Voters in Penn Hills to get a say on school taxes?

Voters in Penn Hills to get a say on school taxes?

A recent blog noted that the Penn Hills School District was placed into financial recovery and will have a state-appointed coordinator that will help the district with its finances.  However, the normal timeline of school district budgeting must go on.  And with requirements under Act 1 of 2006 the budget process has an important deadline coming on Feb. 20.  That’s when districts have to adopt a preliminary budget for the 2019-20 school year.

For Penn Hills, the preliminary budget includes a tax increase of 1.92 mills, which would raise the rate from 28.66 mills to 30.58 mills.  The district’s Act 1 index would only allow an increase up to 29.58 mills (0.9 mills) without an exception granted by the Department of Education or by approval through a referendum in the district.

Penn Hills wants to be granted exceptions for special education and pension costs.  But the state representative from Penn Hills has made a direct request to the secretary of education to deny the exceptions and either “require the school district to reduce the tax-rate increase to no more than the index, or require it to submit a referendum question for voter approval in the next election.”

Since the 2007-08 school year–when Act 1 requirements on tax increases first went into effect–there has been one voter referendum on a school tax increase.  School districts across Allegheny County exceeded their Act 1 index with permission from the Department of Education via an exception 68 times in the last 12 years.  Penn Hills did it for the last three years with increases of 6, 5 and 4 percent year over year.

From 2013-14 to this year the taxes on a median value home in Penn Hills ($68,500) have increased $343 after accounting for homestead property tax relief for school taxes from gaming money (that’s gone up $13).  With the placement of the district into financial recovery and another above-index tax increase, maybe putting the decision in the hands of the voters would give an indication of their feelings about the situation.