Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Budget Is Balanced but Includes Few Positives

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Budget Is Balanced but Includes Few Positives

Article excerpt

The Sto-Rox School District has survived another difficult process of preparing a budget, but it's the survival of a desert traveler drinking the last of his water and praying for rain.

The school board last Thursday balanced a $24 million budget by withdrawing $766,000 from its fund balance. Five positions were eliminated, but the plan is "educationally sound," superintendent Fran Serenka said, with just enough support personnel to supplement the core teachers.

It also held the line on taxes, keeping them at 25 mills for property owners in McKees Rocks and Stowe.

But it does not provide anything toward the high school's aging boilers, roof or sidewalks, has nothing to repair the non- functional curtains on the high school stage, does not provide for a needed new van or dump truck and has nothing for such basic needed upgrades as a fire alarm system.

"We're pushing needed repairs one more year down the road," business manager Chuck Lanna said. "Some year or other we're going to have a major malfunction." He said the high school boilers are the most worrisome, being "way past their life expectancy."

In a sense, the district is using borrowed money -- the $2 million fund balance is from a $3 million loan taken out last year - - to borrow time, and Mr. Lanna fears the loans will come due next year.

"By my projections, we're going to be about $3 million short" for the 2011-12 budget, he said.

Among the reasons for that are:

* An expected $450,000 increase for raises under union contracts. Raises this year were offset by the fact that Sto-Rox had 14 retirements, which yield savings because new teachers come in at the bottom of the salary scale. There are no retirements expected next year.

* An expected $250,000 bump in contributions to the under-funded Public School Employees' Retirement System.

* About $700,000 worth of building-related capital projects that have been identified as "somewhat immediate" but are not addressed in the current budget. "Normally we have a minimum of $200,000 for the tech department alone," Mr. …

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