Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mt. Lebanon School Board OKs Budget, Tax Increase

The Mt. Lebanon school board approved on Monday a proposed $79.5 million final budget with a millage rate of 26.69 mills, an increase of 2.58 mills from the 2009-10 budget.

The board passed the budget by a vote of 6 to 3, with board members James Fraasch, Faith Ann Stipanovich and Dale Ostergaard dissenting.

The millage rate hike represents a 10.7 percent increase in property taxes. The increase of 2.58 mills included a 2.16 mill increase resulting from a $69 million bond issue for the proposed $113.3 million high school renovation, a .37 mill increase for pension responsibility increases and a .05 mill increase for operating expenses in the base budget.

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Blogger Dave Franklin said...

This article underscores the point that many of us have been trying to make for quite some time. Specifically, several school board members and big project advocates have tried to convince me that for just $18 a month more on my tax bill, the $113 million project is a no brainer. My response has always been, "Perhaps but what about all of the other costs that will also impact my tax bill?" Typically, this question falls on deaf ears.

As we can see from this article, yesterday's approved budget (which includes only $75 million of project debt) has increased the taxes on a $200,000 home by $516 - or $43 a month. And that includes only a fraction of what will be needed to right the pension mess and really no increases in programming.

So you see, when folks like me object to or ask questions about the size of the project it is not because we are shortsighted or anti-kid. Many of us are looking at the big picture. You can't let people focus solely on the increase in your tax bill as it relates to the school project. By anyone's interpretation, surely that limited approach will appear to be a bargain. However, when you attach everything else (as well as the very real potential for increases on the municipal side, a reassessment etc), the benefits to $18 month disappear pretty quickly.

Ask yourself this . . . We haven't even put a shovel in the dirt, addressed the pension mess, increased teacher salaries with the upcoming contract or improved programming . . . so how many more $500 a year increases can you stomach?

April 20, 2010 9:08 AM  
Blogger Marjie said...

What Dave said.

In addition to tracking the real increases in taxes we will incur, I would like to see someone keep track of the tangible/intangible costs of the $113 mil project. Loss of staff, teachers, loss of budget for specific programming.

April 20, 2010 12:24 PM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

Marjie hits upon an important point, one that has been largely overlooked: the excesses of $113-million plan will need to be compensated for by cutting elsewhere. The math is inescapable; if we spend more on facilities, we’ll have less to spend on the rest of our educational options. In effect, we’re trading those other options for facilities upgrades.

Those other options, however, are likely to be more educationally effective than the facilities upgrades we’ll be getting in exchange. As I wrote in my Act 34 testimony, “[T]he plan, as it currently stands, represents an excessive, ineffective response to our school district’s educational challenges. Compared to a focused renovation that would make our facility safe, sound, and at least as academically effective as it is today, the current plan demands tens of millions of dollars more and yet promises virtually no academic improvement in exchange for its excess. That same money, invested in effective educational reforms, could have purchased for our students a higher standard of learning. Instead, the plan squanders that money on facilities grand beyond need, when 30 years of research has consistently found spending on facilities to be among the least effective of academic investments.”

The problem with the $113-million plan, then, isn’t that we can’t afford it. It’s that even if we could, it would be an ineffective use of our limited educational money. When our mission is To Provide the Best Education Possible for Each and Every Student, we have the obligation of investing each dollar where it will have the greatest effect.

The $113-million plan does the opposite.

April 20, 2010 1:41 PM  
Anonymous David Huston said...

Well said, Tom.
I mentioned something like this at the January meeting before the vote to start the Act 34 process.
Yours is better worded and more formally submitted.
It's always a pleasure to read your insight.

April 21, 2010 4:25 PM  

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