Chartiers Valley officials have not yet decided how to cover a $1.7 million budget shortfall that must be balanced by the end of June.
But laying off teachers is not an option, school board president Tony Mazzarini told dozens of parents and and school employees who packed into the district’s meeting room Tuesday night.
“We are not of the mindset of furloughing any educators in our system,” he said. “I’ll say it tonight—that is not what we’re going to do. We will find a way to make this happen without laying off teachers.”
None of the other school directors on hand expressed disagreement.
Mazzarini’s statement followed a budget presentation that outlined how Chartiers Valley’s property taxes could increase every year between now and 2022 (watch the budget overview here or read the PDF).
Legally, the district cannot raise taxes more than .4643 mills this year. That increase, which seems almost inevitable at the moment, would cost residents an extra $46 for every $100,000 of their properties’ value.
Many in the audience Tuesday implored school officials to avoid cutting staff, even if it means paying higher taxes.
“I have no problem with a tax increase,” said resident Darlene Lucas. “People paid taxes to educate me. It’s our responsibility to educate the future generations.”
Rather, most residents in attendance were concerned that staff cuts would hurt the quality of education offered at Chartiers Valley.
“I’ve talked to a lot of intelligent people, who are my neighbors and who also have children enrolled in this district,” said resident Jennifer Ridge, “and they are, quite frankly, considering moving to the South Fayettes and Upper St. Clairs and Mt. Lebanons because we are not getting the quality of education that they are supposedly getting.”
Ridge noted that the Pittsburgh Business Times’ 2018 school rankings—which are based on the last three years of standardized tests—has Chartiers Valley at number 34, behind the districts that she mentioned.
“Our millage is the lowest in the Allegheny County,” said resident Lori Workmaster. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”
A tax increase alone will not balance Chartiers Valley’s 2018-2019 deficit, though. Instead, the school board has several options to cover the $1.7 budget million gap:
a). Cut expenses
b). Generate even more revenue, somehow
c). Shift money from the district’s financial reserves.
Option C would solve the immediate problem, but it’s a one-time solution that could drain that school’s savings and potentially harm the school’s financial ratings.
Between now June 26, when the district plans to vote on a final budget, it’s likely that school leaders will look for additional, non-teacher areas to cut spending. Currently,80% of the district’s budget is spent on salaries and benefits.
School officials will also hope for good news as the Allegheny County Department of Real Estate processes recent property value changes.
In just the past month, spending cuts and a bit of additional revenue from rising property values helped Chartiers Valley close its budget gap from $3 million to the current $1.7 million.
Some residents have criticized the school district for spending $80 million dollars on a new middle school-high school complex.
School board president Mazzarini defended the facilities as not just an investment in student success, but as a long-term financial positive.
“We shrunk the footprint of our educational facilities by 25%,” he said. “Just that reduction… will pay for this construction over the next 50 years. We will benefit by not having to heat buildings that were too big for us, by not heating hallways we didn’t need, by having cafeteria that serve as common areas and multifunction spaces.”
The district’s old middle school and high school bulidings had serious issues that would have required expensive fixes.
“We had classrooms with leaking water into them. We had buildings that would be 90 degrees on the top floor and 50 degrees on the bottom floor.”
Rather than invest tens of millions of dollars in oversized and outdated facilities, the school board opted to build new.
“We weren’t trying to keep up with the Joneses,” he said. “We had no choice.”
A recent tour of the new middle school reinforced to Mazzarini—whose children have already graduated from CV—that the board made the correct choice.
“Seeing the job that our teachers are doing using these new spaces, and seeing students learning and growing in new ways was totally enlightening to me and totally inspirational,” he said. “Because I saw our dollars at work.”