a cost of $63,000. Dermao said a new AED machine is needed in the middle school at a cost of $1,476.

The high school administration is set to present its budget at the Jan. 28 board meeting.

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