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North Allegheny school district staff grows

The North Allegheny School District staff is growing again.

During discussion on the annual written report on human resources Sept. 17, board member Maureen Grosheider noted that the district has 1,041.5 full-time equivalent employees, which is up from the low point of 1,017.2 during the budget crunch two years ago.

She and Thomas Schwartzmier, who were both on the board during the budget problems, warned their colleagues about adding too much staff.

“As we go forward, we have to consider the current costs of that and the ongoing costs in the years coming up,” Mr. Schwartzmier said. “The budget is going to be more difficult.”

Some of the growth of staff was due to promises by the current board to keep elementary class sizes lower than district guidelines but others, particularly the growth of paraprofessionals, is due to special education needs.

“We are serving more of our students in their home schools rather than looking for a private placement,” said Guinevere Maximo, director of special education.

Also, Jo Welter, director of human resources, said the number of students who do not speak English continues to grow. “We just got four new students who need [English as a Second Language] in one building,” she said. “The students moving in, we have no control over.”

Libby Blackburn said she was pleased to see that half of the district’s new hires have master’s degrees.

Kevin Mahler noted that the district is now “fairly well in line with comparable districts” with regard to the ratio of students to teachers, while Joseph Greenberg said that they are the “leanest” of those districts with the ratio of administrators to students.

“We are getting some economies of scale … in being one of the biggest districts,” he said.

As has been the case in the past, the report was not available to the public. Resident John Harrison criticized that, saying that he would file a “right-to-know” request to see the report.

“We spend all that time and effort doing it, it would be nice to share it,” he said.

And those North Allegheny employees will have a new health plan beginning Dec. 1. The board authorized terminating all medical and prescription drug group plans with Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and approved a contract with United Healthcare.

Ms. Welter said her department determined that 60 percent of employees would be “disrupted in some way” by the UPMC/Highmark split because of the proximity of UPMC Passavant.

Highmark’s rates were expected to rise by 7 to 9 percent next year, while UnitedHealthcare’s plan is 1.5 percent higher than this year’s premiums, Ms. Welter said.

In other action, the board tabled a motion for a “liquidity facility,” a sort of insurance policy on the district’s variable-rate bonds. Three bond issues totaling $74.5 million from 2008, 2011 and 2014 are included.

The liquidity facility proposal from Pittsburgh National Corp. would cost $297,000 a year for three years. Some type of insurance is required for variable rate bonds, said business manager Mike Hopkins, and the liquidity facility is the most efficient for the district’s needs.

A special meeting may be held before the Oct. 5 deadline to take action on the policy.

Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer, suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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