Mt. Lebanon school board approves $87.9 million budget

Published May 20, 2014 at 8:49 am (Updated May 20, 2014 at 8:49 am)

The Mt. Lebanon school board approved the district’s 2014-2015 budget at its May 19 meeting, passing at 7-1. Scott Goldman voted no and Ed Kubit was absent.

The district’s final budget totals $87.9 million. It uses $750,000 of fund balance and a .54 mill tax increase, as well as limited cost-cutting, to close what was originally estimated to be a $2.6 million shortfall – .54 mills equates to a $54 tax increase per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Resident Bill Matthews criticized the district’s budget practices prior to the vote. He argued that Mt. Lebanon school district typically underspends its budget, sometimes by more than $1 million. For approximately a decade for which he had data, Matthews said the total surplus amounts to some $8 million. To him, that’s $8 million worth of excess taxation of residents, many of whom are already outraged over an alleged “newcomer’s tax.”

School board president Elaine Cappucci defended the district’s budget process.

“Our revenue is not set,” she said. “We don’t know the state budget. We don’t know whether we will receive PlanCon reimbursement (for the high school renovation project).” She explained that estimation is an essential part of the budget process and board members consulted extensively with finance director Jan Klein prior to the vote.

Superintendent Dr. Timothy Steinhauer said in addition to revenues, the district’s operating expenses can also fluctuate unexpectedly, for example due to retirements or maternity leave – even hiring support staff to handle specific needs related to students and facilities. “By law, the district cannot overspend its budget, so we make conservative recommendations to the board,” he said.

Steinhauer added that budget surpluses also fund the district’s capital projects, such as building improvements.

In reference to another budget topic, board president Cappucci explained that a teachers’ union grievance related to pay for long-term substitute teachers hired as full-time faculty had been resolved. The grievance, which relates to salary steps, will only cost the district about $20,000. Previous estimates ran as high as $1 million.

“The board is relieved to have this issue settled as we vote on the final budget,” Cappucci said.

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