Pattye Benson

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Great Valley School Board Votes to Keep Tax Increase within Act 1 Index of 2.9% . . . But at What Price?

Great Valley School Board Votes to Keep Tax Increase within Act 1 Index of 2.9% . . . But at What Price?

On January 13, I wrote about the ‘standing room only’ crowd at the Great Valley School District (GVSD) budget meeting. (Here’s the link for that post). This week the GVSD board held their regular business meeting with 300 residents in attendance; the major topic was the $3.2 million deficit in their proposed 2010-11 budget. With a projected budget of $78.3 million, the school board voted 6-2 to keep any increase in taxes within the state’s Act 1 index of 2.9%.

Applying for an exception to Act 1, would have allowed the school district to raise taxes as high as 4.7%. Some of the school board members argued that by keeping the tax increase to the 2.9% rate may force the administration in to making some drastic cuts in programs and/or personnel. (However, in the end by a margin of 6-2, the school board votes in favor of using the Act 1 index). There were many residents in the audience who wanted to hold the line on tax increases to the 2.9% or less; some expecting 0% tax increase. There did not seem to be an explanation as to how the budget deficit would be handled; no clear cut answer as to what programs (or people) might find themselves on the cutting block. Because the school board decided not to seek exception to Act 1, a preliminary budget approval is not required until April. The school board will continue the discussion at the finance committee meeting in early February.

Does this news from our neighbors have any effect on us taxpayers in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District? The taxpayers of GVSD have taken a stand (and it appears that the new school board members agreed) to do whatever was necessary to balance the budget, just not raise taxes beyond the 2.9% threshold. Do you agree with their decision? Would you rather see TESD hold the line at all costs — rather than increase taxes above the 2.9% Act 1 index? This decision is going to require GVSD to make major cuts in program/personnel . . . how are the school board members going to make that decision? With the large program cuts required in the Great Valley School District, I certainly would not want to be the person making up the list of programs/personnel for the cutting block!

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  1. How do we get 300 residents of Tredyffrin Easttown School District to show up at one of our budget meetings like Great Valley? If more people acted like they cared maybe we could hold the school board accountable and keep our taxes from skyrocketing. For a 4% increase they filled the place in Great Valley and what we could go to 7% tax increase and only about a dozen came to the last meeting. What does that say about our residents? That we support the school board directors and where they lead, we follow? Residents shouldn’t complain if they don’t get involved in the process!!!!

  2. TE School Board are you listening??? Other school districts are able to stay within the Act 1 guidelines of 2.9%, why can’t TE? TE residents probably will get a 6-7% tax increase and the teachers have their PSERS. And their salaries!

  3. No one is talking about the actual cost of a 7% tax increase for the average homeowner, but I heard a school board member say it would be about $500 – or $42 a month.

    For most in this school district, that is an acceptable price to pay to maintain our school district’s high standards. But in future years, how much more will will it grow?

    And given the information available, there is no way of knowing how much of this tax increase would actually contribute to that excellence.

    I’m sure I’m not the only taxpayer who envies the teachers’ benefit package. In this day and age, it is better than the perqs offered just about anywhere in the private sector. And the cost of it went up 28% in one year.

    Should that be solely our burden?

    Teacher pension funds steeply declined in value over the last 18 months. So did our paltry 401k’s. I’m sure many in this town would love to look forward to a secure pension in retirement – at almost 100% of their final salaries. Instead, plans for retirement have had to be delayed and scaled back.

    Really, it’s a question of equity and fairness, while keeping the quality of our children’s education uppermost in our minds.


    1. Yes, that’s right anonymous — it is a “question of equity and fairness”. Why do the rest of us watch our investments plummet (including our 401Ks) and the teachers get to live with the security of their pensions. When the teacher investments in their pensions go down — the taxpayers are forced in to bailing them out with increased taxes. I just want a level playing field for everyone. We’re all in this together, why should there be such an inbalance between teachers security and all other workers?

  4. I agree that Great Valley did the right thing. I’m willing to deal with the cuts to get the teachers union back in balance. Considering the economy right now and the fact that even T/E residents are losing jobs and facing salary cuts, it would be insensitive to raise taxes higher than 2.9%. Someone else on a previous post put it well – our schools and our programs will continue to be excellent even with some of the proposed cuts. There is always room to improve efficiency and save some money.

  5. Thanks for posting this information. Neighboring districts provide a useful benchmark for us. The video of Tuesday’s meeting (posted on the GVSD web-site – how about it, T/E??) provides a few insights:

    1. The GVSD Board has a diversity of viewpoints, so citizens believe they can actually influence outcomes

    2. A majority of the Board was recently elected on a platform of fiscal responsibility, so there is a pre-disposition against taxes. It seems to be easier to organize against cuts (see the 700 pro-FLES petition signatures in T/E) than against taxes. Just today, I heard of an email campaign being organized by T/E teachers against any program reductions and in support of the T/E Board’s January 25th vote on asking for exceptions.

    3. Residents there stated that they bought homes in GV rather than in T/E for the same reasons that residents here bought homes in T/E rather than GV – the high quality of the schools……

    4. GVSD acceded to union demands in their last contract, too, (there’s even a phrase for it – “early bird”….), but it seems that the impact was far less severe than in T/E. One commentator cited the effect as $31 per year per average household – less than 1% of the total expense.

    5. Their budget issues are far less severe than ours. Because they did not file for exceptions there’s no preliminary budget, so I don’t know if the $3.2 million gap is before or after a 2.9% increase, but my guess is that it is before. Either way, though, it’s not clear that “major cuts in programs/personnel” are needed.

    6. Many made the point that approving the application for exceptions would not require that taxes be raised by that amount. However, the majority of the Board and it seemed half of the residents believed that the higher opportunity would inevitably lead to higher taxes – a likely outcome in T/E, I think.

    7. Those advocating higher taxes made the same fallacious assumptions employed here on this and similar issues: that a) we should tax to the spending desires, not spend to the available funds, and b) that capping taxes means that we don’t care about quality/service levels. Government’s true colors will be shown by its ability to do more with less.

    8. An interesting illustration of the type of cost-saving opportunities available: there was some discussion of a contract for a consultant to help the district develop its literacy program. The explanation was that the consultant would be used to help the district get the program organized, but not thereafter. Just the kind of external purchase that could be eliminated with little impact on the quality of education – maybe the district employees would just have to take on a little more responsibility and work? (The contract was in fact approved, with token discussion). Does T/E have discretionary expenditures like this?

    9. Last year there was an increase in the size of some elementary classes to close to the state limit. One parent reported their child’s excellent experience in such a class and highlighted the teacher performance.

    Independent of the GV discussion, here are some more numbers for context. Take the typical house that Andrea often uses as an example: market value $500,000, mortgage $400,000. School taxes on that house are over two months’ payments on a 5%, 30 year mortgage. The proposed 6.63% maximum increase is equivalent to almost 1% of the value of the house.

    1. As always Ray, I thank you for your helpful commentary on the school district budget. I am interested in hearing more about this “email campaign being organized by T/E teachers against any program reductions and in support of the T/E Board’s January 25th vote on asking for exceptions.” Would love to see details or a copy of the email campaign; might be useful for our readers.

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