Mercer Area School District

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Mercer Area School District
Map of Mercer County Pennsylvania School Districts.png
Address
545 West Butler St.
Mercer, Pennsylvania, Mercer County 16137-0032
United States
Information
Type Public
School board 9 elected members
Superintendent Dr. William D. Gathers, Ed.D
Specialist Ronald R. Rowe Jr., Assistant Superintendent
School number 724-622-5100
Administrator Michelle Dietrich, Coordinator of Special Education
Principal Dr. Hendley Hoge, HS
Principal Timothy J. Dadich, MS
Principal Mrs. Claudia J. Sigmund, ES
Faculty 94 teachers 2011[1]
Grades K-12
Age 5 years old to 21 years old special education
Pupils 1,314 students (2011-12), 1,361 (2009-10)
 • Kindergarten 85
 • Grade 1 84
 • Grade 2 94
 • Grade 3 119
 • Grade 4 94
 • Grade 5 93
 • Grade 6 110
 • Grade 7 121
 • Grade 8 121
 • Grade 9 125
 • Grade 10 125
 • Grade 11 107
 • Grade 12 107
 • Other Enrollment projected to decline to 980 pupils by 2020.[2]
Mascot mustang
Budget

$16,309,057 (2013-14) [3]
$15.3 million (2011-12)[4]

$16.6 million (2009-10)[5]
Per pupil spending $10,590 (2008)
Per pupil spending $12,183.03 (2010)
Website

The Mercer Area School District is a small, suburban, public school district serving parts of Mercer County, Pennsylvania, USA. Its namesake and central locality is the borough of Mercer; other communities in the district include Jefferson Township, Coolspring Township, Findley Township and East Lackawannock Township. The district encompasses approximately 91 square miles (240 km2). According to 2002 local census data, it serves a resident population of 11,000. By 2010, the district's population declined to 10,745 people.[6] In 2009, the district residents' per capita income was $16,996, while the median family income was $44,043.[7]

According to District officials, in school year 2009-10 the Mercer Area School District provided basic educational services to 1,328 pupils. The District employed: 107 teachers, 80 full-time and part-time support personnel, and 7 administrators. Mercer Area School District received more than $7.8 million in state funding in school year 2009-10. In school year 2007-08, Mercer Area School District provided basic educational services to 1,395 pupils. It employed: 101 teachers, 20 full-time and part-time support personnel, and 7 administrators. Mercer Area School District received more than $7.6 million in state funding in school year 2007-08.

Mercer Area School District operates two schools: Mercer Area Elementary School, Mercer Area Middle - High School.

Governance[edit]

Mercer Area School District is governed by 9 individually elected board members (serve four-year terms), the Pennsylvania State Board of Education, the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Pennsylvania General Assembly.[8] The federal government controls programs it funds like Title I funding for low-income children in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandates the district focus resources on student success in acquiring reading and math skills.

The Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives Sunshine Review gave the school board and district administration a "F" for transparency based on a review of "What information can people find on their school district's website". It examined the school district's website for information regarding; taxes, the current budget, meetings, school board members names and terms, contracts, audits, public records information and more.[9]

Academic achievement[edit]

In 2011, the Mercer Area School District ranked 165th out of 498 Pennsylvania districts. The ranking is based on five years of student academic achievement as demonstrated by PSSAs results in reading, writing, math and three years of science. The ranking was based on student academic achievement as demonstrated on the last three years of the PSSAs for: reading, writing, math and science.[10] The PSSAs are given to all children in grades 3rd through 8th and the 11th grade in high school. Adapted examinations are given to children in the special education programs.

  • 2012 - 186th
  • 2011 - 126th[11]
  • 2010 - 120th [12]
  • 2009 - 123rd
  • 2008 - 162nd
  • 2007 - 179th out of 501 districts [13]
Overachiever statewide ranking

In 2013, the Pittsburgh Business Times also reported an Overachievers Ranking for 498 Pennsylvania school districts. Mercer Area School District ranked 138th. In 2012, the District was 113th.[14] The editor describes the ranking as: "a ranking answers the question - which school districts do better than expectations based upon economics? This rank takes the Honor Roll rank and adds the percentage of students in the district eligible for free and reduced-price lunch into the formula. A district finishing high on this rank is smashing expectations, and any district above the median point is exceeding expectations."[15]

In 2009, the academic achievement of the students of the Mercer Area School District was in the 73rd percentile of Pennsylvania's 500 school districts. Scale (0-99; 100 is state best) [16]

District AYP status history[edit]

In 2012, Mercer Area School District achieved AYP status.[17] In 2011, School District achieved Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). In 2011, 94 percent of the 500 Pennsylvania public school districts achieved the No Child Left Behind Act progress level of 72% of students reading on grade level and 67% of students demonstrating on grade level math. In 2011, 46.9 percent of Pennsylvania school districts achieved Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) based on student performance. An additional 37.8 percent of Pennsylvania public school districts made AYP based on a calculated method called safe harbor, 8.2 percent on the growth model and 0.8 percent on a two-year average performance.[18] School District achieved AYP status each year from 2004 to 2010, while in 2003 the District was in Warning status due to lagging student achievement.[19]

Graduation rate[edit]

In 2012, Mercer Area School District’s graduation rate was 94.85%.[20] In 2011, the graduation rate was 94.12%.[21] In 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Education issued a new, 4-year cohort graduation rate. Mercer Area School District's rate was 94% for 2010.[22]

According to traditional graduation rate calculations:

Graduation requirements[edit]

The Mercer Area School Board has determined that a high school student must earn 24.5 credits in order to graduate, including: English 4 credits, Social Studies 4 credits, Mathematics 3 credits, Science 3 credits, Physical Education 1.2 credits, Health 0.8 credit, Humanities/Arts 1 credit, Computer Application/Technology—1 credit, Family/Consumer Science—.5 credit and 6 elective credits.[27] Students may not have more than 1.5 credits of failure on their transcripts at graduation.

By law, all Pennsylvania secondary school students must complete a project as a part of their eligibility to graduate from high school. The type of project, its rigor and its expectations are set by the individual school district.[28] At Mercer High School the project includes 20 hours of service learning, attendance at a governmental meeting, a thank you letter, and a final interview with a professional committee to review the students efforts. Effective with the graduating class of 2017, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education eliminated the state mandate that students complete a culminating project in order to graduate.[29]

By Pennsylvania School Board regulations, beginning with the class of 2017, public school students must demonstrate successful completion of secondary level course work in Algebra I, Biology, and English Literature by passing the Keystone Exams.[30] The exam is given at the end of the course. Keystone Exams replace the PSSAs for 11th grade. Students have several opportunities to pass the exam, with those who do not able to perform a project in order to graduate.[31][32] For the class of 2019, a Composition exam will be added. For the class of 2020, passing a civics and government exam will be added to the graduation requirements.[33] In 2011, Pennsylvania high school students field tested the Algebra 1, Biology and English Lit exams. The statewide results were: Algebra 1 38% on grade level, Biology 35% on grade level and English Lit - 49% on grade level.[34] Individual student, school or district reports were not made public, although they were reported to district officials by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Students identified as having special needs and qualifying for an Individual Educational Program (IEP) may graduate by meeting the requirements of their IEP.

High school[edit]

Mercer Area Senior High School is located at 545 West Butler Street, Mercer. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2010, the school reported an enrollment of 458 pupils in grades 9th through 12th, with 133 pupils eligible for a federal free or reduced price lunch due to the family meeting the federal poverty level. The school employed 25.58 teachers yielding a student-teacher ratio of 17:1.[35] According to a report by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, 100% of its teachers were rated "Highly Qualified" under No Child Left Behind Act.[36]

In 2012, Mercer Area Senior High School declined to Warning AYP status, due to lagging reading and mathematics achievement.[37] Mercer Area Senior High School achieved AYP status in both 2009 through 2011.[38]

11th Grade Reading
  • 2012 - 77% on grade level, (9% below basic). State - 67% of 11th graders are on grade level.[39]
  • 2011 - 78% (8% below basic). State - 69.1%[40]
  • 2010 - 71% (15% below basic). State - 66%[41]
  • 2009 - 76% (10% below basic), State - 65% [42]
  • 2008 - 67% (8% below basic), State - 65% [43]
  • 2007 - 66% (16% below basic), State - 65% [44]
11th Grade Math
  • 2012 - 62 on grade level (17% below basic). In Pennsylvania, 59% of 11th graders are on grade level.[45]
  • 2011 - 64% (14% below basic). State - 60.3% [46]
  • 2010 - 61% (23% below basic). State - 59% [47]
  • 2009 - 68% (15% below basic). State - 55%.
  • 2008 - 60% (22% below basic). State - 56%
  • 2007 - 57% (22% below basic). State - 53%
11th Grade Science
  • 2012 - 65 on grade level (3% below basic). State - 42% of 11th graders were on grade level.[48]
  • 2011 - 54% (8% below basic). State - 40%[49]
  • 2010 - 45% (11% below basic). State - 39%
  • 2009 - 42% (12% below basic). State - 40%[50]
  • 2008 - 38% (13% below basic), State - 39%

Science in Motion Mercer Area Senior High School took advantage of a state program called Science in Motion which brought college professors and sophisticated science equipment to the school to raise science awareness and to provide inquiry-based experiences for the students. The Science in Motion program was funded by a state appropriation and cost the school nothing to participate.[51] The high school, Mercer Middle School and Mercer Area Elementary School all worked with Westminster College to provide the enrichment experiences to the pupils.

College Remediation[edit]

According to a Pennsylvania Department of Education study released in January 2009, 9% of Mercer Area High School graduates required remediation in mathematics and or reading before they were prepared to take college level courses in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education or community colleges.[52] Less than 66% of Pennsylvania high school graduates, who enroll in a four-year college in Pennsylvania, will earn a bachelor's degree within six years. Among Pennsylvania high school graduates pursuing an associate degree, only one in three graduate in three years.[53] Per the Pennsylvania Department of Education, one in three recent high school graduates who attend Pennsylvania's public universities and community colleges takes at least one remedial course in math, reading or English.

Dual enrollment[edit]

The high school offers a dual enrollment program. This state program permits high school students to take courses, at local higher education institutions, to earn college credits. Students remain enrolled at their high school. The courses count towards both high school graduation requirements and towards earning a college degree. The students continue to have full access to activities at their high school. The college credits are offered at a deeply discounted rate. The state offers a small grant to assist students in costs for tuition, fees and books.[54] Under the Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Agreement, many Pennsylvania colleges and universities accept these credits for students who transfer to their institutions.[55] The Pennsylvania College Credit Transfer System reported in 2009, that students saved nearly $35.4 million by having their transferred credits count towards a degree under the new system.[56]

For the 2009-10 funding year, the school district received a state grant of $2,311 for the program.[57] For 2011-12, the Dallas Hartman Dual Enrollment Education Scholarship was available for any Junior or Senior level high school in Mercer County. The student must work off the scholarship through pre-approved community service activities valued at $15.00 per hour. Community service project hours must be completed prior to the start of the college class.[58] In 2010, Governor Edward Rendell eliminated the grants to students, from the Commonwealth, due to a state budget crisis.

SAT scores[edit]

In 2012, 63 Mercer Area School District students took the SAT exams. The District's Verbal Average Score was 505. The Math average score was 509. The Writing average score was 452. The statewide Verbal SAT exams results were: Verbal 491, Math 501, Writing 480. In the USA, 1.65 million students took the exams achieving scores: Verbal 496, Math 514, Writing 488. According to the College Board the maximum score on each section was 800, and 360 students nationwide scored a perfect 2,400.

In 2011, 61 Mercer Area School District students took the SAT exams. The District's Verbal Average Score was 492. The Math average score was 492. The Writing average score was 461.[59] Pennsylvania ranked 40th among states with SAT scores: Verbal - 493, Math - 501, Writing - 479.[60] In the United States, 1.65 million students took the exam in 2011. They averaged 497 (out of 800) verbal, 514 math and 489 in writing.[61]

Mercer Middle School[edit]

Mercer Middle School is located at 545 West Butler Street, Mercer. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2011, the school reported an enrollment of 212 pupils in grades 7th and 8th, with 74 pupils receiving a federal free or reduced price lunch due to family poverty. The school is a federally designated Title I School. The school employed 13 teachers yielding a student-teacher ratio of 15:1.[62] According to a report by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, 17 teachers were rated "Non‐Highly Qualified" under No Child Left Behind.[63]

Mercer Middle School achieved AYP status each year in 2009 through 2012. The attendance rate was 95% in 2009 and 2010 and rose to 96% in 2012.[64]

8th Grade Reading
  • 2012 - 86% on grade level (6% below basic). In Pennsylvania, 79% of 8th graders on grade level.[65]
  • 2011 - 84% (5% below basic) State - 81.8%
  • 2010 - 90% (3% below basic). State - 81%[66]
  • 2009 - 89% (7% below basic). State - 80%
  • 2008 - 89% (6% below basic). State - 78% [67]
  • 2007 - 74% (11% below basic). State - 75%
8th Grade Math
  • 2012 - 77% on grade level (10% below basic). State - 76% [68]
  • 2011 - 70% (13% below basic). State - 76.9%
  • 2010 - 82% (3% below basic). State - 75%[69]
  • 2009 - 73% (7% below basic), State - 71% [70]
  • 2008 - 85% (8% below basic), State - 70%
  • 2007 - 68% (15% below basic), State - 68%
8th Grade Science
  • 2012 - 63% on grade level (17% below basic). State - 59%
  • 2011 - 55% (22% below basic). State – 58.3%
  • 2010 - 62% (18% below basic). State - 57%
  • 2009 - 71% (13% below basic), State - 55%[71]
  • 2008 - 70%, State - 52% [72]

Elementary School[edit]

Mercer Area School is located at 301 Lamor Road, Mercer. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2011, the school reported an enrollment of 644 pupils in grades kindergarten through 6th, with 256 pupils receiving a federal free or reduced price lunch due to family poverty. The school is not a federally designated Title I school. The school employed 52 teachers yielding a student-teacher ratio of 12:1.[73] According to a report by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, 100% of its teachers were rated "Highly Qualified" under No Child Left Behind.[74] Mercer ARea Elementary school provides full-day kindergarten.

In 2012, Mercer Area Elementary School declined to Warning AYP status, due to lagging student achievement in reading and math.[75] Mercer Area Elementary School achieved AYP status in 2009, 2010 and 2011.[76] The attendance rate was 95% in both 2009 and 2010.[77]

PSSA Results
4th Grade Science
  • 2012 - 93%, (2% below basic). State - 82%
  • 2011 - 88%, (3% below basic). State - 82.9%
  • 2010 - 94%, (2% below basic), State - 81%
  • 2009 - 94%, (0% below basic), State - 83%
  • 2008 - 97%, (0% below basic). State - 81%

Special education[edit]

In December 2011, Mercer Area School District Administration reported that 225 pupils or 17.2% of the district's pupils received Special Education services, with 43% of identifies students having a specific learning disability. In December 2009, the district administration reported that 242 pupils or 17.8% of the district's pupils received special education services.[84][85]

In compliance with state and federal laws, the school district engages in identification procedures to ensure that eligible students receive an appropriate educational program consisting of special education and related services, individualized to meet student needs. At no cost to the parents, these services are provided in compliance with state and federal law; and are reasonably calculated to yield meaningful educational benefit and student progress.[86] To identify students who may be eligible for special education, various screening activities are conducted on an ongoing basis. These screening activities include: review of group-based data (cumulative records, enrollment records, health records, report cards, ability and achievement test scores); hearing, vision, motor, and speech/language screening; and review by the Special Education administration. When screening results suggest that the student may be eligible, the District seeks parental consent to conduct a multidisciplinary evaluation. Parents who suspect their child is eligible may verbally request a multidisciplinary evaluation from a professional employee of the District or contact the Coordinator of Special Services.[87]

For the 2010-11 school year, the state of Pennsylvania provided $1,026,815,000 for Special Education services. The funds were distributed to districts based on a state policy which estimates that 16% of the district's pupils are receiving special education services. This funding is in addition to the state's basic education per pupil funding, as well as, all other state and federal funding.[88] The Special Education funding structure is through the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funds and state appropriations. IDEA funds are appropriated to the state on an annual basis and distributed through intermediate units (IUs) to school districts, while state funds are distributed directly to the districts. Total funds that are received by school districts are calculated through a formula. The Pennsylvania Department of Education oversees four appropriations used to fund students with special needs: Special Education; Approved Private Schools; Pennsylvania Chartered Schools for the Deaf and Blind; and Early Intervention. The Pennsylvania Special Education funding system assumes that 16% of the district’s students receive special education services. It also assumes that each student’s needs accrue the same level of costs.[89] Over identification of students, in order to increase state funding, has been an issue in the Commonwealth. Some districts have more than 20% of its students receiving special education services while others have 10% supported through special education.[90] The state requires each public school district and charter school to have a three-year special education plan to meet the unique needs of its special education students.[91] In 2012, the Obama Administration's US Department of Education issued a directive that schools include students with disabilities in extracurricular activities, including sports.[92]

Mercer Area School District received a $802,657 supplement for special education services in 2010.[93] For the 2011-12, 2012–13, 2013-14 school years, all Pennsylvania public school districts received the same level of funding for special education that they received in 2010. This level funding is provided regardless of changes in the number of pupils who need special education services and regardless of the level of services the respective students required.[94]

Parents of students who receive special education or gifted services have access to MIU IV's Local Task Force which meets regularly to advocate on behalf of all students receiving special education services to ensure that such students receive a free, appropriate, public education in the least restrictive environment.

Gifted education[edit]

The District Administration reported that 9 or 0.07% of its students were gifted in 2009.[95] By law, the district must provide mentally gifted programs at all grade levels. The referral process for a gifted evaluation can be initiated by teachers or parents by contacting the student’s building principal and requesting an evaluation. All requests must be made in writing. To be eligible for mentally gifted programs in Pennsylvania, a student must have a cognitive ability of at least 130 as measured on a standardized ability test by a certified school psychologist. Other factors that indicate giftedness will also be considered for eligibility.[96] The gifted education at Mercer Area School District focuses on: enrichment, acceleration and individualization, in which instruction is matched specifically to the student’s achievement, abilities and interests.[97]

Bullying policy and school safety[edit]

In 2010, the administration reported there were no reported episodes of bullying in the district. There were 10 incidents of disorderly conduct and five students were placed in Alternative Education.[98][99]

Mercer Area School Board prohibits bullying by district students and faculty. The policy defines bullying and cyberbullying. The Board directs that complaints of bullying shall be investigated promptly, and corrective action shall be taken when allegations are verified. No reprisals or retaliation on students may occur as a result of good faith reports of bullying.[100] The board expects staff members to be responsible to maintain an educational environment free from all forms of bullying. The district's web site provides a mechanism to report bullying online.[101] All Pennsylvania schools are required to have an anti-bullying policy incorporated into their Code of Student Conduct. The policy must identify disciplinary actions for bullying and designate a school staff person to receive complaints of bullying. The policy must be available on the school's website and posted in every classroom. All Pennsylvania public schools must provide a copy of its anti-bullying policy to the Office for Safe Schools every year, and shall review their policy every three years. Additionally, the district must conduct an annual review of that policy with students.[102] The Center for Schools and Communities works in partnership with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency and the Pennsylvania Department of Education to assist schools and communities as they research, select and implement bullying prevention programs and initiatives.[103]

Education standards relating to student safety and antiharassment programs are described in the 10.3. Safety and Injury Prevention in the Pennsylvania Academic Standards for Health, Safety and Physical Education.[104]

Enrollment and Consolidation[edit]

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, there are fewer than 1361 students enrolled in Mercer Area SD, K-12, in 2010. There were 100 students in the Class of 2010. The district's class of 2009 had 112 students. Enrollment in the Mercer Area School District is projected, by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, to continue to decline to 990 pupils K-12 total enrollment, by 2020 with the sharpest decline across the elementary grades (a decline of over 20 students per grade).[105] In 2006, the enrollment was 1456 pupils K-12th grade.

A Standard and Poors study found that an optimal school district size, to conserve administrative costs, was at least 3000 pupils.[106] Consolidation of the administration with an adjacent school district would achieve substantial administrative cost savings for people in both communities.[107] According to a proposal made in 2009, by Governor Edward G. Rendell, the excessive administrative overhead dollars could be redirected to improve lagging academic achievement, to enrich the academic programs or to substantially reduce property taxes.[108] Consolidation of two districts' central administrations into one would not require the closing of any local schools.

In March 2011, the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants Fiscal Responsibility Task Force released a report which found that consolidating school district administrations with one neighboring district would save the Commonwealth $1.2 billion without forcing the consolidation of any school buildings.[109] The study noted that while the best school districts spent 4% of the annual budget on administration, others spend over 15% on administration.[110]

More than 40 percent of elementary schools and more than 60 percent of secondary schools in western Pennsylvania have been experiencing significant enrollment decreases (15 percent or greater).[111]

Pennsylvania has one of the highest numbers of school districts in the United States. In Pennsylvania, 80% of the school districts serve student populations under 5,000, and 40% serve less than 2,000. This results in excessive school administration bureaucracy and not enough course diversity.[112] In a survey of 88 superintendents of small districts, 42% of the 49 respondents stated that consolidation would save money without closing any schools.[113]

Budget[edit]

Pennsylvania public school districts budget and expend funds according to procedures mandated by the General Assembly and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). An annual operating budget is prepared by school district administrative officials. A uniform form is furnished by the PDE and submitted to the board of school directors for approval prior to the beginning of each fiscal year on July 1.

Under Pennsylvania’s Taxpayer Relief Act, Act 1 of the Special Session of 2006, all school districts of the first class A, second class, third class and fourth class must adopt a preliminary budget proposal. The proposal must include estimated revenues and expenditures and the proposed tax rates. This proposed budget must be considered by the Board no later than 90 days prior to the date of the election immediately preceding the fiscal year. The preliminary budget proposal must also be printed and made available for public inspection at least 20 days prior to its adoption. The board of school directors may hold a public hearing on the budget, but are not required to do so. The board must give at least 10 days’ public notice of its intent to adopt the final budget according to Act 1 of 2006.[114]

In 2011, the average teacher salary in Mercer Area School District was $52,167 a year, while the cost of the benefits teachers received was $18,791 per employee, for a total annual average teacher compensation of $70,958.[115] The District employed 104 teachers with a top salary of $112.676.[116]

For the 2011-12 school year a serious budget challenge lead to staffing changes and a salary freeze for all employees. Five teachers and two principals ( both elementary and high school) took early retirement. Teaching positions were eliminated through retirements, including health and physical fitness, secondary German, elementary teacher, Title I secondary math, elementary guidance and high school alternative learning center supervisor.

In 2009, the Mercer Area School District reported employing 115 teachers and administrators with a median salary of $51,796 and a top salary of $109,176.[117] The teacher’s work day is 7.5 hours (includes 30-minute duty-free lunch and daily prep period) with 185 days in the contract year/180 student days. Mercer Area School District teachers receive a defined benefit pension, health insurance, professional development reimbursement, 2 paid personal days (unused personal days become sick days which accumulate without limit), 2 paid emergency leave days, 10 paid sick days, 3 paid bereavement days, and other benefits. A total of five (5) paid school days per year are given to the union to conduct its business at taxpayer expense. The District operates a sick leave bank on behalf of the union. Teachers pay $5 to $25 per month for Blue Cross-Blue Shield Select Blue Managed Care health insurance. The district offers an extensive retirement/longevity package which includes payment for unused sick days and a retirement bonus of $17,000 to $30,000. Teachers, who act as mentors for new employees, receive additional pay. Teachers hired before January 1, 1994 receive an annual longevity bonus in addition to raises and step increases.[118]

In 2007, the Mercer Area School District employed 100 teachers working 180 days of pupil instruction. The average teacher salary in the district was $48,917.[119] As of 2007, Pennsylvania ranked in the top 10 states in average teacher salaries. When adjusted for cost of living Pennsylvania ranked fourth in the nation for teacher compensation.[120]

Mercer Area School District administrative costs per pupil in 2008 was $753 per pupil. This is ranked 250th among in the 500 school districts in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The lowest administrative cost per pupil in Pennsylvania was $398 per pupil.[121]

Per pupil spending In 2008, per pupil spending at Mercer Area School District was $10,590 for each student. This ranked 431st among Pennsylvania's 500 school districts.[122] In 2010, the District’s per pupil spending had increased dramatically to $12,183.03.[123] In 2011, Pennsylvania’s per pupil spending was $13,467, ranking 6th in the United States.[124] In 2007, the Pennsylvania per pupil total expenditures was reported as $12,759.[125]

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that Pennsylvania spent $8,191 per pupil in school year 2000-01.[126] In 2007, the Pennsylvania per pupil total expenditures was reported as $12,759.[127] Among the fifty states, Pennsylvania’s total per pupil revenue (including all sources) ranked 11th at $15,023 per student, in 2008-09.[128] Pennsylvania’s total revenue per pupil rose to $16,186 ranking 9th in the nation in 2011.[129]

Reserves In 2008, the Mercer Area School District reported an unreserved designated fund balance of $841,707 and an unreserved-undesignated fund balance of $840,480.[130] In 2010, Mercer Area School District Administration reported $818,509 in the unreserved-undesignated fund balance. The District also reported $814,000 in its unreserved-designated fund in 2010. Pennsylvania public school district reserve funds are divided into two categories – designated and undesignated. The undesignated funds are not committed to any planned project. Designated funds and any other funds, such as capital reserves, are allocated to specific projects. School districts are required by state law to keep 5 percent of their annual spending in the undesignated reserve funds to preserve bond ratings. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, from 2003 to 2010, as a whole, Pennsylvania school districts amassed nearly $3 billion in reserved funds.[131] By 2013, reserves held by Pennsylvania public school districts, as a whole, had increased to over $3.8 billion.[132]

Audit In May 2011, the Pennsylvania Auditor General conducted a performance audit of the district and school board. Multiple serious findings were reported to the school board and administration. The auditors noted violations on the part of the school board, including a failure to comply with Public School Code and Sunshine Act .[133] In December 2012, the District has audited again by the Pennsylvania Auditor General. Findings including a lapsed certified teacher in the elementary school for the past 3 years, were reported to the school board and administration. The District will be fined for this infration.[134]

Tuition Students who live in the Mercer Area School District's attendance area may choose to attend one of Pennsylvania's 157 public charter schools. A student living in a neighboring public school district or a foreign exchange student may seek admission to Mercer Area School District. For these cases, the Pennsylvania Department of Education sets an annual tuition rate for each school district. It is the amount the public school district pays to a charter school for each resident student that attends the charter and it is the amount a nonresident student's parents must pay to attend the District's schools. The 2012 tuition rates are Elementary School - $7,681.08, High School - $7,578.39.[135]

Mercer Area School District is funded by a combination of: a local tax on income, a property tax, a real estate transfer tax 0.5%, coupled with substantial funding from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the federal government. Grants can provide an opportunity to supplement school funding without raising local taxes. Interest earnings on accounts also provide nontax income to the District. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, pension income and Social Security income are exempted from state personal income tax and local earned income tax, regardless of the level of the individual’s personal wealth.[136] The average Pennsylvania public school teacher pension in 2011 exceeds $60,000 a year plus they receive federal Social Security benefits: both are free of Pennsylvania state income tax and local income tax which funds local public schools.[137]

State basic education funding[edit]

For the 2013-14 school year, the Mercer Area School District will receive a 1.8% increase or $5,221,201 in Pennsylvania Basic Education Funding. This is $90,346 more than its 2012-13 state BEF to the District. Additionally, Mercer Area School District will receive $86,127 in Accountability Block Grant funding to focus on academic achievement and level funding for special education services. Among the public school districts in Mercer County, Hermitage School District received the highest percentage increase at 2.2%. The District has the option of applying for several other state and federal grants to increase revenues. The Commonwealth’s budget increased Basic Education Funding statewide by $123 million to over $5.5 billion. Most of Pennsylvania’s 500 public school districts received an increase of Basic Education Funding in a range of 0.9% to 4%. Eight public school districts received exceptionally high funding increases of 10% to 16%. The highest increase in state funding was awarded to Austin Area School District which received a 22.5% increase in Basic Education Funding.[138] The state funded the PSERS (Pennsylvania school employee pension fund) with $1,017,000,000 and Social Security payments for school employees of $495 million.[139]

For the 2012-13 school year, the Mercer Area School District received $$5,130,855.[140] The Governor's Executive Budget for 2012-2013 included $9.34 billion for kindergarten through 12th grade public education, including $5.4 billion in basic education funding, which was an increase of $49 million over the 2011-12 budget. In addition, the Commonwealth provided $100 million for the Accountability Block Grant (ABG) program. Mercer Area School District received $86,127 in Accountability Block Grant funding. The state also provided a $544.4 million payment for School Employees’ Social Security and $856 million for School Employees’ Retirement fund called PSERS.[141] This amount was a $21,823,000 increase (0.34%) over the 2011-2012 appropriations for Basic Education Funding, School Employees' Social Security, Pupil Transportation, Nonpublic and Charter School Pupil Transportation. Since taking office, Corbett’s first two budgets have restored more than $918 million in support of public schools, compensating for the $1 billion in federal stimulus dollars lost at the end of the 2010-11 school year.

In 2011-12, Mercer Area School District received $5,130,855 in state Basic Education Funding.[142][143] Additionally, the Mercer Area School District received $86,127 in Accountability Block Grant funding. The enacted Pennsylvania state Education budget includes $5,354,629,000 for the 2011-2012 Basic Education Funding appropriation. This amount is a $233,290,000 increase (4.6%) over the enacted State appropriation for 2010-2011. The highest increase in state basic education funding was awarded to Duquesne City School District, which got a 49% increase in state funding for 2011-12.[144]

For the 2010-11 budget year the Mercer Area School District received a 5.38% increase in state basic education funding for a total of $5,607,542. Greenville Area School District received the highest increase in Mercer County at 7.54%. One hundred fifty school districts in Pennsylvania received the 2% base increase for budget year 2010-11. The highest increase in the state was awarded to Kennett Consolidated School District of Chester County which was given a 23.65% increase in state basic education funding.[145] Fifteen (15) Pennsylvania public school districts received a BEF increase of greater than 10%. The state's hold harmless policy regarding state basic education funding continued where each district received at least the same amount as it received the prior school year, even when enrollment had significantly declined. The amount of increase each school district received was set by Governor Edward Rendell and then Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak, as a part of the state budget proposal given each February. This was the second year of Governor Rendell’s policy to fund some public school districts at a far greater rate than others.[146] In 2010, the district reported that 456 pupils received a free or reduced-price lunch due to their family meeting the federal poverty level.

In the 2009-2010 budget year, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania provided a 3.71% increase in Basic Education funding for a total of $5,321,397 for Mercer Area School District. Three county school districts received increases of over 6% in Basic Education Funding in 2009-10. Sharon City School District received a 7.59% increase which was the highest in Mercer County. In Pennsylvania, 15 school districts received Basic Education Funding increases in excess of 10% in 2009. Muhlenberg School District in Berks County received the highest with a 22.31% increase in funding.[147] The amount of increase each school district receives is determined by the Governor and the Secretary of Education through the allocation set in the state budget proposal made in February each year.[148]

The state's Basic Education Funding to the Mercer Area School District in 2008-09 was $4,976,375.29. In 2008, the district reported that 366 pupils received a free or reduced-price lunch due to their family meeting the federal poverty level.[149] According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Pennsylvania spent $7,824 Per Pupil in the year 2000. This amount increased up to $12,085 by the year 2008.[150][151]

Accountability Block Grant[edit]

The state provides additional education funding to schools in the form of Accountability Block Grants. The use of these funds is strictly focused on specific state approved uses designed to improve student academic achievement. Mercer Area School District uses its $233,770 to fund reduce class size K-3rd, to pay teachers to write new courses and lessons and to pay for teacher training to improve instruction. These annual funds are in addition to the state's basic education funding.[152] Schools Districts apply each year for Accountability Block Grants.[153] In 2009-10, the state provided $271.4 million in Accountability Block grants $199.5 million went to providing all-day kindergartens.[154]

Classrooms for the Future grant[edit]

The Classroom for the Future state program provided districts with hundreds of thousands of extra state funding to buy laptop computers for each core curriculum high school class (English, Science, History, Mathematics) and paid for teacher training to optimize the computers use. The program was funded from 2006-2009. Mercer Area School District did not apply in 2006-07. In 2007-08 the district received $138,389 in funding. For the 2008-09, school year the District received a final $45,413 for a total funding of $183,802. Of the 501 public school districts in Pennsylvania, 447 of them received Classrooms for the Future grant awards.[155] The highest funding statewide was awarded to Philadelphia City School District in Philadelphia County - $9,409,073. The grant program was discontinued by Governor Edward Rendell as part of the 2009-10 state budget.

Science It’s Elementary grant[edit]

Mercer Area Elementary School successfully applied to participate and received a Science It’s Elementary grant in 2008-09. For the 2008-09 school year, the program was offered in 143 schools reaching 66,973 students across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.[156] In 2007, the Pennsylvania Department of Education initiated an effort to improve science instruction in the Commonwealth’s public elementary schools. Called Science: It’s Elementary, the program was a hands on instruction approach for elementary science classes that develops problem-solving and critical thinking skills.[157] To encourage schools to adopt the program’s standards aligned curriculum, the state provided a grant to cover the costs of materials and extensive mandatory teacher training.[158] The district was required to develop a three-year implementation plan for the participating school. The school district administration was required to appoint a district liaison who was paid $3,000 by PDE to serve as the conduit of all information between the district and the Department and its agents along with submitting orders and distributing supplies to implementing teachers. For the 2006-07 state education budget, $10 million was allocated for the program. The grant program was expanded to $14.5 million in the 2008-09 budget. The grant was discontinued in the state’s 2010-11 budget by Governor Edward G. Rendell.

Other grants[edit]

Mercer Area School District did not participate in: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's Environmental Education annual grants, Education Assistance Grants, 2012 Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy grant, nor the federal 21st Century Learning grants.

Federal stimulus grant[edit]

The Mercer Area School District received $1,013,900 in ARRA - Federal stimulus money to be used in specific programs like special education and meeting the academic needs of low-income students. This funding includes $273,200 for Title 1-A programs, $1,088,200 for construction and $337,800 for IDEA programs.[159] This extra federal funding was for the 2009-10 and the 2010-2011 school years.

Race to the Top grant[edit]

Mercer Area School District officials did not apply for the Race to the Top federal grant which would have brought the district up to million additional federal dollars for improving student academic achievement.[160] Several Mercer County school districts applied for funding.[161] Participation required the administration, the school board and the local teachers' union to sign an agreement to prioritize improving student academic success.[162] In Pennsylvania, 120 public school districts and 56 charter schools agreed to participate.[163] Pennsylvania was not approved for the grant. The failure of districts to agree to participate was cited as one reason that Pennsylvania was not approved.[164]

Common Cents state initiative[edit]

Mercer Area School District School Board chose to not participate in the Pennsylvania Department of Education Common Cents program. The program called for the state to audit the district, at no cost to local taxpayers, to identify ways the district could save tax dollars.[165] After the review of the information, the district was not required to implement the recommended cost savings changes. The report found multiple opportunities for savings.

Real estate taxes[edit]

In June 2013, the Mercer Area School Board set the property taxes rate at 62.0000 mills for the 2013-14 school year.[166] A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of a property's assessed value. Property taxes, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, apply only to real estate - land and buildings. The property tax is not levied on cars, business inventory, or other personal property. Certain types of property are exempt from property taxes, including: places of worship, places of burial, private social clubs, charitable and educational institutions and government property. Irregular property reassessments have become a serious issue in the commonwealth as it creates a significant disparity in taxation within a community and across a region. Additionally, service related, disabled US military veterans may seek an exemption from paying property taxes. Pennsylvania school district revenues are dominated by two main sources: 1) Property tax collections, which account for the vast majority (between 75-85%) of local revenues; and 2) Act 511 tax collections, which are around 15% of revenues for school districts.[167]

  • 2012-13 - 62.0000 mills.
  • 2011-12 - 61.0000 mills
  • 2010-11 - 61.0000 mills.[168]
  • 2009-10 - 61.000 mills.[169]
  • 2008-09 - 59.500 mills.[170]
  • 2007-08 - 56.900 mills.[171]
  • 2006-07 - 54.5000 mills.[172]
  • 2005-06 - 53.0000 mills.[173]

The average yearly property tax paid by Mercer County residents amounts to about 2.88% of their yearly income. Mercer County ranked 672nd out of the 3143 United States counties for property taxes as a percentage of median income.[174] According to a report prepared by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the total real estate taxes collected by all school districts in Pennsylvania rose from $6,474,133,936 in 1999-00 to $10,438,463,356 in 2008-09 and to $11,153,412,490 in 2011.[175] Property taxes in Pennsylvania are relatively high on a national scale. According to the Tax Foundation, Pennsylvania ranked 11th in the U.S. in 2008 in terms of property taxes paid as a percentage of home value (1.34%) and 12th in the country in terms of property taxes as a percentage of income (3.55%).[176]

Act 1 Adjusted index[edit]

The Act 1 of 2006 Index regulates the rates at which each school district can raise property taxes in Pennsylvania. Districts are not permitted to raise taxes above that index, unless they allow voters to vote by referendum, or they seek an exception from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The base index for the 2011-2012 school year is 1.4 percent, but the Act 1 Index can be adjusted higher, depending on a number of factors, such as property values and the personal income of district residents. Act 1 included 10 exceptions, including: increasing pension costs, increases in special education costs, a catastrophe like a fire or flood, increase in health insurance costs for contracts in effect in 2006 or dwindling tax bases. The base index is the average of the percentage increase in the statewide average weekly wage, as determined by the PA Department of Labor and Industry, for the preceding calendar year and the percentage increase in the Employment Cost Index for Elementary and Secondary Schools, as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the U.S. Department of Labor, for the previous 12-month period ending June 30. For a school district with a market value/personal income aid ratio (MV/PI AR) greater than 0.4000, its index equals the base index multiplied by the sum of .75 and its MV/PI AR for the current year.[177] With the 2011 state education budget, the General Assembly voted to end most of the Act 1 exceptions leaving only special education costs and pension costs. The cost of construction projects will go to the voters for approval via ballot referendum.[178]

The School District Adjusted Index for the Mercer Area School District 2006-2007 through 2011-2012.[179]

For the 2013-14 budget year, Mercer Area School Board did not apply for exceptions to exceed their Act 1 Index limit. For the school budget year 2013-14, 311 Pennsylvania public school districts adopted a resolution certifying that tax rates would not be increased above their index. Another 171 school districts adopted a preliminary budget leaving open the option of exceeded the Index limit. For the exception for pension costs, 89 school districts received approval to exceed the Index in full while others received a partial approval of their request. For special education costs, 75 districts received approval to exceed their tax limit. For the pension costs exception, 169 school districts received approval to exceed the Index. Eleven Pennsylvania public school districts received an approval for grandfathered construction debts.[182]

For the 2012-13 budget year, Mercer Area School Board did not apply for exceptions to exceed the Act 1 Index. For 2012-2013, 274 school districts adopted a resolution certifying that tax rates would not be increased above their index; 223 school districts adopted a preliminary budget leaving open the option of exceeded the Index limit. For the exception for pension costs, 194 school districts received approval to exceed the Index. For special education costs, 129 districts received approval to exceed the tax limit.[183]

For the 2011-12 school year, the Mercer Area School Board did not apply for exceptions to exceed the Act 1 Index. Each year the Mercer Area School Board has the option of adopting either 1) a resolution in January certifying they will not increase taxes above their index or 2) a preliminary budget in February. A school district adopting the resolution may not apply for referendum exceptions or ask voters for a tax increase above the inflation index. A specific timeline for these decisions is publisher each year by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.[184]

According to a state report, for the 2011-12 school year budgets, 247 school districts adopted a resolution certifying that tax rates would not be increased above their index; 250 school districts adopted a preliminary budget. Of the 250 school districts that adopted a preliminary budget, 231 adopted real estate tax rates that exceeded their index. Tax rate increases in the other 19 school districts that adopted a preliminary budget did not exceed the school district’s index. Of the districts who sought exceptions 221 used the pension costs exemption and 171 sought a Special Education costs exemption. Only 1 school district sought an exemption for Nonacademic School Construction Project, while 1 sought an exception for Electoral debt for school construction.[185]

Mercer Area School Board did not apply for exceptions to exceed the Act 1 index for the budgets in 2009-10 or in 2010-11.[186][187] In the Spring of 2010, 135 Pennsylvania school boards asked to exceed their adjusted index. Approval was granted to 133 of them and 128 sought an exception for pension costs increases.[188]

Property tax relief[edit]

In 2011, property tax relief for 2,742 approved residents of Mercer Area School District was set at $148.[189] In 2009, the Homestead/Farmstead Property Tax Relief from gambling for the Mercer Area School District was $157 per approved permanent primary residence. In the district, 2,577 property owners applied for the tax relief.[190] The relief was subtracted from the total annual school property tax bill. Property owners apply for the relief through the county Treasurer's office. Farmers can qualify for a farmstead exemption on building used for agricultural purposes. The farm must be at least 10 contiguous acres and must be the primary residence of the owner. Farmers can qualify for both the homestead exemption and the farmstead exemption.[191]

Additionally, the Pennsylvania Property Tax/Rent Rebate program is provided for low income Pennsylvanians aged 65 and older; widows and widowers aged 50 and older; and people with disabilities age 18 and older. The income limit is $35,000 for homeowners. The maximum rebate for both homeowners and renters is $650. Applicants can exclude one-half (1/2) of their Social Security income, consequently individuals who have income substantially more than $35,000, may still qualify for a rebate. Individuals must apply annually for the rebate. This can be taken in addition to Homestead/Farmstead Property Tax Relief.[192]

Wellness policy[edit]

Mercer Area School Board established a district wellness policy in 2011.[193] The policy deals with nutritious meals served at school, the control of access to some foods and beverages during school hours, age appropriate nutrition education for all students, and physical education for students K-12. The policy is in response to state mandates and federal legislation (P.L. 108 – 265). The law dictates that each school district participating in a program authorized by the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (42 U.S.C. 1751 et seq) or the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (42 U.S.C. 1771 et seq) "shall establish a local school wellness policy by School Year 2006." Most districts identified the superintendent and school foodservice director as responsible for ensuring local wellness policy implementation.[194]

The legislation placed the responsibility of developing a wellness policy at the local level so the individual needs of each district can be addressed. According to the requirements for the Local Wellness Policy, school districts must set goals for nutrition education, physical activity, campus food provision, and other school-based activities designed to promote student wellness. Additionally, districts were required to involve a broad group of individuals in policy development and to have a plan for measuring policy implementation. Districts were offered a choice of levels of implementation for limiting or prohibiting low nutrition foods on the school campus. In final implementation these regulations prohibit some foods and beverages on the school campus.[195] The Pennsylvania Department of Education required the district to submit a copy of the policy for approval.

Mercer Area School District offers a free school breakfast and free/reduced-price lunch to children from low income families in the district. All students attending the school can eat breakfast and lunch. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level are provided a breakfast and lunch at no cost to the family. Children from families with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of the federal poverty level can be charged no more than 30 cents per breakfast. A foster child whose care and placement is the responsibility of the State or who is placed by a court with a caretaker household is eligible for both a free breakfast and a free lunch. Runaway, homeless and Migrant Youth are also automatically eligible for free meals.[196] The meals are partially funded with federal dollars through the United States Department of Agriculture.[197]

In 2013, the USDA issued new restrictions to foods in public schools. The rules apply to foods and beverages sold on all public school district campuses during the day. They limit vending machine snacks to a maximum of 200 calories per item. Additionally, all snack foods sold at school must meet competitive nutrient standards, meaning they must have fruits, vegetables, dairy or protein in them or contain at least 10 percent of the daily value of fiber, calcium, potassium, and Vitamin D.[198] In order to comply with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 all US public school districts are required to raise the price of their school lunches to $2.60 regardless of the actual cost of the lunch.[199] Mercer Area School District is complying with the federal mandate

Mercer Area School District provides health services as mandated by the Commonwealth and the federal government. Nurses are available in each building to conduct annual health screenings (data reported to the PDE and state Department of Health) and to dispense prescribed medications to students during the school day. Students can be excluded from school unless they comply with all the State Department of Health’s extensive immunization mandates. School nurses monitor each pupil for this compliance.[200] Nurses also monitor each child's weight.

Highmark Healthy High 5 grant[edit]

In 2009, the Mercer Area School District received funding through a Highmark Healthy High 5 grant. Mercer Area High School received $10,000 which was used to purchase cardiovascular monitoring system in support of the wellness (DDR) program.[201] Beginning in 2006, Highmark Foundation engaged in a 5-year, $100 million program to promote lifelong healthy behaviors in children and adolescents through local nonprofits and schools.

Extracurriculars[edit]

Mercer Area School District provides an extensive number of clubs, activities and a costly sports program. Eligibility to participate is determined via school board policies.[202] The Board has adopted the PIM Code of Ethics as rules governing the conduct of schools, the coach, officials, athletic directors, principals, and the public. According to the PIAA, the district offers 8 boys sports and six girl sports.[203]

By Pennsylvania law, all K-12 students in the district, including those who attend a private nonpublic school, cyber charter school, charter school and those homeschooled, are eligible to participate in the extracurricular programs, including all athletics. They must meet the same eligibility rules as the students enrolled in the district's schools.[204]

Sports[edit]

Mercer Area School District funds these sports for 336 students.

Middle School Sports

According to PIAA directory July 2013 [205]

References[edit]

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