Belle Vernon School Board Monday passed a 2018-19 general fund budget that will result in a tax increase, employee furloughs and reduction in the hours worked by the district’s social worker.
The final budget for the 2018-19 school year totals $38.5 million, an increase from last year’s budget of $37.1 million. This budget includes a tax rate of 84.25 mills in Westmoreland County, a 2.61-mill increase from last year, and a millage rate of 20.15 mills in Fayette County, a 0.625-mill increase.
Business manager James Dzurica said the retirement system contribution rate increased this year from roughly 32 percent to 33.43 percent.
“Our state funding is pretty flat. We didn’t really see any increases in the state subsidies,” Dzurica said.
He said the district is aiming to bring more students back from cyberschool. He said Belle Vernon has 73 students enrolled in cyberschool, costing it roughly $923,000 a year.
The budget passed by a 6-3 vote. Vice President John M. Nusser Jr. and directors Aaron Bialon and Daniel Sepesky voted no. Directors Kathleen Forte, Joe Grata, Michelle Callaway-Rodriguez, Joel Whiteko and Gloria Yuschak and board President Lou Rood voted yes.
“We’re just trying to do the right thing. I just feel that there’s other things we could have potentially cut or helped combine that they chose not to,” Nusser said.
“If we don’t get our finances under control, then further on down the road it’s not going to be pretty. Sometimes you have to take steps now that are not the ones you want to, but you’re trying to prevent more steps down the road,” Rood said.
This budget includes furloughing four aides from Marion Elementary Center: Cheryl Francia, Shirley Green, Cami Plymire and Carole Bisceglia.
Acting Superintendent Dr. Michele Dowell said the district also will furlough high school social studies teacher Kari Horrell and will not replace an English teacher at the high school. Dowell said she asked all administrators at the middle school and high school to provide her with their course request sheets to see how many students were requesting particular classes and how many sections were being offered.
Dowell said for social studies the district had 101 requests and was offering six sections of the course, so the numbers did not support the need for the position. She said she did the same review for the English department regarding whether to replace the departing teacher.
“There’s targeting going on, there’s witch hunts going on,” Sepesky said. He asked Dowell if she came up with the recommendation to furlough Horrell on her own or if she was instructed to specifically target Horrell.
“This came up because of course numbers on the request sheets,” Dowell said. She said she wasn’t given any direction to target Horrell for the furlough.
“It was not a witch hunt at all. It was done specifically because of the numbers. I had the numbers shown to me. I’m a former teacher, I understand how class sizes affect the number of teachers you have,” Rood said.
Rood said if you can get by with fewer teachers or slightly larger class sizes to save money, that is an option that every school district is going to consider, because they have to.
“No one likes to lay people off, no one likes to see people lose their job, but unfortunately it’s a harsh reality districts have to deal with,” Rood said. He said the district has been fortunate so far because its layoffs have been far fewer than in other districts.
The budget also included reducing Heather Tustin’s hours as social worker by 40 percent.
Sowell said this means the social worker position will be reduced to either three days a week, or the number of hours per day will be reduced. She said this reduction in time will not reduce any services to the children.
Dowell said the district also will no longer be offering a journalism class.
The board also accepted the resignation of school psychologist Dayna Sikora and voted to unanimously to hire Tiffany Gratchic as high school principal at an annual salary of $80,000.