I attended the TESD Public Information Committee meeting yesterday . . . primarily to fully understand the selection process for committee members and the mission of the Earned Income Tax (EIT) Tax Study Group.
Several months ago, the T/E school board decided to create a citizen tax study group and sent postcards to Tredyffrin and Easttown township residents asking those interested to fill out an application and submit it to the school district – tonight at midnight, June 15 is the deadline.
According to the application, “This citizen group will study the effects that an Earned Income Tax (EIT) would have on the School District and its residents. Following its study, the Tax Study Group members will present the pros and cons of an EIT to the School Board and the community. Tax Study Group members must be willing to be introduced publicly as the Tax Study Group and be willing to present information at one or two televised meetings. The Tax Study Group will meet up to eight times in September and October 2011.”
The EIT tax study group application contains 19 questions ranging from age, gender to level of education, profession, whether or not you currently pay an EIT and two important questions (in my opinion) Why do you wish to be a member of the Tax Study Group? and what particular expertise could you bring to the Tax Study Group?
Part of the Public Information Committee meeting agenda was to look at the selection process of the nine members that would form this tax study group. At the meeting, the school board members began constructing the process. As a means of distancing themselves personally from the members that were to be chosen, it was determined that it would be a blind, random choice based on specific criteria. For the sake of anonymity and fairness, the school board members would not know the names and addresses of the applicants.
I sat and listened as the five board members attending the meeting (Debbie Bookstaber, Karen Cruickshank, Kevin Buraks, Anne Crowley and Betsy Fadem) prepared their list of criteria in order of priority. Their order of priority of criteria for selection on the tax study group is:
1. 3 members of the group to be Easttown Residents; 6 members of the group to be Tredyffrin residents.
2. There should be a mix of people who (a) currently pay an EIT elsewhere; (b) those who are residents and work in the district and for which an EIT would be a new tax and (c) those residents that are retired and therefore would not be paying an EIT. It was suggested to include 4 members that currently pay an EIT and to include 5 members for whom an EIT would be a new tax.
3. 2-3 members should have school age children in T/E
4. Age of applicant
5. Gender of applicant
7. Business background
There were only 3 audience members at this meeting (1 Easttown resident and 2 Tredyffrin residents) and I sat rather impatiently listening to their criteria; not quite believing that what I viewed as the most important baseline criteria was not mentioned. As they were completing their list of criteria, I reminded them that at the school board meeting when this was originally discussed, it was agreed that the tax study group would be ‘apolitical’. I mentioned that the application had not addressed the poltical issue but recalled that Kevin Mahoney specifically suggested that current school board members and township supervisors as well as candidates for the school board and township supervisors be excluded from the group. I asked how those specific would be excluded if the names were not to be known in the selection.
To their credit, the board members immediately placed that at the top of the criteria and assured me that staff would pull any of those applications. Seeking further clarification, I asked about ‘former’ school board members or ‘former’ township supervisors – were their applications suitable. Yes. What about applicants with connections to the local political parties, were their applications suitable. The answer was yes. This suggests that Democratic or Republican committee people (or those individuals closely associated with local political campaigns) are suitable applicants for the tax study group. Attempting to further explain this study group needs to be apolitical, I suggested that when the 9 members of the group are known, the public will recogonize if these individuals are in the category of ‘political’. I have attended enough school board, finance and budget meetings to know that if 25 residents show up to any of these meetings, that is a lot of interest. Therefore, when I learned yesterday, they have received 150 applications, I do not think it is a stretch to assume that there may be some politics going on. I want this to be a very positive and informational experience for the community; not a tax study group that is tainted with politics. I am hoping that this Community Matters post will give the board time to reflect before the members of the tax study group are chosen.
The other troubling aspect of the criteria selection was that the 2 questions at the end of the application – Why do you wish to be a member and what particular expertise could you bring to the group were overlooked and may be all but forgotten in the selection process. It is important to have qualified people as members of this tax study group. We live in a community that is rich with residents with skills, background and expertise, so shouldn’t that be a major factor in the selection? In addition, ‘why’ someone wants to participate is also very telling and should be factored in the choice.
As for the actual process of the selection – it is my understanding that the decision will be made at the Finance Committee meeting on Monday, June 20. The residents chosen for the tax study group will be called and asked of their willingness to participate. All applicants will be put in to individual groups and the names randomly chosen. They feel that renters are needed in the mix and to date, there is not a single renter among the 150 applications. If you are a numbers person, happen to be a renter and want a seat at the tax study table, the odds are in your favor.
I hope that the EIT Tax Study Group selection process goes well and that residents are offering to participate for the right reason. I suggest the process be documented prior to the selection of the members; otherwise, residents are going to look at the school board members if there is a problem.