The North Hills School District Board of Education voted 8-1 to approve the proposed final budget for the 2021-22 school year at its committee meeting with action held Thursday, April 29 in the LGI Room at the North Hills Middle School. Board member Kathy Reid voted against the proposed spending plan.
The proposed final 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. That last figure is one-third of the total COVID-19 relief funding allotted for use over the next three years.
With the proposed tax increase, North Hills’ millage rate would go from 18.65 to 19.04 mils. Homeowners with a home valued at the district’s average of $135,000 would pay $52.65 more per year or $4.39 per month.
Even at 19.04 mills, North Hills would likely remain among the lowest when compared to area school districts based on the current year’s millage rates. There was no tax increase in North Hills last year.
In her remarks, President Allison Mathis said it is the board’s goal, as it is every year, to keep any tax increase to a minimum.
“That is our goal every year, and I think it is even more important this year, because we know that many people in our community are still struggling with the economic impacts of COVID-19,” she reiterated.
The main driver of this year's budget increase is district enrollment and new staff members needed as a result. There are seven new NHEA union positions including four teachers, one nurse and two school psychologists in the proposed budget.
Mrs. Mathis said the school psychologists would directly address growing social and emotional and mental health needs of the community.
“North Hills has the highest ratio of students per psychologist when compared to several other schools in the local area and this is not a good thing,” she said. “As a district, and as a board we now have the opportunity to do the right thing and address these needs through hiring extra supports.”
While one newly hired psychologist would serve in a role similar to our current psychologists with testing and assessments, the second would focus exclusively on student mental health needs.
Mrs. Mathis explained, “They would be credentialed to provide therapy and work with teachers and counselors on social and emotional regulation. This is our moment where, as a district we can put actions behind our words and add to the mental health supports that our district needs.”
“I will admit, I was cautious about [this position] at first,” said board member Katie Poniatowski. “I didn’t know how I felt about it, but after seeing the job description, after talking with Dr. [Patrick] Mannarino and Dr. [Nicole] Bezila, I feel a lot better about this position because I know they will work closely with our counselors, our administration [and] our teachers. You’ll see them in our buildings and they will be integrated into our schools just like the counselors are."
The budget approved is just a proposed final budget so there is still time to make adjustments.
The public is invited to join the discussion and ask questions at three public budget committee meetings next month. An in-person meeting will be held in the Ross Elementary School auditorium at 7 p.m. next Wednesday, May 5. Meetings will be held via Zoom on May 12 and May 26. Zoom meeting links will be shared on the district’s website, nhsd.net, in the coming weeks.
The school board will vote on the final budget for the 2021-22 school year on June 3.