School taxes to increase by 1.3 mills
-ON THE AGENDA-
By Elizabeth Perry
On June 23 the Sto-Rox School directors passed the 2022-2023 budget with one member short.
The vacancy left when Bobbi Sangricco resigned May 11 will now be filled by a judge’s appointment. Sangricco left for publicly unspecified reasons.
The school board was unable to choose between candidates Shawn Evans and Nina Hamlin at its June 9 meeting, and the decision was left to lapse beyond a 30-day period.
Since a board member wasn’t selected, the board no longer has a say in the matter.
Evans has filed a petition to be appointed to the board in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, according to Danielle Guarascio, legal counsel to the district. Guarascio said there was no appointment hearing set at this time.
Others who wish to be appointed to the board also have the option of filing a petition in court.
The board passed a $32.721 million budget, which represented a decrease in expenditures from the previous year by $378,363 and an increase in revenues of about $1.529 million.
A balanced budget represents progress for the district. Sto-Rox has been running budget deficits for years, forcing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to step in last year to put the district back on sound financial footing.
The increase in revenue was due to several factors, mainly federal money provided by the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and its other associate programs, which was developed to help schools deal with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other income came from “historical increases in transfer taxes,” property tax, earned income tax and delinquent real estate collections, said Paul Sroka, the district’s business manager, via email after the meeting. The transfer tax is a percentage paid when property is purchased. Sto-Rox’s transfer tax is 0.5%.
The budget set a 26.325 millage rate, which is an increase of 1.3 mils over the previous rate. One mill is equal to a thousandth of every dollar, which would equal $1 to every $1,000. A home assessed at $50,000 would be paying $1,316.25.
A salary increase for several administrative-level employees was also up for vote. Carrie Palermo, president of the teacher’s union, spoke out against the proposed wage increases in light of lagging teacher pay.
“We still do not have a contract. We’re finally at the table, but it took us a long time to get there. I know in the state plan it says there is money coming in for the teachers, and I hope it does, because we are the ones who have been here,” she said.
The 2.5% raise was passed unanimously for the following people in administrative roles: Heather Johnston, Brooke Stebler, Chris Captline and Pam Clawson. Contracted employees Paul Sroka and Brian Worst were awarded 2.5% raises, as well as confidential secretaries, Tina Nagel and Sue Gratton.
The cost of living has increased by 8.3% in the past 12 months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A wage increase for teachers was factored into the budget according to the document provided to Gazette 2.0. Sroka said the final percentage of the wage increase was still up for negotiation with the teachers’ union. Superintendent Megan Van Fossan has recently reopened negotiations with the teachers’ union after a year-long wage freeze.
Special ed billing
The board approved a year-long consulting contract with Martha Hoover to perform “Special Education Access Billing” at $25 an hour.
When the item was read, an observer in the audience asked why the consultant was necessary. Van Fossan said the outside company was needed because of a “personnel issue.”
In an email, Van Fossan clarified, explaining it was a Medicaid Access billing program with students who receive medical-related services at school like occupational or speech therapy. She wrote the district was trying to “maximize” funding from this source.
"We identified areas in our billing where we could be more efficient. I won't get into personnel issues, but I will say the last thing the district wants to do as it works through financial recovery is leave money on the table. Therefore, we brought on a consultant to not only train staff, but to monitor our billing."
In other school news, the board accepted the retirement of Susan Schram, speech and language pathologist for the district for the past 24 years, as of July 1. Cindy Alexander, primary center building secretary, and Sharissa Shatten, primary center school counselor both resigned.