PITTSBURGH -- The North Hills School District Board of Education unanimously approved the final budget for the 2019-20 school year at its meeting Thursday night.
President Edward Wielgus, Vice President Dee Spade and members Timothy Burnett, Thomas Kelly, Sandra Kozera, Allison Mathis, Dr. Annette Giovengo Nolish, Lou Nudi and Kathy Reid voted for the $83,926,406 spending plan which will allow North Hills to continue to provide quality educational programs and facilities for students.
Included in the budget is:
- Funding for 6 additional teaching positions and a new district director of elementary education
- $300,000 to add interactive video displays to classrooms replacing older projectors
- $276,885 for new instruments in all schools to accommodate the growing number of students joining band and to replace instruments that have exceeded their life expectancies
- $75,000 to upgrade and replace wireless access points at North Hills Middle School
- $33,600 to replace choral robes
- $30,598 to replace aging choral risers at the middle and high schools
While the budget does include a .4 mill real estate tax rate increase raising the district’s rate from 18.25 to 18.65 mills, North Hills is expected to remain among the lowest millage rates of school districts in Allegheny County.
The tax increase equates to about $52 a year for the average homeowner and drops to about $48 when you factor in the homestead exemption. That’s less than a dollar a week and will raise more than $1,040,000 for the district. The median home value in the North Hills School District is $135,900.
Prior to Thursday’s vote, Dr. Nolish, the board’s finance chief liaison, spoke about the budget process and some of the factors working against the district including the state’s pension plan. Watch the video here.
Years ago, as Dr. Nolish explained, the plan was poorly managed by the state.
“Pennsylvania, at one time, had a totally funded pension fund. It was balanced. [The state] used the money for other things [and] they never replaced it and now [we], the taxpayers, the school district, we’re paying for them,” she said. “It’s a mandated requirement. We have no choice. The state sends us a bill.”
For the 2018-19 school year, that bill totaled nearly $13 million, 127 percent more than what it was just five years ago and 500% more than 11 years ago.
Charter school tuition is also a fixed cost for the district based on the number of children who live in the North Hills but attend a charter or cyber-charter school. The district has to pay the tuition for each child and for the 2018-19 school year, that cost totaled $1.2 million.
The school board, led by member Nudi, will be fighting in support of legislation this summer that would no longer require school districts with their own cyber-based program, like North Hills, pay for resident students who enroll in cyber-charter schools other than their own. See Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 526.
In addition to fixed costs, enrollment in the district has increased and total expenditures have risen faster than revenues.
In the last seven years, elementary school enrollment has increased by 476 students, requiring the district to hire 20 additional teachers at an estimated cost of $1.2 million.
The district also added four special education teachers, four math specialists, two reading specialists and a speech therapist at an approximate cost of $660,000.
To further back up the board’s support of the budget, President Wielgus presented several facts and figures including the following:
- North Hills’ real estate tax revenue has risen 9 percent since 2014, or 1.50 percent per year with residents paying 1.1 percent of the annual increase. The other .4 percent has come from new and improved real estate sales.
- North Hills reduced its millage rate from 21.26 to 17.06 mills following Allegheny County's property reassessment in 2012.
- In the last 11 years, district employee wages have increased a total of 9.49 percent and medical benefit costs for all employees have increased by just 2.1 percent
“There’s nothing we would like better and that I would like personally than to deliver you a zero tax increase. That’s where we start, that’s where we try [and] that’s what we hope to happen, but we’re not in a position to do that and a lot of things are out of our control,” Dr. Nolish concluded.
The final 2019-20 budget can be downloaded here.