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Keystone Oaks Considering Tax Increase In Budget Talks

Preliminary budget for 2011-12 shows deficit is lower than that of nearby districts.

Despite losing more than $1 million in state funding and other economic challenges, Keystone Oaks school directors Wednesday night learned the district may only face a $500,000 budget shortfall in 2011-12.

While board members said it will likely take some finesse and a tax hike to get their financial house in order, the district's $34 million revenue and $34.5 million expenditures puts it in better shape than neighboring schools.

Chartiers Valley is facing a $900,000 budget gap. Carlynton's is projected to be more than $650,000. Upper St. Clair’s deficit is nearly $800,000. And Bethel Park’s is more than $900,000.

But Keystone Oaks’ deficit isn’t low enough to stave off a potential 1.7 percent tax hike, which would generate $359,000 for the district, according to Gwen Walker, director of fiscal services.

“It’s a painful road we’ve had to go down often,” she said.

Last year the district raised taxes by 0.72 mills, which cost the average district resident an extra $60 or more during the year.

This year this district is projected to raise the tax rate from 22.03 to 22.4 mills. It wasn’t immediately clear what the increase will mean to residents.

Keystone Oaks officials will continue to discuss the budget during the next two months, they said.

Walker said she will continue to work on projections and update the budget as more information becomes available.

Bob Lloyd, a school director from Dormont who is running for re-election, questioned what the district is doing to collect delinquent taxes.

About $1.2 million is “collectable,” Walker said. In conjunction with solicitor Ira Weiss’ office and other agencies, about $200,000 was collected this year.

Weiss’ office and Jordan Tax Services are being “very aggressive,” Walker said.

While pursuing delinquent taxes, the district is also reshuffling some of its educators to continue programming without replacing all of the 21 retiring teachers.

Superintendent William Urbanek said only two full-time teachers and one part-time teacher will be hired. To continue the same educational offerings, staff will be restructured, he said. Administrators hope to made all staffing decisions next month, he said.

Additionally, class sizes will increase, he said. Early projections from middle school and high school principals show some classes will include 30 or more students.

Middle school science and social studies courses may average between 27 and 31 students.

High school figures show chemistry classes with 35 students and math classes with 29 students.

“The kids who struggle will be the ones who pay the price,” said Marian Randazzo, education committee chair.

Rob Brownlee, a director from Dormont running for re-election and finance committee chair, asked to see some budget scenarios that included replacing a couple more teachers.

“I don’t like some of the class sizes in the middle school,” he said.

robert t April 28, 2011 at 03:51 PM
Do you know where I can view the budget?
Candy Woodall April 28, 2011 at 04:50 PM
I'd suggest contacting district administrators or the board members who represent you. Most of their contact information can be found on the district's Web site www.kosd.org. You may also contact Jim Cromie, district spokesman, at (412) 571-6020.
robert t April 28, 2011 at 08:45 PM
Thanks! There's a summary provided at the website. As anticipated there's some debt on the books-- $4.875 million! So tired of higher taxes always being the proposed solution-- especially for a borough with one of the highest millage rates in the county. If there can't be a balanced budget with that much debt (and so much reliance on state/federal funds), something is very wrong. Revenue may be flat but so are wages, so not only do I have to pay more for commodities like food, fuel, utilities, etc, I have to pay more taxes! Pure nonsense... and I don't even have a child. I just moved to Dormont last year and am not really seeing a good reason to stay. Dormont is really digging a hole for itself if taxes keep getting increased-- people will leave and people will be hesitant to move here, which could be part of the reason why at least 6 houses have been for sale for months within 2 blocks of my house.
Tim April 29, 2011 at 01:52 PM
Millage rates aren't the issue...it's the value of the mill. The same house you own in Dormont would have a lower millage rate in Mt. Lebanon but your tax bill would be higher. The houses keep selling on your block because homes in Dormont are a good value. Property values have consistently risen since the mid to late 80's. KO used to be a big selling point but if they continue to avoid raising taxes by cutting programs that won't be the case for much longer. The music program in the KO schools is an example as it has been decimated in recent years...music is an academic program that makes kids good students in their other studies. This link to a short offering from Dr. Jack Stamp will provide a demonstration of that assertion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mw4vqll9cAM Taxes are about value. Are the services you get worth what you pay?
robert t April 29, 2011 at 05:49 PM
And if my house was in Pittsburgh city limits I'd being paying less in property taxes. Nonetheless, I do not have the option of moving my house so increasing millage rates are an issue for me. The houses aren't selling on my block. They've been listed for months. The house I bought was listed for over a year. Raising taxes have been avoided? They were just raised last year according to this article. Increasing property prices isn't necessarily a measure of good value-- they essentially have to increase due to inflation. So they've been cutting programs and taxes are still going up? Isn't that a potential red flag for sub-optimal management of funds? Continued....
robert t April 29, 2011 at 05:49 PM
I understand they're also restructuring to maximize funds, but consistently outsourcing the problem to taxpayers is not sustainable burdening those with the same 'flat revenue' that the school is faced with. Are raising taxes and cutting programs the only two options? What about cutting costs through volunteerism, e.g., students help cut grass, clean floors, etc.? What about reducing the use of utilities? What about pay cuts? What about more fundraisers by academic programs, e.g., music concerts, plays, etc? What does the school do to raise its own funds... any raffles, fairs, auctions? Do they really need to print and mail a newsletter for everyone? I'd rather have it as a PDF in my email inbox. Are the young minds of the students encouraged to come up with creative solutions to help fund their education? Are the services "I GET" worth what I pay? Directly, no. I do not receive those services. The more important question, to me, is does the school run at maximum efficiency to optimize it's use of funds?
dormonter April 29, 2011 at 10:59 PM
Hope KO continues to find a way to cut expenses and doesn't have to raise taxes. The current county property reassessments will likely bring some money anyway. The district can't get a windfall, but my guess is that when some properties are reassessed, especially commercial properties, that there would be an increase in the taxes that would cover the $500K.
Joe Hartnett April 30, 2011 at 05:56 AM
The debt is by far the biggest problem. At the most recent KO Business/Legislative meeting it was reported that KO's total debt is just shy of $60,000,000.00! A few months ago I made an Open Record request for the meeting minutes of the most recent time the KO board passed a budget where revenues were either equal to or greater than expenditures. They literally could not find a year where that was the case. I settled for an affidavit that stated that no such record exists within the past twenty years. Year after year of deficit spending is to blame - not the elementary schools as has been alleged. And I now hear rumors that Robert Brownlee is trying to run as a "Debt fighting " school board candidate. What a joke. I can't find an instance where he ever made a "NO" vote - other than when he voted "NO" to not let Mr. Lloyd fix a school closure vote that had been made in error. Our district deserves better.
Joe Finucan April 30, 2011 at 09:28 PM
Debt payment in the budget is $5 million. Total budget is $35 million. Taxes may be increasing now, but in large part, it is to pay for that $5 million of debt service in annual budget. We had a 5 or 6 year run without any tax increases, but we increased our debt during that period. So we basically used credit as a means of not raising taxes. Now we have this crushing debt service. Without the debt service, KO would have a surplus. All of the debt issues were know to the board, but that didn't stop them from spending. The refurbishment of the football field about five years ago cost somewhere between $5.5 and $7 million dollars (different number pop up in different places). The current board voted to give teachers raises of more than 3% (3.4% is the acutual number I think) each year. The board should have had an idea of where finances were going and how bad the debt was. The board, including the "Debt Fighter", helped to incure the self-inflicted financial issue. I and the rest of the SOS Coalition candidates will reign in debt and make sure spending makes sense financially and educationally.
David N. Hommrich April 30, 2011 at 10:48 PM
All great points, Joe. I would love to hear Mr. Brownlee (or Mrs. Weaver.........Green Tree director) tell us precisely what they have done to reduce district debt. They have recently annointed themselves as the Debt Fighters for our district, but I think they both would have a tough time telling us what they've actually done..........other than vote "Yes" for each new debt opportunity that came along. I have been following the KO School Board for over two years, and I've attended countless meetings (including the one where Brownlee and Weaver voted to incur nearly $4.0 million in new debt for an over-priced HVAC system). I cannot remember a time when either of these two ever mentioned any concerns about district debt. The fact is, they only became "Debt Fighters" when the district debt crisis became a central issue in the upcoming school board election. Fortunately for your community, I'm certain Dormont voters are too smart to fall for that.
dormonter April 30, 2011 at 11:32 PM
What say it is time for a sports fee? And a bus user fee? Dormont kids don't get bussed so why not charge a small fee for those that are? It is only right to have families who use extras to pay for them, rather than every taxpayer in the boroughs about 75% of whom have no school-aged kids!
DormontMOM May 01, 2011 at 12:13 AM
The purpose of school Taxes are for funding for the school and activities. Owning property, you pay taxes thats how it works, you don't want to pay taxes, rent like the other 42% of our residents in Dormont. Dormont Elementry children are bused, and the school district does charge fees for sports. I understand you may not know this not having kids in the system.
Joe Hartnett May 02, 2011 at 06:02 AM
As far as bus user fee is concerned, I'm not sure if state law would allow for it. And regarding renters not paying property tax - I've always been of the opinion that rental property owners factor their property tax into the cost of each rental unit so by proxy, renters essentially do pay a share of property tax. Obviously, they don't pay it directly but it does get paid. I rented for years in Dormont before marrying and starting a family and I always felt I was paying my fair share through a portion of my rent, and my taxable income.

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