During the school funding and tax summit held at Octorara Nov. 29, several important questions were addressed by Senator Dominic Pileggi, State Representatives Art Hershey and Bryan Culter, School Board President Duane Hershey, a representative from Senator Michael Brubaker's office, and local municipal officials.Many of the questions asked were submitted to Dr. Thomas Newcome prior to the 29th. He also collected questions from the audience during the summit. Due to time constraints, not every question was addressed that night. Those remaining have been sent to the appropriate elected officials for their responses. The questions appear below as well as on Octorara's website. The responses will be posted as they are received.
The summit sparked the start of an Octorara Regional Planning Commission, which will consist of representatives from the local municipalities as well as representatives for the state elected officials. Lisa Bowman will represent the Octorara School Board. The first meeting will be held in April; community members are encouraged to attend.
Also as a result of the summit, Newcome is scheduling town meetings for Octorara community organizations and groups to address issues that affect the operation of schools and the local community. Topics that will be addressed at these meetings include school finance, budget preparation, curriculum and instruction, and facilities. To schedule a meeting for your group, contact Cheryl Todd at 610-593-8238 or email at email@example.com. Daytime and evening hours are available.
Summit Questions (As submitted on the night of the Summit.)
1. The studies being done or proposed, are they or will they not only look at academics but the cuts in specials and/or extra curricular activities? All first to be cut but as important to educating fully.
2. Why does Pennsylvania not require a district that covers more than one county to evenly tax the county residents?
3. Special education takes up a large part of Octorara's budget. What have you done to help redefine special education? Why wouldn't the CHIP Program help defray costs of special education?
4. When the school district must reach out for outside training to improve state testing scores, should the state be required to fund this extra training and all the substitutes to continually replace the teachers? Are our students being properly served by all this substitution?
5. The projected millage for 2007-2008 is 31.61. In 2001-2002 it was 16.87, which is roughly a 90 percent increase in six years. When are these ridiculous increases going to stop? Whose salary has increased 90 percent in six years?
6. With Representative Hershey stating that government has grown and almost doubled what can we do to reduce this? All other corporations/schools have to do more with less; shouldn't the government be expected to do the same?
7. Question for Politicians: Are there any sincere plans to act upon the recommendations made by the Task Force who worked to determine what monies are spent by the school districts in PA and how monies could be saved? Note: The Task Force recommendations are listed on page 12 of the 77 page report. (John J. McCartney, Christiana) 8. Has an increase of tax on goods purchased ever been looked at? Since the wealthy will always spend and the seniors have such low spending needs.
9. Last year (2006) my taxes went up $900. I talked to Representative Hershey. He said that would not happen this year. It did happen. Why have my taxes gone from $4100 in 2003 to $6900 in 2007? (Frank Light, Londonderry) 10. Is there indisputable proof that funds from gambling aren't being diverted from education for a soccer stadium?
11. How is it more economical for Octorara to have so many separate buildings for education?
12. While expanding our schools in this area, we are doing so to make way for incoming residents, but why should new families move here when the people who already live here are being strangled by taxes?
13. Who is in charge of the county assessment offices throughout the state and who regulates their practices?
14. Why haven't houses been assessed since 1960? Is this fair practice?
15. A question regarding property tax from district to district: Why are taxes so much less for like properties in Solanco and Pequea? Why is Octorara so much higher?
16. Why do we need so many more buildings when the student population stays consistent?
17. Why doesn't the Octorara School Board hold the line on teacher wage increases and also benefits?
18. What is being proposed, on the state level, to widen the tax base so that renters with children are paying for their children's education, and not just homeowners?
19. What about the elimination of property tax? An earned income tax, food tax, increases of state sales tax?
20. Why is the cost of public education going up so quickly? Parents are required to send in school supplies, we are inundated with fundraisers and requests for extra funds. So where does all this extra money go?
21. Has anyone recommended consolidating school supervisor positions? You are paying 501 people six figures. Other states have 1 person supervising 4-5 districts. Why not adopt this and save millions of dollars to put back into the schools?
22. Why is there such a discrepancy from district to district on per student spending? How is it justified that one student is worth more than another? How are funding requirements established?
23. The school board tells taxpayers we need more money from the state for equity in our district. Compared to others in the state, Pileggi stated the state already pays much more to the poorer districts. Question to Pileggi: Have you seen the numbers on the bottom of page 8 (Proposed Budget Info) of the Octorara School District's booklet given to us tonight? And what can YOU do as our elected official to make it more fair? (Marge Sonsini, West Sads-bury) 24. Didn't No Child Left Behind guarantee that federal funds would be available to ensure that all children would reach 100 percent proficiency? When will the funding be provided?
25. When a school and/or district does not meet AYP (annual yearly progress) for three or more years, they lose federal and state funding. Is it moral to pass this cost onto the local community? Is it moral to do this when those are the schools with the greatest needs and deficiencies?
26. Where is help going to come from for the middle class working family in regard to property tax?
27. Why is our state funding sports arenas when most working families cannot afford to take their family to attend a professional sports arena? These funds would be better spent on education.
28. Does our government understand most working folks are not getting cost of living increases to keep up with inflation, let alone the increased cost of education? Why can a child receive an excellent education in a private school at a considerably lower yearly expense? Does the teachers union play into this?
29. The major question of taxpayers to both the state elected officials and the school board is when is enough enough? What does it take to move Harrisburg? Over the last six years my school taxes have gone up by $5, 000. When does it stop? (Steve Balint, Atglen) 30. To the school board: You know you would lose $170 million from the Farm Land Act. Where is your fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers? The problem is, you run on a budget not an R & L. With all the tax increases, why is this school district still ranked in the lower 2/3 of all PA school districts? Your statistics showing Octorara's rank in the average residential tax bill are very misleading! I would like to see the statistic that compares percent increase over the last five years compared to other districts. (Steve Balint, Atglen) 31. I keep hearing a lot of talk and no definitive answers. Will the powers that be in small towns, particularly Parkesburg, make it easier for new and/or small businesses to set up shop, utilizing real estate already available, and thereby increasing tax revenue?
32. What affect have state mandates had on contributing to the rise in educational costs (above the rate of inflation) as many of the mandates have not been funded by state money?
33. I'm relatively new to this school district. Why is there such a difference in the millage rates for residents of Lancaster vs. Chester Counties?
34. How often are all the residences' values assessed? There seems to be an undue and unequal burden placed on residents of new construction.
35. Are you working with or encouraging the local officials to help bring business to their school districts to help generate tax revenue? Business brings dollars to help defray homeowner property taxes.
36. To Senator Pileggi: In your response to the gap between the rate at which school costs are increasing vs. the amount the state is contributing, you say the responsibility for the short fall is being taken up by the local taxing authorities. However, if I understand correctly, much of the rise in costs is directly related to state and federal mandated programs and standards. Even allowing that the state contribution is exceeding the rate of inflation, how does the legislature reconcile the fact that what they are contributing is less than the increases in spending, when their mandates/regulations is one of the leading causes of the increases. Are you not in essence saying "here are the standards you must meet and they will cost you 'x', but we will only cover 'y' amount of that increas."?
37. What are local municipalities doing to encourage commercial (not residential) development to reduce millage rates and better support the tax base (ex.: West Chester, Tredyffrin, Great Valley, Downingtown)?
38. New homes bring more students needing bigger, newer schools. Why doesn't PA initiate an impact fee on new houses for the school district to apply to the new school construction? Maryland is employing impact fees incentives near the PA state line.
The developers are building in PA rather than paying $12, 000 to $24, 000 impact fee per house. Maryland is also using a building moratorium until the schools are built to adequately accept students.
39. To all PA senators and representatives: 1) Has any thought been given to county-wide school districts by the legislature, administered as in neighboring states? 2) Has any thought been given to impact fees levied by school districts on new housing units? (Chuck Persch, Parkesburg Borough) 40. Why is, in the Octorara School District, the property tax on a piece of property of equal value, in the Solanco School District, 30-50 percent less than what it is in the Octorara School District and Solanco teaches more kids? Why is that little part of Lancaster County in the Octorara School District and not in Solanco?
41. Being more involved in school board meetings is a lovely idea. However, due to the 10-11 percent increase in school taxes every year, is making more households become two income households, just to pay school taxes! How do you, our representatives, suggest we work 40-60 hours a week, run a family, and then have time to come to meetings? These taxes are shredding the fabric of the American family. There is only so much time in a week.
42. Coatesville taxes became ridiculous. Then it became public that funds were mishandled. What kind of guarantee do we have that this won't happen to us?
43. How many state funded jobs are being given to people who are doing next to nothing? Why not get rid of some of the useless people on the government payroll and divert some of their salaries into education?
44. Rural school districts in PA such as ours do not have the commercial retail to support the school property taxes. Would it not be a more equitable way to fund all school districts via a consumption (sales) tax with only the same exception that exists with the current sales tax? This tax should affect all evenly based on individual consumption. Could it not be solely dedicated to school funding?
45. Looking at the two graphs and charts on page seven of our handout booklet, you seem to be making the case that Octorara has a low average tax bill relative to other Chester County districts. Yet, the average residential assessment (which I assume is the one indicator of wealth), is 2nd lowest. The preliminary 2007-2008 millage rate is highest by a wide margin (the only one in the 30s).
How do you explain this disparity? Shouldn't the average tax bill and millage rate correlate to residential assessments?
46. Do you realize the difference between the millage of Solanco and Octorara is approximately 1/2 under the same assessment?
47. What is the process used in house assessments? Is there a standard used? It seems that there is no standard (ex.: two very similar houses with similar size properties have very large differences in their total final assessments).
48. Why do the horse breeders get half as much of the gambling revenue as economic development?
49. Looking at Octorara Area School District's expenses for 2007-2008: 61 percent-salary & benefits, 17.2 percent building debt/interest payment/maintenance/replacement, part of education costs is exponential increases in health insurance and other insurance costs.
We need to pay fair wages and benefits to our teachers. Have we really looked at means of reducing these costs (i.e.: changes in insurance carriers, consider changes in pension funding and policy for covering whole family and minimal co-pay.) Also, look at cost of transporting students to non-public schools. Good lawyers dictated the legality of transporting private school students-a good lawyer or government representative might want to take a new look at the ability to provide this transportation at public cost-is it really fair?
Comment: There is a generally accepted practice in legislature that in order to provide some equity in representation, two bodies are needed. One body (legislature) is based on population. The other body (house) is based on number of counties. Question: There is a principle here that is seeking equity for the masses, therefore, why is this principle not used for other applications such as taxation for all applications? 50 percent of revenue based on graduated taxes. Would this not provide a reasonable answer to many applications for equity for the general population? (Ken Boyes, Highland Township)