Among the American troops storming the beaches of Normandy June 6, 1944, was U.S. Army Technical Sgt. John Collins of Dormont, who took shrapnel in his leg while surviving D-Day.
He later was honored with the Silver Star Medal, the United States’ third-highest award for combat valor, and a Purple Heart for the injuries he sustained during the Allied invasion of Nazi-controlled France.
Members of his family take a great deal of pride in his service, and since his death in 1991, they have been taking care of the gravesite he shares with his wife, Hannah, at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Peters Township.
Several years ago, his granddaughter Lindsey Coy noticed some veterans had U.S. flags placed at their graves, while others, including Sgt. Collins, did not. So she asked cemetery manager Glen Connell about why that would occur.
He explained Queen of Heaven received only a certain amount of flags from various sources for placement, not enough to take care of all the veterans who are laid to rest there. And even though Boy Scouts, members of veterans’ organizations and other volunteers helped put the flags where they belonged, the effort always could use more assistance.
Since then, Coy has been bringing together volunteers, including her relatives and work colleagues, to ensure thousands of veterans within the cemetery are acknowledged properly.
“I think after everything that men and women do for this country, they should at least have a flag on their gravestone,” she said.
A quality assurance specialist for Peoples Natural Gas, she approached the company about the need at Queen of Heaven. Peoples has responded by supplying the flags each year, and Coy and her husband, Kevin, coordinate the volunteer aspect, assigning sections of the spacious cemetery to various helpers.
At 195 acres, in fact, Queen of Heaven is the largest cemetery developed exclusively by the Catholic Cemeteries Association of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
This year’s flag placement occurred May 15, which happened to be National Armed Forces Day. Plus the weather cooperated fully, as it usually does for the occasion.
“A lot of our family members are buried here, so it’s nice to come out on a nice day and get some exercise, and we’ve always lucked out,” Lindsey Coy said.
Connell’s family members, wife Marcia and daughter Parker, also participated in the effort.
“I love that we can make this actually make this be what it should be for Memorial Day for the veterans who are here,” the cemetery manager said. “It’s a big thing that we have circled on the calendar every year.”
Monday night marked a special occasion at Upper St. Clair High School.
“It’s been over 15 months since we’ve had a student recognition in person,” John Rozzo, district superintendent, announced to a live audience in the school theater. “We appreciate all the effort that went into replicating these events to conduct them virtually, but it’s certainly not the same as being here with you in person.”
As part of Awards Night for seniors, he proceeded to announce recipients of the Superintendent’s Academic Achievement Awards, who prior to this year had garnered recognition only as printed in the commencement program.
“Earning all A’s throughout one’s entire high school experience, with all of the many responsibilities and activities that our young people undertake, is a remarkable achievement and is indicative of a student’s commitment to learning,” he said.
The seniors who accomplished the feat are Amy Bellas, Lucas Cesar, James Fang, Rebecca Gehring, Eliza Glunt, Taylor Hutter, Caroline Knizner, Katelin Radonovich, Gabriela Gomes and Caroline Wright.
In another first, District Judge Ron Arnoni presented his initial Leadership In Action Scholarship to Owen Mann. Arnoni plans to honor a Bethel Park High School senior in a similar manner.
On Monday, plenty of other honors went to members of the Upper St. Clair High School Class of 2021.
“Though Awards Night is typically associated with a prize and accolade, or the announcement of a significant win, always remember how important effort, progress and growth are in all that you pursue,” Principal Tim Wagner said.
“As you reflect this evening, consider in what ways you have grown over your high school years, what have been the habits and the ways of working that have accumulated to and culminated in your present achievement,” he continued. “A quote from Benjamin Franklin contends that without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning.”
Wagner thanked Kristin Pardini, who chaired Awards Night, and event committee members Brooke Tarcson and Tchad Heil.
“Their tireless energy brought this evening’s program to us,” he said.
Also honored during Awards Night were:
Peters Township School District’s proposed 2021-22 budget calls for a 0.42-mill real estate tax increase, as approved by the school board Monday.
The board plans to vote on the final budget June 28, two days before the state deadline to adopt a spending plan for the coming school year.
With the tax increase, revenues are projected at $72.63 million, against $74.25 million in expenditures.
The difference is to be made up by tapping the district’s $10.1 million fund balance, specifically the $4.5 million set aside for future debt service, according to Brad Rau, district business manager.
Raising the real estate tax rate to 14.58 mills represents a 3% increase over 2020-21, which is the maximum allowable for the district as per the index set by the state Department of Education.
District officials have anticipated a gap between revenues and expenditures for the coming academic year because of debt service associated with the construction of the new Peters Township High School.
An April school board finance committee meeting addressed the 2021-22 budget, with Rau providing updates on various numbers since a preliminary version of the spending plan was introduced in January.
During the interim, projected revenues increased by $625,930, with $371,457 attributable to additional money from the second round of the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund
“Just to put that into some type of context, our lease payment for our one-to-one initiative is $375,000,” Rau said, referencing the district’s providing personal technology devices for all students. “So it doesn’t even cover our computer costs for next year.”
With regard to money from the state – which accounts for about 24% of district revenues, compared with 75% from local sources – what to expect for 2021-22 remains uncertain.
“So we’re going to continue just budgeting for flat state funding,” Rau said.
On the expenditure side, $547,112 was pared from the spending plan between January and April, with retirements and other staff reductions contributing significantly to the decrease.
Even with a 0.42-mill real estate tax increase, Peters Township’s rate would remain less than nearby school districts. Current millage rates include Bethel Park, 21.765; Mt. Lebanon, 24.7900; South Fayette Township, 26.7000; and Upper St. Clair, 26.8972.
During the finance committee meeting, school board member Rebecca Bowman spoke about the decision to raise the Peters rate by the maximum.
“In prior school board configurations, there was great diligence in being very conservative about not taking millage increases if it could possibly be avoided. A big problem with that is you can never recover that gap, ever, ever,” she said.
“We have a situation where the state is continually passing new unfunded mandates, which means the gap keeps getting bigger. And if we step away at all from the max when we’re already pulling out of the fund balance, we can never get that back.”
Although Peters Township students fare exceptionally well in standardized testing and the district spends below the state average per pupil, local socioeconomic considerations weigh against potential sources of funding.
“We cannot depend on the federal government or the state government to come in and say, hey, we recognize you’re being very frugal. You’re doing a great job. Here’s money,” Superintendent Jeannine French said. “They’re really not spending it in a way that makes sense to benefit children.”