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'Pay to Play,' Tax Raise, Staff Cuts All on the Table for 2012-13 B-W Budget

Required reading for district residents.

Tax Raise, Budget 'Shortfall'

Faced with an over $1.3-million budget shortfall for the 2012-13 school year despite a recommended property tax raise of 1.08 mills, the Baldwin-Whitehall School Board is considering a bevy of options to both bridge that budget gap and prevent that tax hike.

Among the options being considered in the are staff reductions, advertising on school buses, fees to use school buses and a "pay to play" system for middle- and high-school sports and other extracurricular activities.

Although it hasn't raised district property taxes since a 1.50-mill increase in 2006-07 to help pay for renovations to , the B-W School Board is almost certain to raise taxes for 2012-13. The expected increase is due to variables like reductions in funding at the state and federal level and large increases in expenses related to employee benefits, such as a 43-percent jump in employer contribution to the Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS).

"We most likely will raise taxes," B-W School Board President John B. Schmotzer said at a special budget meeting on Wednesday night. "To what extent is not known at this point."

Schmotzer expressed a strong desire to tax district residents less than the 1.08-mill increase recommended by district administrators, but doing so would cause even more money needing to be raised or saved to make up for the district's $1,364,228 shortfall.

William D. McKain, B-W's assistant to the superintendent for finance and operations, said that not raising taxes at all would equate to a shortfall approaching $2.8 million, as 1 mill in Baldwin-Whitehall equates to about $1.4 million.

The B-W School District's 2011-12 millage rate is 23.40 mills, or $2,340 per year for anyone with a property valued at $100,000 (land and building value combined). (Click here to calculate your individual taxes.)

Property reassessments for 2013 will not affect Baldwin-Whitehall until its 2013-14 school year budget. 

'Pay to Play,' Ads on Buses, Fees to Use Buses

In lieu of cutting spending or raising taxes even higher to solve the district's budget shortfall, Schmotzer and his colleagues on the school board are considering ways to increase district revenue, such as selling advertising to be placed on district buses, charging for district bus service and requiring students' families to pay fees to participate in extracurricular activities like sports.

"I have mixed emotions for this (paying for activities)," board member Nancy Lee Crowder said, acknowledging that extracurricular activities are part of students' educational experiences but also that times are tough economically for public schools.

Crowder said that her sister's school district charges students $75 each to participate in interscholastic athletics. Crowder finds logic in that system, saying that she doesn't see why in-school sports organizations should be treated much differently than out-of-school sports organizations, which do require athletes to pay fees.

Fellow board member Ray Rosing is in favor of a pay-to-play system if it means preventing activities from being dropped in order to save costs. 

"I'd go with charging for sports rather than cutting anything," Rosing said. He also said that $75 is a small price to pay for those students who end up earning an athletic scholarship to pay for some or all of college.

Schmotzer said that the school board should protect the district's low-income families who could not afford a pay-to-play price. He said that he would never prevent, "even out of (his) own pocket," a low-income student from participating. 

Board member Larry Pantuso said that he could tolerate reductions in the staffing of and spending on extracurricular activities but that he would not support specific eliminations of student opportunities.

"That's where you teach kids to work together, how to depend on each other," Pantuso said, adding that it's "(too) easy to balance a budget with scissors" and that it's the school board's job to maintain functions instead of cutting them.

Fellow board member George L. Pry said that he could support the cutting of some low-participation activities but did not mention any activities specifically.

"Some of these are nice activities, but are we everything to everybody?" Pry asked. "I don't know that."

Added board member Kevin J. Fischer, "We've put if off—pay to play. It is something that needs to be looked at. It is a sign of the times.

"The free ride—for all intents and purposes—is coming to an end."

Speaking of rides, Fischer said that he would consider charging students fees to use district transportation if it meant saving district programs from being cut and/or preventing a high tax increase.

He reminded those at Wednesday's meeting that Pennsylvania law does not require school districts to provide transportation. However, he recognized the importance of student transportation in Baldwin-Whitehall.

Staff Reductions, Four-Day Summer Workweek, Technology Slash

Put in front of the school board on Wednesday night by Dr. Randal A. Lutz, the district's new superintendent starting on July 1, were many options to reduce district spending by hiring fewer staff.

For example, Lutz suggested eliminating at least one nurse in the district, saying that B-W employs the equivalent of five full-time nurses right now when only three are required under state law that mandates one nurse per every 1,500 students. (The B-W School District has approximately 4,200 students.)

Crowder said that she prefers to have at least one nurse present in each of the district's five active school buildings, but Lutz said that nurses could rotate to different buildings as necessary and that office workers could help students with minor medical issues like requiring bandages.

Crowder and Pantuso said that there are enough students in Baldwin-Whitehall with special medical needs, however, to make them feel uncomfortable with less nurses.

"I wouldn't want an office worker tending to those kids' needs," Crowder said.

Lutz said that calling 911 is always an option.

Fischer supported Lutz's idea, saying, "When I went to school, nurses were far and few. I believe that we have to trim. We would be foolish not to take advantage of this."

Responded Pantuso, "It's easy to say unless it's your kid."

Of the seven board members who were present on Wednesday—Diana Kazour and Nancy Sciulli DiNardo were absent—only Crowder, Pantuso and Tracy Macek were opposed to eliminating at least one nurse, meaning that Lutz's idea will be put in front of the board for an official vote at a later time.

Similarly, Lutz recommended removing one social worker from district employment, which was again supported by Fischer, who said that the board should trust its administrative experts when it comes to determining how much staff is needed to educate the district's students.

"I'm not saying carte blanche," Fischer said. "I'd like to have one (social worker) for everybody, but that is not feasible. So, where do we meet that happy line? You (administrators) tell me. You're here day to day."

Lutz also recommended the elimination of two half-time encore teachers, an unspecified reduction in the number of "super"-substitute teachers and not filling the district vacancy of a middle- and high-school library secretary who recently retired.

No board members objected to those recommendations.

Lutz recommended a four-day summer workweek in the district, as well, requiring employees to show for four 10-hour days per summer week instead of five eight-hour ones.

McKain said that doing so would save on utility costs.

McKain recommended a sizable cut to the district's technology spending, moving it from $299,950 to $149,950 in one year as a way of reassessing how much new technology that the district truly needs.

Schmotzer agreed wholeheartedly and said that he would support the district's technology budget going even further down.

"Let's sit back and take a look at what we have," Schmotzer said. "I'm not just going to replace a computer to replace a computer—because it's 4 years old—if it's still functioning."

What About the Uncommitted Money?

The Baldwin-Whitehall School District has $4,807,632 in unassigned funds at the moment, according to McKain, but it is not considering using those funds to balance its 2012-13 budget.

Instead, McKain has recommended that one-third of the district's $2.8-million benefit stabilization fund—that's $933,333—be used. If so, the district would largely cut into the $1.3-million budget shortfall that it faces for next school year (including the tax increase of 1.08 mills).

McKain called the benefit stabilization money, which is separate from the district's unassigned funds, "a rainy day fund." The school board has built that fund up over the years to help cover shifting expenses like health care.

"We're saying it's raining," McKain quipped, "so we'd like to take a third of it out."

Added Pry, "I have no problem using it. To me, this is a savings account."

And Fischer, "We're using it for the purpose that we put it aside for."

But Baldwin-Whitehall's Business Manager William McNamee did express some caution.

"We have to be wary of one-time uses of our fund balance," McNamee said, pointing to uncertainty among health care providers, such as Highmark and UPMC. "It looks good, but where are we going to be at next year?"

McKain also said that he is recommending that the school board not spend $677,200 for a Baldwin High Stadium hillside renovation project that was budgeted for this school year so as to have that money available in 2012-13.

McKain's recommendations will be considered before any budget is approved and any related millage rate is determined.

Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan

After Wednesday's meeting had moved past the three-hour mark, the board decided to postpone its discussion about a five-year capital improvement plan for the district. That discussion may occur during a board meeting in May.

We know that you're thinking about something. Share your thoughts with your neighbors in the comments section below.

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bd May 01, 2012 at 11:57 AM
They probably left because the 3rd gymnasium at the high school did not meet their needs. We need to spend more on the facilities because we all the know the school board believes in the build it and they will come philosphy. And, they did come, thanks in part to Catholic Charities.
Jean Smith May 01, 2012 at 04:51 PM
In 2010 Whitehall, put a stop to Catholic Charities moving people into Whitehall Place. Catholic Charities is now placing people elsewhere outside of our school district, which is good but isn't going to fix what the administrators and school board is doing to our schools. Instead of the school having that 3rd gym, they should put tables and chairs in there to make sure that they have enough places for the kids to sit at lunch.
Jean Smith May 01, 2012 at 05:01 PM
I know they had only 3 classes in the school and there was more kids in 3 grades than there was in the school district. Harrison Middle School was just for 9th graders back in the 70's and early 80's and they had 600+ students a year at the school. The high school looks great but they didn't need to make the school that big, in the next 20 years, Baldwin will never see the students they had in the 70's and 80's. Only way that the school would get that many students again is for the school to improve on teaching our students, then should go talk to Mt Lebanon and find out what they are doing, on less money than what our school is taking in an year.
Michael Dobs May 01, 2012 at 05:08 PM
And the parents of thoes 100 students will be very depressed when their kids grow up and live with them till they at 40, since they will have no social skills but the time they spend with their computer. And how in the Heack and you bad mouth catholic charities for trying to give people a better life. I'm glad my kids go to school with multiple races, religions, ect. I hope you teach your kids your same social skills while you home school them.
bd May 01, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Jean Smith - Please indentify your source for the claim that, "In 2010 Whitehall, put a stop to Catholic Charities moving people into Whitehall Place." I do not remember reading that. I also assume the ACLU would have weighed in on that one. If Catholic Charities is no longer placing people into Whitehall Place, it is because it no longer fits their clients. Having no bus service or reduced bus service might have deterred them from placing people there. I cannot believe Whitehall council or the school board took any action for fear of legal problems. Source, please.
Jean Smith May 01, 2012 at 08:08 PM
BL, go do a search on the internet for the article, I had no problem finding it last night on the net. BTW they do have bus service still up though Whitehall Place, you can look on Port Authority Bus Schedules to see that they do. Maybe why they quit placing people up here as they did in Leland park is because they dropped on the number of people that they take Section 8 for. There is a way to get around everything and not get in trouble with the ACLU and NAACP, don't forget them because they stand up for the immigrants too now. Wasn't it said prior also this was the only place that Catholic Charities puts immigrants and we have the highest amount of them in the state, which isn't true cause those articles were from years gone by.
bd May 01, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Jean - On the contrary, I found articles from February and December of last year showing that Whitehall Place is a center for refugees and immigrants. Of the 1200 units, half of them are occupied by immigrants. South Hills Interfaith Ministries helps with counseling and receives a grant from Teresa Heinz to do so. It even mentions in this article that they have a special relationship with the borough manager of Whitehall. I did not find any article about Whitehall Place no longer open to subsidized housing. See, http://baldwin-whitehall.patch.com/articles/baldwin-whitehall-a-refuge-for-many-nations http://baldwin-whitehall.patch.com/articles/baldwin-whitehall-a-refuge-for-many-nations
Janet May 01, 2012 at 09:26 PM
I want to thank you for the facts also BD. Also where did Jean get the info regarding the Cyber School picking up another 100 BW students? Jean seems to give alot of miss information. I guess she's so busy stalking our district buses so she can tape them going through stop signs, trying to get our drivers fired.
Jean Smith May 01, 2012 at 10:25 PM
bd per a call to Whitehall Place, they don't accept Section 8 and of the 1200 units, that is incorrect that half of them are occupied by immigrants.
Jean Smith May 01, 2012 at 10:29 PM
By the way, I choose to drive my child to and from school and I see the buses on the road that run stop signs and red lights. I would also have a grandchild too but you can thank the bus driver from our school district that smacked into the back of my daughter in laws car, she chose not to run a red light, but the bus behind her didn't stop. I won't put my child on a bus in this school district any more.
Jean Smith May 01, 2012 at 11:21 PM
http://www.mtlsd.org/district/budget/stuff/2012.13_proposed_budget_4.16.12.pdf This is a copy of Mt Lebanon's Budget and the district in 2011-2012 spent Per Pupil Cost $             14,791 not the $11,520 that you stated before from education.com. That is more money per student then the 10,820 that you say Baldwin School spend on our students.
bd May 02, 2012 at 12:11 AM
Jean - You wrote, "bd per a call to Whitehall Place, they don't accept Section 8 and of the 1200 units, that is incorrect that half of them are occupied by immigrants." I refer you to an article on SHIM's website that states the occupancy figures. Here is the article you can read for yourself concerning 600 units occupied by immigrants or refugees, http://shim-center.org/programs/family-support/family-support-center/ Ask Whitehall Place if they accept subsidized housing. Section 8 is a specific type of subsidy. While they may not accept section 8, they may accept (and probably do) residents being helped with subsidies from groups like Catholic Charities. It is not Section 8 but it is subsidized housing.
Janet May 02, 2012 at 12:47 AM
Jean I'm sorry for your loss, but it sounds like it was an accident that could have happened to anyone who was driving behind her. You need to pray to God for strength to give you forgiveness for your bitterness toward the transportation department. NO ONE IS PERFECT, NOT EVEN YOU WHEN IT COMES TO DRIVING OR ANY ASPECT OF ONES LIFE. I'll pray for you too. Anyone who drives for a living will make mistakes, but they don't need someone stalking them waiting to report an error. May God bless you and bring peace within you.
Jean Smith May 02, 2012 at 01:34 AM
First of all it isn't stalking buses when your driving on the road and they run stop signs and red lights. I usually end up following one bus or another on the way to and from the high school every day and you see them run lights and stop signs. That is dangerous when they are full of students. I don't use a cell phone nor text while driving either. I keep my eyes on the road, especially when buses pull right out in front of you because a bus didn't stop at a stop sign or red light. Yes I will report them to this district or any other district. Kids lives are important and a bus driver should not be careless while behind the wheels of a bus.
Janet May 02, 2012 at 01:59 AM
I agree a bus driver should not be careless behind the wheel, but they are human and make mistakes like you and I. I don't believe that you see these drivers doing this everyday. You stated in a previous post " Even sent them a tap of a bus doing it and the bus driver is still driving kids to school." Someone would have to be sitting waiting and watching everyday for a driver to do this, that is stalking! And for you to think they would fire a driver because they went through a stop sign. I would hope it takes more than that for an employee to get fired. Again Jean, no one is perfect and if you think you are, shame on you. I happen to believe we have very caring and careful bus drivers. My children have liked the majority of their drivers over the years. To BW bus drivers, I think you do a fine job in keeping our children safe and I want to say thank you. I'm sure you don't get told this enough and deal with more people like Jean but I say thank you
Jean Smith May 02, 2012 at 03:17 AM
lol
Janet May 02, 2012 at 04:15 AM
If BW can't meet their budget, why did they create 2 new postions, Director of Programs, Darlene DeFilippo at a salary of $96,425 per year and Andrea Huffman to the position of director of curriculum for the entire district with an annual salary of $92,501? This is why we need to start with looking at administration first and working our way down on the cutting of spending.
bd May 02, 2012 at 12:53 PM
ML - It is only an exercise that might make you feel better but the majority of the B-W school board does not give a hoot about any ideas from the public. Schmotzer has already declared that he will raise taxes. He carries Fischer, Pry, Kazour, Rosing, and more than likely DiNardo. Case closed. Croder has even been against reducing taxes in the past. You would be better off bringing your ideas to a school board meeting.
Jean Smith May 02, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Hopefully these to created positions will Director of Programs and Director of Curriculum will come up with a solution for giving our kids a better education and get back to teaching our students. It was the people of Whitehall, Baldwin and Baldwin township that put them in office. To the ones that don't vote and complain, isn't it about time you do start to vote and make a difference for our kids to get a better education.
Billee May 02, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Security - Do a current grounds security study. Keep updated copy with your emergency plan and use a second copy to develop a in house labor management plan. Have plan approved by union leadership and solicitor for contract purposes and quality control and risk management reform. Hire one police officer as a director of your in house security. This may lessen or even solve some legal issues on the spot with your in house crisis intervention program by following the direction of the policeman. Example - Cafe disruption of violence a few years back. The security service we have now in my opinion is very professional and proficient however correct me if I'm wrong it's a extra expense as compared to in house. As far as outside events I would use in house security guards not police. Security can call for back up of police assistance as needed..
Billee May 02, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Bus expense - I would not mind paying for my children to ride the bus and helping those who can not pay. However I will refuse if you sub contract instead of keeping an in house service. Our family doesn't have the money to pay for the bus service twice. I will find away to drive all four of my children to school and home again.
Billee May 02, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Pay to play - I would rather pay to play and keep the in house tutoring supports. Even if as parents we would have to pay the teachers their base salary for tutoring It's more cost effective than taking our children to an outside source which charges around $60.00 to $80.00 an hour! The sad part about this is some of these same teachers have taught for our district or still worked for the district while my children were enrolled in the external academic tutoring of parent self pay. Instead of laying teachers off... maybe you can open a PAY AS YOU TUTOR Instead of teachers trying to make it on under skilled employment because the economy is suffering.
Billee May 02, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Last but not least... I look at my comments on the Patch as a parent mediation process that facilitates a deescalation for parental concerns more than just a FEEL GOOD EXERCISE! Whether our school board agrees or disagrees with my opinions - It never hurts to present them for consideration. When you stand up and speak with your voice as a parent whether they agree or not - you can tell your child and or children at the end of the day you have tried and done your BEST!
Mary May 02, 2012 at 08:11 PM
How about the parents whose children are getting free and subsidized breakfasts and lunches put in some community time.
Janet May 02, 2012 at 09:25 PM
You don't create positions like this when you can't afford a budget already. The board should be getting on administrations case to put out the extra effort, which they are being paid nicely already for to get our children getting the education they deserve. No more excuses for creating administration positions that we don't need
Jean Smith May 02, 2012 at 11:39 PM
Janet I agree with you but since they already hired these people, i'm hoping that they can do the children justice and the teaching improves at the school.
Jean Smith May 03, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Mary, yes lets put the parents out there that get subsidized breakfasts and lunches out there to clean up the hillside and all the school properties. Along with those parents lets get all the parents who kids are in sports out there cause were wasting money on them too. Don't forget band parents, club parents and all the kids that take activity buses after school.
Jean Smith May 03, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Sorry BD, but Whitehall Place doesn't accept subsidies rent from Catholic Charities.
Jean Smith May 06, 2012 at 09:57 PM
When the nurse is at lunch or sick, the secretaries take over. All of the school staff should be trained to handle emergencies. What happens if a child has a seizure in a class, the nurse isn't there till they go get them. Most of our school secretaries are mothers and i'm sure they all know how to handle an emergency.
Jean Smith May 06, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Michael not all charter school students sit at home behind a computer. There are charter schools out there, an alternative to send our children to and to get a better education.

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