News Column

Homer-Center School Board stays with 2-mill tax increase

June 27, 2014

By Jeff Himler, The Blairsville Dispatch, Pa.

June 27--Homer-Center School Board has approved a final 2014-15 budget that includes a 2-mill increase in the district's real estate tax.

"Two mills is not a large tax increase," said board President Vicki Smith. "We worked very hard to keep it at a minimum. We still will be operating with a bare-bones budget."

The final 2014-15 budget, approved at the board's June 19 meeting, is unchanged from the version tentatively approved in May. It includes $15,699,760 in planned expenditures, up by a little over 3 percent from the previous year's budget, and projected revenue of $15,132,163.

The district will dip into its fund balance reserve to cover the amount of expenditures that exceed revenues.

With a new rate of 127.6 mills, the average district household should see an increase of $24 in its annual property tax bill.

The budget and tax rate were approved unanimously, with James McLoughlin and Sherri Williams absent.

When the Homer-Center board took action on its budget, officials in Harrisburg had yet to finalize the state budget for 2014-15 including subsidies for local school districts.

"We're hoping that it all works out," Smith said. If state funding ultimately falls short of what Homer-Center has been expecting, she said, the board would rely on school administrators to keep watch on expenditures in order to stay within the district budget's limits.

The school board approved several other items related to the budget, including agreeing to commit $1 million of the fund balance in the district's general fund toward payment of future retirement pension obligations. Districts across the state are expected to see a dramatic increase in the coming years in required payments toward the Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System.

By setting aside money for that obligation now, Smith said, "We're trying to be a little proactive toward keeping a good balance in our budget."

Homer-Center Business Manager Greg Cessna pointed out, if the need arises, the funds could be reallocated to cover other expenses.

The school board approved an installment plan district property owners may choose for payment of real estate taxes beginning with 2014 taxes. Taxpayers may elect to pay their property tax bill in three equal installments due by Aug. 31, Oct. 31 and Dec. 31. If the taxpayer fails to pay the first installment in full, he can pay it with an added 10 percent delinquent penalty, along with the full amount of the second installment, by Oct. 31. If those requirements aren't met, then the full amount of the tax is due by Oct. 31 and is considered delinquent if not paid by then.

No discount is applied to installment payments. If a taxpayer is delinquent by more than 10 days on all installment payments, then he is ineligible for the installment option the following school year.

The board also passed a resolution setting the maximum amount real estate taxes may be reduced for district property owners who are eligible for a homestead or farmstead exclusion under Pennsylvania's Taxpayer Relief Act of 2006. The board cited $215.77 as the maximum tax reduction applicable to each of the 1,809 homesteads and 14 farmsteads in the district that have been approved for exclusions.

Lunch price increasing

Homer-Center School Board approved a 10-cent increase in student lunch prices for the coming school year. Lunches will now cost $2.20 at the elementary school and $2.45 at the high school. Smith indicated the price hike was prompted by a federal mandate.

Homer-Center superintendent Charles Koren explained a federal formula requires the district to increase the meal prices by at least 7 cents. But he said that a 10-cent hike seemed less cumbersome for handling change.

Bus contract OK'd

Homer-Center approved a new seven-year contract with Blairsville-based Smith Bus Company to provide student transportation services, from July 1 of this year through June 30, 2021.

According to Koren, Smith Bus quoted the best price among transportation companies that were under consideration and has established a record of good service to the district over a number of years that included a previous seven-year contract.

The district also invited quotes from Tri County Transportation of Northern Cambria, A J Myers and Sons of Kittanning, Stewart Bus Lines of Avonmore and Krise Bus Service of Punxsutawney.

Koren noted that approving a transportation contract for seven years allows the service provider, which must invest in vehicles, to hold down costs to the district over the length of the agreement.

For the 2104-15 school year, the contract with Smith Bus sets base daily rates of $265.50 for an 84-passenger bus, $243 for 72 passengers, $223 for 36 passengers and $206 for 24 passengers. Each of those amounts will be reduced by $7 if six buses are permitted to park at the district's school complex between morning and afternoon runs. The rate for transporting district students to the Indiana County Technology Center will be $66.37.

In subsequent years, the rates for buses capable of transporting up to 72 passengers will be adjusted according to changes in the consumer price index. In each year, the daily rate for an 84-passenger bus will be determined by adding a flat amount of $22.50 to that year's 72-passenger rate.

The district will purchase bulk diesel fuel for the buses at a tax-exempt rate, with the fuel cost deducted from the monthly transportation bill. If fuel price is above $1.34 per gallon in 2014-15 (with adjustments based on the consumer price index in subsequent years), the district will pay the excess cost. If prices drop below $1.15 per gallon, the district will be credited accordingly. Smith Bus will lease fuel storage tanks to the district for $1 per year.

The contractor is expected to have available at least three buses beyond the minimum required for regular daily runs. The average age of buses is not to exceed seven years at any time during the contract.

The contractor will provide a bus manager to check the condition of roads in inclement weather and recommend to the district superintendent whether school should be delayed or cancelled.

New ICTC member supported

Falling in line with other Indiana County districts, the Homer-Center board voted to allow Purchase Line School District to become a member of the Indiana County Technology Center -- the last district in the county to do so. As part of the membership agreement, Purchase Line is to pay $1,021,234 in equal annual installments over 20 years with no interest charged.

Purchase Line already sends students to the White Township-based technology center but pays a higher non-member tuition rate for each student.

Having Purchase Line as a seventh full member "is good for all of our kids and ICTC as well," said Smith, who represents Homer-Center on the ICTC Joint Operating Committee and chairs the latter board.

The H-C vote favoring Purchase Line's membership was unanimous among those present on June 19, though Gerald Bertig, vice president of the Homer-Center board, expressed some reservations.

"I'm so glad they're joining," Bertig said of Purchase Line. But, he added, "I just think the deal could have been more fair for the other districts." He said he believes the financial requirements for Purchase Line are "overly generous" compared to those that were imposed on other member districts. "I don't quite understand the interest-free part."

Koren said similar terms were offered when Penns Manor School District earlier became a member of ICTC.

Homer-Center school directors in an upcoming meeting are to consider approval of new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses for students in grades 8 and 10. Smith noted those courses will help prepare Homer-Center students to take advantage of a county-wide STEM academy that is being proposed for development on the grounds of the ICTC -- along with Pennsylvania's first Challenger center, which is meant to boost students' STEM skills through participation in simulated space missions.

Smith is part of a local committee that is working to raise funds from private and public sources in order to construct the local Challenger and STEM facilities. Smith said the reason for the new Homer-Center courses and the new facilities at ICTC is to "have our students better prepared for the work of the future."

In other business, the Homer-Center board agreed to obtain worker's compensation insurance for 2014-15 from Old Republic Insurance Co., which is underwriting a plan made available through the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. The district will pay a premium of $49,189 for the coverage.

Indiana's McCrory and McCrory, certified public accountants will perform the annual local school district audit for the 2013-14 fiscal year for a fee of $12,500.

The district acknowledged a contribution of $11,100 from the Homer-Center Band Boosters toward the cost of new marching band uniforms, which have been ordered. Frank Deptola & Associates has contributed $500 toward a 1968 Homer-Center Football Alumni Scholarship.

Counselor, nurse hired

In personnel matters, the board hired Kara Waltenbaugh as an elementary guidance counselor, at a salary of $52,656, and Lisa Golec as a certified school nurse, at a salary of $50,516. The board accepted the retirement resignation of maintenance supervisor William Bonya, effective Sept. 12.

Tenure status was granted to kindergarten teacher Daniel Joshua Kapcoe and sixth-grade instructor David King after they each completed three years of satisfactory teaching. A sabbatical leave was approved for music teacher Tammy Menk during the first half of the 2014-15 school year.

Things have come full circle for the Homer-Center girls' softball program, with the board naming Sharon Mechling as the team's new head coach for 2015. Mechling previously served as head coach through 2008, when she stepped down and was replaced in the top spot by former assistant coach Randy Thomas. At the end of the recent 2014 season, Thomas announced he would not continue as head coach, and Mechling is now slated to return in that role.

The board also named Sarah Fyock as junior high volleyball coach and Matt Wilson as boys' assistant basketball coach for the 2014-15 year. Jerry Rossi, Paul Pohley, Jason Buggey and Rob Worcester were approved as volunteer girls' basketball coaches for the coming season.

Homer-Center approved 2014-15 contracts with: Adelphoi Education Services, for alternative education and day treatment for district students; the Alternative Community Resource Program, which serves the needs of at-risk youth and their families; and Bayada Home Health Care.

The school board approved use of the high school large group instruction room for a second day, on Aug. 5, by the ARIN Intermediate Unit, which will provide training for area school administrators in the new state-mandated principal evaluation process. The training originally was scheduled to last for just one day.

The school board approved a revision to its meeting policy to include a change in the normal schedule of board meetings beginning in August.

According to the new schedule, planning meetings will take place on the first Thursday of each month with voting meetings scheduled on the third Thursday of each month.

All meetings will include an executive session at 7 p.m. and a public session at 7:30 p.m., held in the central office board room.

Elementary Principal Michael Stofa reported an average of 80 children per day are participating in the Evergreen Boys and Girls Club program, which offers after-school and summer activities and tutoring for students using district facilities.

The next school board voting meeting will be at 7:30 p.m.Aug. 21.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or


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