Hollidaysburg administrators push for 2-mill tax increase

Hollidaysburg Area School District administrators are asking its board to raise taxes to help balance next year’s operational budget that projects a $1.1 million deficit by June 2014.

“The administration is recommending a part of the deficit be addressed by a millage increase to generate additional revenue,” Assistant Superintendent Gary Robinson said during a school board financial committee meeting.

The recommendation to raise taxes was resisted by board members including Troy Keefer.

Keefer was frustrated that the $2 million in proceeds from selling the district administration building is being consumed by the district’s growing obligation to employees’ pensions instead of the operational budget for the school district.

“When I go to the public and they say ‘You just sold a building for $2 million, why are you raising my taxes?’ and I say that the money went to pensions – I’m going to get my head taken off.”

Average school property tax at the current 97.5 mills is $1,446. The administration is recommending a 2- mill increase.

The district is currently in contract negotiations with the Hollidaysburg Area Education Association.

Board members said they will give the union the pay it wants if the board can break even over the developing two- or three-year contract by having union members make concessions such as paying more for their health care.

The board currently purchases Highmark PPO Blue Plan for Hollidaysburg teachers at no cost to teachers. Teachers have an annual individual $100 deductible or a $200 deductible per family, a $20 physician co-pay and prescription drug program for a $5 co-pay, their contract states.

Average teacher salary at Hollidaysburg Area is $52,294. But with all benefits included, the lowest paid teacher’s income is about $71,000 and the highest paid teacher’s income is about $113,000, board President Ron Yoder said.

Teachers have higher income than the district’s census-estimated household median income of $49,500 including benefits.

However, teachers’ union President Jim Murphy said teachers’ income compared with only professional income may show a different story. Hollidaysburg teachers’ average salary is in the bottom quarter of average teacher salaries in the state, he said, pointing to data from the state Department of Education.

Murphy said the union’s total health care contributions are above public school norms, and although he said he has no complaints about the current salary schedule, he doesn’t want salaries to fall far below other districts by agreeing to lower raises than the approximate 4 percent annual raises in the current three-year contract.

“We feel the board is placing a very low value on what we do,” Murphy said.

A 48-hour negotiation session to reach a contract deal was recently unsuccessful.

“If we are taking $2 million and it’s going to teachers’ pensions, not programs and not kids – and on top of that, the teachers’ union is asking for pay raises – something’s got to give,” Keefer said.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.