The North Hills School District Board of Education voted 7-0 to approve the final budget for the 2021-22 school year at its committee meeting with action on June 3. Board member Kathy Reid abstained and Dr. Annette Giovengo Nolish was not in attendance.
The 2021-22 budget has revenues and expenditures of $88,284,000 and includes a real estate tax rate increase of .39 mills, $1,174,150 from the PSERS Fund Balance and $963,700 from the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund. The last figure is one-third of the total COVID-19 relief funding allocated for use over the next three years.
With the tax increase, North Hills’ millage rate goes from 18.65 to 19.04 mills. The real estate tax on a home valued at the district’s average of $135,000 is $52.65 more per year or $4.39 more per month. The increase jumps to $78 more annually or $6.50 more a month on a home valued at $200,000.
The new millage rate of 19.04 is less than the 19.30 maximum millage rate (.65 mills increase) allowed under the current tax rate of 3.5 percent and remains among the lowest when compared to other school districts in Allegheny County. There was no tax increase in North Hills last year.
At approximately $39.7 million, salaries and wages make up the largest portion of the budget and employee benefits equate to approximately $24.3 million.
This year’s budget has several new positions including four teachers, one school nurse and two school psychologists.
The four additional teachers are necessary due to the district’s enrollment bubble in certain grades in order to maintain class sizes.
Last year, two nurses retired but only one was replaced. This additional nurse will bring the district back to where it should be.
The psychologists will support our students’ social and emotional and mental health needs, a widely-discussed topic in recent months amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The district currently has just two psychologists serving more than 4,500 students, far less than the recommended one psychologist to 1,000 students ratio.
While one newly hired psychologist will serve in a role similar to our current psychologists, the second will focus exclusively on student mental health needs.
“As a district we have heard, repeatedly, about the mental health needs of our students. We currently have a deficit in this area so let’s put some action and substance behind our words,” said Board President Allison Mathis, voicing her support for the added positions.
In agreement, board member Deanna Philpott thanked the rest of the board and the administration for “supporting a budget that prioritizes the mental and physical health of our entire community."
Other larger expenses include transportation at approximately $3.6 million, and cyber/charter school tuition and private school tuition at $1.3 million and $1.1 million respectively.
"We watch this money leave every single year," board member Phil Little said in regard to the cyber/charter school tuition he has repeatedly called on legislators to reform. “It's very frustrating."
Mrs. Mathis reminded the community of the long list of items cut or not implemented last year inorder to pass a balanced budget with no tax increase.
“The reality is, our expenses go up every year, so if we don’t want to start cutting or eliminating programs, which I do not, or increasing class sizes, which I do not, we need to generate more revenue to cover our expenses. We need to continue to invest in education,” she said, adding she would work with the board and the district to explore revenue-increasing options including when and how property values are assessed in the district.
Prior to Thursday night’s vote, Director of Finance Jerry Muth presented a short overview of the budget. Watch his presentation below. Download PDF.