Monessen School Board proposes huge tax increase

February 15, 2017
Monessen High School

MONESSEN – Monessen School District, in a community with a shrinking tax base, has proposed raising $2.2 million through a 37.5-mill real estate tax increase to meet expenses in the 2017-18 school term.

That’s the tax figure that would be required unless many cuts are made across the board, district Superintendent Leanne Spazak said Tuesday.

“It’s a giant number. I think people are scared,” Spazak said.

The school board was met with a large crowd of residents Monday night when it introduced the tentative $17.2 million spending plan.

The state would require Monessen to put a referendum on the ballot for permission from the voters to raise taxes as high as what was proposed, but the increase will be scaled back before the budget is approved by June 30, Spazak said.

She said the board will look at class size and staff as it decides where to make cuts.

“Everything is on the table,” she said.

Spazak said she reached out to neighboring school districts in Charleroi and Belle Vernon to see if they are interested in sharing resources, such as a school psychologist, as a way to save money.

“We’re going to brainstorm some ideas,” she said. “All districts are suffering right now. We do have a small tax base.”

She added, “My district always thinks a merger is an option.”

In 2014, state Auditor General Eugene A. DePasquale found that the small district was in a financially declining position that might require a reduction in educational services and programs to avoid becoming a distressed district and triggering state intervention.

Monessen’s population dropped from a high of more than 25,000 people when the steel mills were in full operation in the 1950s to 7,529 in July 2014. The Westmoreland County city also is dealing with financial problems and is dotted with hundreds of abandoned houses.

The tentative budget earmarks $3.3 million for regular teacher salaries next term. The tax rate for the current school year was set at 72.4 mills, with a mill generating $58,919, Monessen business manager Jeff Festor said.

Festor said he did not calculate the amount of money the owner of an average house in Monessen would pay under the proposed 37.5-mill increase because it’s never going happen. He said the average house in Monessen is assessed at $15,000, and that a one-mill increase would result in a $15 school district tax increase.

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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