HERMITAGE SCHOOLS Board wants state to pay teacher pension increases

The fund increase will cost the district the equivalent of 1.2 mills of property tax next year.
HERMITAGE, Pa. -- The school board thinks the state should pay for the mandatory increase in teacher pension costs next year.
School districts have been paying about 2 percent of an employee's salary into the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System fund, but the state recently announced that the contribution must be raised to 6 percent next year to cover losses caused by poor stock market returns on investments, as well as a 25 percent increase in teacher pensions.
The increase will cost Hermitage abut $264,000 next year, a fivefold increase over this year, said Hermitage School Director James Lumpp.
Voting on resolution
More than 100 of the state's 501 school districts are voting on a resolution requesting that the state pick up the increases, Lumpp said.
Hermitage joined the list Monday, voting 9-0 to make the same request.
The increase is the equivalent of about 1.2 mills of tax revenue in the district, based on Mercer County changing its property tax assessment ratio from 33.3 percent to 100 percent of assessed value this year.
That 1.2 mills is equal to 3.6 mills at last year's assessment ratio and would cost the average residential taxpayer about $27 more a year.
The mandatory increase in pension contributions isn't all the state is doing that irritates Hermitage school directors.
They also voted unanimously to object to a state Department of Education plan to put state seals of academic accomplishment on seniors' diplomas, based on their performance on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) test taken when they are juniors.
Why they object
The state is interfering with local school district's rights to confer academic degrees on its students and to develop courses of study that students must complete, said School Director Carol Rich.
Only pupils who attain "advanced" or "proficient" levels of performance on the one-time PSSA test would be awarded the seals, and school directors believe that a one-time test isn't a proper assessment of a pupil's knowledge or ability.
Lumpp said more than 200 school districts are considering the same resolution that asks the state to drop the idea.
Duane Piccirilli, board president, said the seal issue affects only public school pupils. Private schools won't be getting the seals, he said.
Lumpp said state legislators are scheduled to meet with the Department of Education to discuss scrapping the plan.
In other business, the board adopted a school calendar for 2002-03, which has the first day of classes set for Aug. 29 of this year and the last day scheduled for June 4, 2003.

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