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Butler school board increases taxes, advocates for fewer mandates

Plan to sell Butler Middle School also in the works

BUTLER TWP — The Butler Area School District school board voted unanimously Monday, June 10, to increase taxes by 2.66 mills, bringing the millage rate in the district to 109.64. This means property owners will pay just under $10 on every hundred dollars of their property’s assessed value, which averages out to a $22.58 increase annually for the average homeowner in the district.

Also at the meeting, superintendent Brian White said there is a tentative agreement in the works to turn over Butler Middle School to Butler County’s redevelopment authority.

The millage increase supports the district’s 2024-25 budget, which the school board also approved Monday, with expenditures totaling $114,933,974. The proposed budget is balanced, and is a 4.8% increase from the 2023-24 budget.

White said the district expects to take on a few capital projects over the next few years, which is cause for a tax increase. However, at Monday’s meeting White said state and federal mandates always make up a portion of the annual budget, and the increase in state funding only helps offset those costs so much.

The number of mandates the district has to conform to are “a lot of little things that add up, he said, referencing pension funding, charter school payments and the Pennsylvania Information Management System as major annual costs for the district.

“You would not believe the amount of reporting every school district does,” White said. “I’m not even sure who reviews all this stuff ... It takes time, it’s an administrative load, it’s a lot of staffing around that.”

White also said the district has refinanced some of its debts to pay them off quicker, possibly even by the mid-2030s. He said the district had $131 million in debts in 2018, which is down to $93 million in 2024, because the interest payments will be a major future cost.

“We have to pay down our debt to put the district on solid financial footing for the future,” White said. “You can pay for things you need to do and enhancements you want to do versus having $40 million worth of interest you’re paying ... Over time we’re going to have to balloon our debt service to pay for these things.”

One resident of the district, Mark Krenitsky, spoke against the tax increase. He said people in the district may not be able to afford property taxes and be forced to leave the district.

School board president Al Vavro said he believes the board has a responsibility to provide the district’s students with a good learning environment. Additionally, creating a good learning environment could lead more people to move into the district in the future.

“We have a responsibility to provide safe facilities to our students, and certainly also a secure environment,” he said. “I want to make sure that we are able to attract people who are looking to provide houses by providing quality schools so we can attract new parents and children to our district.”

Heather Bonzo, the district’s finance manager, said the district receives half of its funding from local sources, 47% from state sources and 3% from federal sources.

Butler Middle School

White said the district is working with the Butler County Redevelopment Authority and the Butler County Community Development Corporation, to get the former middle school off the district’s hands.

“They have a plan they would like the school board to consider, where they take possession and redevelop that entire property,” White said. “I’m hoping within the next few weeks they’ll have documents for our solicitor to review and for our school board to consider.”

Butler Middle School closed at the end of the 2022-23 school year. The district was in talks to sell the building to Pittsburgh Gateways Corporation, a business management consultant, but plans never materialized. White said Monday the corporation would be an adviser to the Butler County Community Development Corporation in its talks to revamp the building.

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