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Pittsburgh school district raises property taxes, cuts costs, dips into savings for 2020 budget

  • Sarah Boden/WESA
Pittsburgh Public Schools Board President Sylvia Wilson listens during the December legislative meeting.

 Sarah Schneider / WESA

Pittsburgh Public Schools Board President Sylvia Wilson listens during the December legislative meeting.

(Pittsburgh) — Real estate taxes are going up for residents of the Pittsburgh Public Schools district, but more must be done  to ensure the district’s long-term fiscal health.

The PPS board voted 6-3 on Friday to increase the millage rate from 9.84 mills to 9.95 mills, which means property owners will now pay an additional $12 each year, per $100,000 of assessed value.

Even with a tax increase, the district must still pull from its rainy-day fund to cover a budget deficit, which Ronald Joseph, the district’s chief financial officer, said exceeds $20 million.

“Next year we’re still going to be back in the same position,” said Joseph. “So, throughout the course of this year we’re going to have to identify [cuts.] Whether it be programs or positions, or just the way we deliver services.”

The district will also be making more than $800,000 in cuts, mostly to its equipment and supply budgets.

PPS District Solicitor Ira Weiss says the district’s growing budget is largely due to retirement costs, contractual salary increases, and payments to charter schools.

“This school district paid over $100 million [in 2019] on charter schools. It is an illogical, outrageous system,” said Weiss.  “And it doesn’t appear it’s gonna be fixed very soon.”

Friday’s meeting was a continuation of one that occurred on Dec. 18, where board members differed over the best way to balance the 2020 budget.

Four members had wanted to keep taxes at the current rate, four had voted to increase taxes to $23 per a property value of $100,000, and the ninth member, Kevin Carter, abstained.

The board was provided with the budget in early November, which Carter said was not enough time to study the approximately 500-page document.

“It does not give this board, who is part-time, unpaid…the opportunity to do a deep dive into the budget and come back with solutions on our own, because we do not operate within the context of the administration,” he said. “It is impossible to do so.”

The faction of the board that had originally opposed a tax hike all ended up siding with Carter to increase taxes.

The block who had wanted a higher tax increase voted against an amendent to lower the levy hike from the millage rate from 10.07 mills to 9.95 mills, saying a larger increase was neceesary for the district to provide a quality education. This block, with the exception of member Veronica Edwards, also voted against the final passage of the millage rate.

One of the members who voted against the increase, arguing it was too small, was board president Sylvia Wilson. Unlike Carter, Wilson said she believes there was enough opportunity to understand the proposed budget.

“Our budget isn’t that difficult to understand,” said Wilson. “And if I have more questions, I know that I can ask more questions.”

Had the board failed to come to a resolution by the end of the year, the district would have lacked the funds to operate and faced a possible districtwide shutdown.

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