State College

State College Area School District OKs 6.1 percent tax increase

Working proposal for the site design of the State College Area High School project.
Working proposal for the site design of the State College Area High School project. Drawing provided

The State College Area school board unanimously approved the 2015-16 preliminary budget at a meeting Monday night.

The $135,728,798 spending plan includes a 6.1 percent tax increase, of which 1.9 percent would go toward the state-mandated Act 1 index. The rest, about 4.2 percent, would fund referendum debt for the construction of the new high school.

The Act 1 index is used to determine maximum increases for each tax the school district levies.

The average residential taxpayer in the district, with an assessed value of $71,686, would pay an additional $172.54 in taxes, according to a budget report from district Business Administrator Randy Brown.

But he called the preliminary budget a “conservative estimate.”

District spokesman Chris Rosenblum said the budget also includes debt service schedule and repayment for the $85 million debt authorized last year for the State High project, and estimated debt repayment based on an interest rate 75 basis points higher than the current market rate.

Last month, the board approved a 25-year repayment term plan and a two-year phasing for principal payments, with interest only payments in 2015-16.

The total cost of the State High renovation is $115 million. In addition to $85 million in referendum debt, the district will use $10 million in capital reserve funds and $20 million in non-referendum borrowing, Rosenblum said in an emailed document.

The governor should release the proposed state budget in early March, and that could change the outlook of SCASD’s final budget, Brown said.

A study from a survey administered in June was also distributed to the board that listed the answers of several questions given to teachers, students and parents.

The survey was conducted by Assistant Superintendent Jason Perrin, and Ed Fuller, an associate professor at Penn State’s College of Education, that provided feedback from participants to help the district with its three-year strategic plan that started in 2014.

It highlighted strengths and weaknesses that included homework issues and the way bullying problems are handled, but highlighted the care teachers have for their students, and an overall safe and good place to teach and learn.

“We’re looking at this from a policy perspective,” Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said. “We want to develop and enhance a strategy that’s on board with our pillars.”

The pillars are providing a welcoming and safe climate for students and staff; providing a culture of trust, relationship and collaboration; high expectations; and responsive teaching and learning.

Board member Dorothea Stahl said that homework complaints from parents and students are about having too much, and it has been one of the biggest concerns she’s heard since starting on the board seven years ago.

“It ranges from elementary to high school,” Stahl said.

Student board representative Reilly Ebbs said the general student population would like for teachers to better explain the purpose behind a homework assignment.

“It makes us more willing and understanding to do it,” she said.

On the survey, other students reported that accelerated classes should have harder homework, not more of it.

Fuller said about 90 to 95 percent of teachers completed the survey, along with about 95 percent of students at the primary level, and about 60 percent of secondary students. About 40 percent of parents completed the survey.

A follow-up survey will be distributed in May that will further help answer questions on how students define bullying, alternatives to the amount of homework, and more, Fuller said.