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School District May Employ Tax Relief Program for High School Project Taxes

by on March 02, 2015 9:53 PM

Tax increases have a real impact on real people, and the State College Area School District realizes that.

That’s why the school board is considering a new tax relief program. The board debated the idea Monday night, considering how such a program could help alleviate some of the financial stress linked to proposed tax increases for extensive repairs to the high school.

The proposed 2015-2016 budget calls for a 6.1 percent tax increase, most of which will fund the voter-approved $85 million cost of the high school project.

“When we went around knocking on doors, talking about the high school project, we heard a lot of concerns from seniors,” board member Penni Fishbaine said. “Many of them understood the need, but didn’t know how they would afford it.”

School district business administrator Randy Brown explained the proposal, saying homeowners would need to have a household income of $35,000 or less to be eligible to apply.

There would also be an age component: anyone 65 or older could apply, as well as any widow or widower at least 50 years old, or anyone with a permanent disability who’s at least 18 years old.

Brown estimates that as many as 400 State College residents could qualify, meaning the district might reimburse as much as $300,000.

Board member Ann McGlaughlin recommended that the board form a committee to to look into the idea, which she said would likely be faster than working with the entire board. Other board members agreed, and several volunteered to serve on the committee.

“I feel like things will be clearer when we have more information,” said board member Dorthea Stahl. “This is a good goal, but the devil’s in the details.”

The board also heard a proposal for adding new Chinese language courses to the high school.

World languages program coordinator Richard Polka asked the board to consider adding Chinese 1 and 2 to the curriculum for the coming school year.

He said the district had previously considered adding the courses several years ago – prompting wide interest from the students – but budget constraints ultimately limited the courses to a handful of students in the learning enrichment program.

Polka said that many universities, including Penn State, require students to take at least two years of a foreign language. By adding the new Chinese courses, Polka said the district would be giving students more options for getting a head start on this common college requirement.

The board seemed generally supportive of the idea, but district superintendent Robert O’Donnell said the proposal would likely require “shifts in the district’s budget proposal.”

Board member Jim Pawelczyk also pointed out that next year will be the first year with a new schedule structure during the start of construction for the high school project, which might make adding new classes more difficult.

The board also gave SCASD director of physical plant Ed Poprik permission to gather bids for preliminary site work at the high school over the summer.

 

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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