Northgate adopts budget

As expected, the Northgate School Board voted unanimously Monday night to adopt a 2018-19 budget that does not include an increase in the property tax millage rate.

With board president Gary Paladin and member Shannon Smithey absent from the regular meeting, the remainder of the board voted to approve a budget of $25,393,273 at the current millage rate of 24.7867. Business manager Chris Ursu said that the budget was balanced with the projected transfer of $2.7 million from the district's $11.5 million reserve fund. Another $1.7 million is set aside for capital projects.

A handful of residents attended the meeting and spoke to the board about Northgate's fiscal future, which is troubling based on the district's own projections of continuing budget deficits. A five-year projection called for annual tax increases of some 3.2 percent, and still showed Northgate unable to balance its budget by the end of that time period. The estimated tax increases could have the average Avalon or Bellevue property owner paying nearly $500 more per year in school property taxes by the end of the five-year period.

One woman told the board that people on fixed incomes could not afford a tax increase, even with retirement savings supplementing Social Security.

“You're asking me to give up quite a bit,” she told the board.

Another woman said that the district could not afford to keep pumping money into a school district that serves so few students and ranks so low on academic performance scales. “It's just a vicious cycle,” the resident said, with higher property taxes and low-ranked schools resulting in fewer people moving into the boroughs, which deprives the school district of more tax revenue, and causes higher taxes and less money available for education.

“It's time to stop pumping money into a school district that isn't viable, she said.

Board member Michael Rajakovic disagreed with her assessment. “This is not a failing school district,” he said, adding that the academic rankings were “off course” and “don't really measure what's happening here.” He said that he believed that property values would increase enough in the next five to eight years to allow the board to start decreasing the millage rate.

Two residents urged the board to begin looking at the possibility of a merger with another area school district.

Board vice president Amy Joy Robinson said that the board planned to have a discussion about the subject at a future meeting when all members were present.