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Woodland Hills School Board Furloughs Positions, Raises Taxes As District Seeks To Fill Deficit

Woodland Hills
Rachel Gobep
90.5 WESA
The Woodland Hills School Board approved a budget 5-3 Wednesday that furloughs up to 70 positions districtwide and increases property taxes by 3%. The suburban Allegheny County district is looking to fill a $5-million budget deficit.

The Woodland Hills School Board passed a plan to furlough up to 70 positions districtwide and approved a 3-percent property tax increase.


The board approved the 2019-20 district budget in a 5-3 vote Wednesday night. 


Jamie Glasser, school board president, said Superintendent James Harris proposed the cuts and tax increase as the district face $5 million budget deficit that is due in part to costs associated with pensions, charter school payments and increase of special education, she said.


Glasser said the board has no intention to hurt those who have lost their jobs, and this was the most difficult vote of the year.


“It is a loss to be sure because...not all but many are young and enthusiastic and well-qualified and just starting their careers. It’s also [a loss]…for the more seasoned folks who are losing their positions, a hardship for their families, and we’re conscious of that.”


Glasser said if enrollment increases in the district, people who were furloughed may have the opportunity to come back.


She said that the district has had a difficult couple of years and has avoided tax increases in the past, but now the pressure is on the budget. Glasser said the board has considered all other possible options, but overall must consider the stability of the district.


“Tax increases are not ever the first option. They’re always a last choice,” she said.


Those who have an assessed home value of $86,200 will now pay $65.94 annually. That comes out to about $5.50 more a month, something that was equated to one cup of coffee a month in the school board’s budget workshop presentation.


Region 1 School Board Member Chardae Seligsohn voted against the budget proposal and said she was offended by the presentation because she loves Starbucks, but for some people, it’s much more than a cup of coffee.


“That’s their bread. That’s their milk. That’s their kids soccer. It adds up very quickly … I feel like [they’re] just saying, ‘Oh, well just sacrifice your five bucks for the month. It’s not a big deal.’ It’s a huge deal,” she said.


Seligsohn said she believes the vote was rushed and no one had the time to be creative and explore other options.


“I just hope that they work hard for next year to at least put a little effort into this because I don’t really see any other option than we’re going to increase [property taxes] again next year,” she said.


Phillip Woods, Woodland Hills Junior Senior High School principal, said the new budget will bring spending in line with the needs of current enrollment.


Districtwide enrollment fell by about 20 percent in the last decade according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education—from slightly more than 4,000 during the 2010-11 school year to about 3,200 last year.


According to Glasser, there is still some uncertainty about the exact number and type of positions that will be furloughed.


Those who approved the budget include Mike Belmonte, Ronna Currie, Jeff Hanchett, Paige Strasbaugh and Jamie Glasser.


David W Graves Jr. and Terri Lawson, along with Seligsohn did not approve the budget proposal.


The Woodland Hill School District serves students in Braddock, Braddock Hills, Chalfant, Churchill, East Pittsburgh, Edgewood, Forest Hills, North Braddock, Rankin, Swissvale, Turtle Creek and Wilkins Township.