Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Increase in Sales Tax Rate – According to Local CPA, Don’t be Surprised!

A couple of weeks ago, the T/E School Board voted against an EIT voter referendum question for the April primary. (School Board members Kevin Mahoney and Anne Crowley favored taking the EIT question to the voters).

I received an interesting comment from Jim Newhard in response to T/E School District’s response the November 15 post. Rather than adding to the earlier post, I thought it could make for interesting commentary. A small business owner in Paoli, Jim Newhard is a CPA. I served with Jim on the board of the Paoli Business & Professional Association. Thanks Jim for weighing in – anyone else think economics may eventually lead to an increase in our sales tax rate?

From Jim Newhard, CPA

There is no tax related decision at any level that does not produce winners and losers. Retirees don’t mind EIT because they generally don’t have earned income; high EI earners see big tax without offsetting benefit and are then chastised as the “evil 1%” for their success; property owners have no assurance that any savings will be realized, particularly since the school district needs to plug deficit holes.

In a Commonwealth with a heavy union population, the unfunded pension liability will not likely be reduced — just refinanced and spread over a longer period to create a false sense of short-run fiscal “balance” or “stability.” Future monies likely to come from a fee/tax levied on the Marcellus Shale natural gas exploration are not going to help southeastern PA and will have nominal impact of the state general fund (will certainly be mostly ear-marked for “road & environmental” implications from the drillers.

With a heavy practice in PA local taxes (especially EIT), analyses on tax distributions are quite the challenge, and are always a moving target. As we continuously monitor state budget and fiscal results — don’t look to Harrisburg (or the feds) for a stimulus windfall. In fact, do not be surprised if there might be a sales tax bump with extra bump amount designated/elected to be retained by the county (for example, there may come a day when the sales tax in Chester County is 7% with 6% to the Commonwealth and the 1% staying in Chester County).

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that someone isn’t out to get you!

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  1. that’s worth discussing, but my experience in states with high sales tax are that they do not have a state income tax (Washington State and Texas). So the most regressive of taxes is better than no tax…thus a sales tax. The fact that we do not tax clothes in PA leads me to believe we have a few steps before we would add to the tax again (when was it changed from 5 to 6 — before the income tax?)

  2. Jim’s comment is another confirmation of why it was so important for the 1% to hijack the recent election – if the introduction of a fairer local tax scheme like an EIT came to a vote maybe the chastised 1% just would not carry the day?

    They may indeed be quite happy with a sales tax increase to fund the pension liability, but what about an increase in the STATE income tax, which is another alternative? A frequent commenter on school board economics suggested recently that an 11% rate is required. The liability has already been stretched out; any further might cause the fund to run out of cash.

    Has anyone seen any sign that Harrisburg is inclined to move on either the liability or its funding? American Airlines just filed for bankruptcy to restructure pension liabilities that are unsustainable; what would happen if a school district filed? That would be a more direct way to get the state to assume responsibility, maybe.

  3. An increased sales tax in Chester County would have severe unintended consequences, including:

    1 — Hurting commercial establishments like the Exton Mall and many “strip centers” — think Wegmans/BJs/etc in Downington.

    2 — Drive additional business to Delaware — especially from those who live in southern Chester County and it is particularly convenient — meaning even less sales and a lower net sales tax income.

    3 — Drive additional business to the internet — another bastion of tax free shopping for many — again, causing a lower net sales tax income for the community.

    And for those who believe an EIT is more fair b/c it hurts higher income earners more (those who “deserve” to pay more b/c they are successful), remember that a sales tax is more regressive to lower earners.

    As difficult as everyone likes to make this argument, it really isn’t. Any accountant/business owner/home owner can tell you there are really just two options when it comes to budgets: increase revenue (taxes) or decrease costs. Yes, to decrease costs we need significant changes (such as pension reform) that will cause massive fights. That said, the current system is unsustainable so we can take our medicine now by making changes or wait until crisis mode when it will be much worse.

  4. Ray, important for the 1% to hijack the election? How cynical, and how political of you. I am shocked, frankly at what you said, not for what was said but that you said it. Always appreciate your detailed and somewhat complicated analysis… but never can I remember you sticking your toe out like that. Those one percenters, don’t they pay some tax already? Whether in capital gains, income, corporate, estate., ????

    1. I’m disappointed that you were shocked. I’ve always tried to be a consistent advocate for facts and data, thorough and objective analysis, and equity. The campaign lies from the TTRC violate all those beliefs.

      That’s independent of whether you think the way to balance TESD’s budget is to use the fund balance, cut programs, salaries or pensions, or to raise any type of tax, or a combination of all of the above.

      A couple of current news items: the small success of write-ins against the political machines in West Chester, and the net migration to PA from NJ, credited in part to a desire to escape high property taxes.

      And to taxed enuff’s point below, there is good evidence that a small number of hijackers can be very successful.

      1. Yes Ray, but those TTRC “lies” have nothing to do with you.
        Keep up the good reports, and don’t let them get to you.

      2. Ray,

        I agree the election was hijacked and it was done through an untruthful and misleading campaign. Not sure the 1% reference is accurate. I would need to research the economic or demographic composition of the TTRC. It may just be they are uncritically and violently anti tax – ANY tax. Again, it is fine to oppose an EIT, but the way it was handled was not helpful to the process and did not serve the students or taxpayers well.

        Moreover, based upon recent conduct, it is clear that the TTRC has very little knowledge or understanding of school finance issues, and has done very little in the way of thoughtful analysis regarding the issues. They do not seem to have any alternative. How exaclty, would they propose that the problem be solved? Are they OK with deep cuts to the educational program, or are they OK with property tax increases in excess of the inflation cap imposed by Act 1, in order to preserve the program? Or, are they willing to take on Harrisburg for relief? If so, they have not said so. They have not said anything substantive regarding ay of the alternatives. Their vague campaign statements about “spending money we have more wisely” or “focusing dollars on the classroom” demonstrate ignorance of the budget realities.

        So we are left with cuts in the quality of the schools, higher property tax increases, and lobbying the state legislature. Those are the alternatives, since there is not enough fat left in the budget to solve the problem through efficiency cuts. (I expect the next teachers contract to be more favorable to the district, but I do not think that contract concessions will ever close the entire gap). So, which alternative(s) would the Republicans support? We have no idea.

        To be fair, the problem with the Democratic response was that it capitulated – closing the door on any possibility of an open minded discussion on the EIT, at least for the forseeable future.

        Here is the real problem with this kind of campaigning: if you are going to control who gets elected to the board, you had better have a clear understanding of the issues and a thougtful and comprehensive approach to solving those issues. The problem demands a very thoughtful and FACTUAL discussion.

        1. We did not see an abundance of clear, specific ideas for addressing school funding from either side’s candidates. Mrs. Cruikshank chose to present our challenge as one that we are powerless to address. Her statement from the TTDems website, dated 11/7/11, “School Board President Karen Cruickshank sees our funding difficulties as “state-created,” and she has called on the legislature in Harrisburg “to fix your mess.” ”

          In fact, in addition to an EIT, there is a lot the District can do. Summarized by From the West on this blog:

          “The school district has multiple options to face the challenges ahead, many of which can be used in combination with the others.

          1) Control school district spending. While the “easy” savings have been taken, as discussed last Spring there are other cost reduction strategies in the Administration and non-instructional areas that won’t impact educational programs, for example custodial outsourcing. In addition, the school district continues to evaluate the existing educational program and its effectiveness, and has made changes/reductions in resources as a result (like FLES.) There is also, of course, the upcoming teacher contract that offers massive opportunities for changing our cost structure.

          2) Increasing revenue – For example, in 2011-12 there was an increase in the student parking fee, a benefit that has no bearing on education, isn’t a right and should be provided for a fee. A student activity fee was another option and, as Pattye noted above, advertising.

          3) Using a balanced portion of the fund balance – this is $25 million+ in money, paid by TESD taxpayers and accumulated over the years, to be held for a “rainy day”.

          4) Tax increases up to the state established Index. Since 2006, the Index has ranged between 1.4% and 4.4%. Option two: raising taxes above the index by putting such an increase on the ballot and selling it to residents/taxpayers — in essence, asking for further support.

          5) Tax increases beyond the index based on “Act 25 exceptions” – the exceptions are Special Education, debt and pensions. If the school district needs to increase property taxes beyond the Index to meet its pension obligations and Special Education costs, the law permits them to do that.

          6) A referendum on the budget can be put to the voters for their approval to raise taxes beyond the index. In essence, the District would “sell” its proposal by presenting the educational program and its value to the community, and asking the voters for additional support.”

        2. A possible solution is to give each TEEA employee one more student.
          TE has 6,469 student
          TE employs 459 union employees (TEEA)
          That’s 14.1 students per union employee.
          Increasing that ratio by one to 15.1 would require 30 fewer union employees for a savings of $3M each year.
          Just for clarity – the union membership consists of more than classroom teachers. There are nurses, counselors and others that don’t perform typical teaching activities.

        3. So we are left with cuts in the quality of the schools, higher property tax increases, and lobbying the state legislature. Those are the alternatives,

          The problem with this statement is that you present it as fact, when it is nothing more than opinion.

          We can provide a quality, core education focused on what children need in today’s world for what we are spending now (or perhaps less). The issue is what you believe is a “quality education” – smallest of class sizes, tons of extras, etc., etc., etc. when the fact is that every one of those items has little to do with a quality education and more to do with a dream version of a well-rounded educational experience.

          I know this sounds old-fashioned, but our schools used to do more with less…and, yes, I know that the things our children need to learn have changed, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be taught in an effective manner for less than we currently spend.

          This issue will never be resolved because some people want one thing and will go to the mat for it, while others want the opposite and will do the same.

          Finally, the biggest issue in driving costs are the teachers’ contracts, period. Salaries, benefits, etc. are all driven by this one thing and since the PSEA will never give an inch (and the local teachers brought them in as their leaders/contract negotiators BEFORE the School Board hired an outsider) it is clear they won’t give an inch here. The PSEA is about the money, not our kids, and that’s easy to prove…just look at the questionnaires they send to candidates for office and see how many have to do with compensation, benefits, etc. and how many have to do with educating kids. You might be amazed.

        4. Carla,

          You make some good points, but I stand by what I said. Your #1-6 really do not solve the problem – see the Tax Study Group (“TSG”) report. Based upon the data provided by the TSG it is very clear that taxing to the Act 1 inflation cap, plus Act 1 exceptions, is totally inadequate. The fund balance sounds large, but it would only fill the gap for a few years.

          And a referendum? Who are we kidding? The same party that went ballistic over the idea of an EIT (and lied about it) will swarm any effort to pass a ballot referendum. We can forget about #6.

          Now, to be clear, I know there are many thougtful and informed Republicans. A few of them may even sit on the TTRC. However, as a whole, the TTRC does not get it. Why? Look at their campaign literature – statements like “we need to spend what we have more wisely” and “focus dollars on the classroom” imply that the problem was created by wasteful spending by the school board – hence, it can be solved locally. This is standard Republican philosophy, which often has merit, but in this case it is misplaced.

          It is a MYTH that the problem results from out of control spending by the board. During the past 12 years, when the millage rate increased by something like 50%, there was a nearly 20% increase in student population and inflation was high. For the years 2001 – 2011, inflation was 28% (Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI calculator). Also, this during this period the district was tasked with doing MORE with MORE STUDENTS -there were many costly unfunded mandates such as No Child Left Behind, and the advent of technology, for example.

          So 20% more students and 28% inflation accounts for much of the problem, and unfunded mandates also played a large role. The largest of these, as is discussed frequently on this blog – is the PSERS crisis. And yes, that was created in Harrisburg by the state legislature and passed along to the local taxpayers. Only the legislature can solve that. So the idea that the problem was created by wasteful spending by school boards over the years is demonstrably false. Consider this: in 1970 the tax bill on the average T/E home was $814. The average tax bill in 2008-9 was $4,331. If the $814 figure is adjusted for inflation, it is worth $4,517 today (CPI calculator). So even with millage increases, in real terms, taxes in T/E have not outpaced inflation.

          All 501 school districts in PA are in trouble at the same time and for the same reasons. When Karen says that this cannot be solved without help from Harrisburg, she is telling the truth.

        5. From the West,

          I don’t disagree with your comments regarding PSEA, but as many have pointed out on this blog, there are inequalities in bargaining power created by state law, and a leveling of the playing field would require – once again – some changes in Harrisburg. These are not likely forthcoming. While I think economic conditions will result in a more favorable contract next time around, we are not going to be able to solve the problem with contract concessions alone.

          And the problem with doing more with less (turning the clock back – or forward? to a new kind of education program) is that so much of what you do is mandated – you are forbidden to do many things and required to do many things. I don’t see that changing in the near future. I guess my main point here is that we have to be realistic. There are limits to what we can do locally – we still need to do everything we can – but we also need to get together as a community and lobby Harrisburg hard. If they are going to tell us in detail how to do things, they should pay for the expenses they pass along. Fixing PSERS would go a long way.

        6. Keith,

          Class size is very complicated. I’m sure our average class size is not 14.1. (it was noting like that when I was on the board – it was, and still is, I think, considerably larger than that). Your analysis sounds more like “student- teacher ratio.” There is a difference between class size and student teacher ratio. Class size is how many kids are in the actual instructional class. Student teacher ratio calculates the average number of students per “teacher” which can be a very different thing, especially if you include guidance counsellors, reading specialists, aides, non-classroom teachers, etc. Your average class size might be 25 and your student-teacher ratio could be 14, depending upon your definition of “teacher”.

          You can let class sizes increase, but distribution will never be even – depends upon how many kids are in a grade level, where among the schools they are distributed, and how the distribution breaks among core and electives at the High School. Just so no one thinks it is a simple as adding one kid to each teacher’s class – it would never work that way, and changing the class sizes by the amount you suggest would involve significant increases in some classes or grades – most likely at the elementary level. I don’t want anyone to uncritically think “See? If we just give each teacher one more kid, we can save millions! That’s reasonable!” I am sure you appreciate that, but from my experience on the board, I know that some people reading that kind of argument might think it is just that simple, when it is not.

  5. Sad exchange here. What no one says (admits?) is that they need someone else to subsidize the perks of living here (greaat schools) because they cannot afford it any longer. Hence the 1% class warfare reference. Not sure 1% is a large enough group to hijack anything!

  6. Kevin I am not a member of the TTRC and I am not in favor of an EIT. Call me cynical, but I just don’t want more taxing authority in the hands of the government. Would I take a real estate increase? Maybe. But another taxing regime, the EIT will in my cynical thought NOT be offset by tax decreases in the real estate domain. Or continuing more cynically, it may for one cycle but who knows what a board will do in 5 years.

    Let’s face it, as you stated, this problem in very large part is caused by Harrisburg and those fool legislators…

    1. I agree with you. I am not necessarily arguing for an EIT either – but I think we need a calm, factual discussion in the community and the kind of campaign we just saw (on both sides to somem extent to be fair) does not help with that.

    2. FF — you are correct. The rebounding of income (will it) would automatically produce rising levels of revenue, but the need to budget would still trump any possible tax freezes…so the budgets would be done by increasing property taxes and the revenue from a growing EIT would turn into a bit of a “transfer tax” bonus.

  7. lets see… campaign contributions, preferable legislation….to contributors… taxpayers get left holding the bag. Sounds like the same song.

  8. Kevin
    All your points are worthy, but you ignore a very expensive initiative that formed the basis of your coming onto the board — class size. FTW is right — we did just as much with less money when our class sizes were roughtly 10% higher — because the studies used to reduce them were a “nice to have” and certainly not a need to have.
    So we can talk about mandates, but this one is a decision made in good times and maintained/influenced by fear of kids getting lost.
    We are not powerless in this process, but this board is not going to reach conclusions because we don’t debate facts — just opinions. I posted earlier on another topic about a benefits offer — and not a single response. Until/unless we can think collectively out of the box, and put the burden on the PSEA to refute our intentions (which I do not think our own teachers would do — just the PSEA does), we are victims. It’s NOT Harrisburg’s mess — we have seen it coming for 10 years. We have seen it coming SPECIFICALLY — i.e. these drmatically higher PSERS rates — for 5 years. And yet we play with Act 1 numbers.
    It’s disingenuous to blame the TTRC when they have a point of view and they communicate it. You were right that the Ds capitulated — Karen C. absolutely has made her position as a victim. She’s far stronger than that — and lost a moment to educate people. It’s VOTERS who made decisions — not parties. If the TTRC scared people, the TTDC lost an opportunity for a teachable monment.

    So the Problem is in Harrisburg — and in T-E. We have a superintendent who is paid over $300K to do his job — because a previous board presumably didn’t understand the implications of paying tuition to a college on his behalf. We have administrators who are carryinig the “privilege” of a benefit allowance along with the right to get the teacher benefit plan. We have escrowed sick pay AND a bonus for now taking a sabbatical. There is PLENTY of in-house blame to go around — and now that they have dropped the Public Information Committee, it’s left to us on the outside to beg for information to advance a different perspective. “Your request may require a fee” is an awfully unwelcoming but routine response to a RTK in this district.

    1. Township Reader,

      You and I disagree on the merits of class size. Studies are always debatable, but don’t forget we were solving a real problem, in which the board had clearly planned to let the enrollment growth “bubble” simply pass through the schools by allowing class sizes to rise accordingly. That was not acceptable to the community. The whole issue coincided with space problems – we had classes meeting on auditorium stages and in a couple of cases in the elementaries we had kids without desks and rooms where we were up against the physical space limits of the room. The parents were fed up. Still, most of the teachers we hired were for enrollment growth ( which for the period was 20%) – class size added a few more but you can’t blame our current troubles on class size. Also, initiatives during my time on the board which I supported (some of which I was intrumental in) offset much of the cost of the class size reduction initiative. You can say it was only “nice to have” (and I disagree) but even if you roll it back to where it was pre-1999 you are very, very, far from solving your problem. The tools we have on hand will solve some, but not all of the problem, and we still do need some relief from Harrisburg. By the waym, I don’t disagree with much of what you say – for example, I think your benefits proposal has merit.

      1. “solving a real problem, in which the board had clearly planned to let the enrollment growth “bubble” simply pass through the schools by allowing class sizes to rise accordingly”
        No offense Kevin — but that’s hyperbole of a major era. The district had a class size policy in place — the initiative you championed reduced some classes by more than 20%. The “bubble” was not a bubble, but in fact an enrollment increase, and to go from 25 elementary targe to 20 target (K-1 or 2) was a major cost issue. Times were good — it was doable. Given the way the class size was changed (what administrator would fight against smaller classes — not their money and allowed them to hire more and newer teachers for the program), the kindergarten and first grade classes went from 23-25 kids to 16-18 kids. I don’t know if there were hard caps, but I do know that the school board had “watch positions” and a single child registering in August could trigger a new section. Hours and hours were spent examining each staffing decision, always “erring” on the side of more staff (smaller classes).

        I don’t argue the merits — just the wisdom of asking taxpayers to provide an independent school experience.

        1. Township Reader –

          “I don’t argue the merits (of smaller class size) – just the wisdom of asking the taxpayers to provide an independent school experience.”

          I respect your point of view, but I disagree – we see the issues very differently. The statement above assumes that pubic education is one thing and private education another, and public should be a lesser quality experience, presumably because providing a quality of education equal to or greater than private schools would cost too much – i.e, public school should be a lower standard.

          I think public schools should be the best we can possibly make them – superior if possible. And I don’t think that automatically means we spend more than taxpayers can afford.

          In fact, I don’t think we cannot afford high quality public schools – my example above that taxes are actually slighlty lower (in real terms, adjusted for inflation) than they were in 1970 supports this point. (1970 average T/E house paid $814 – in 2008-9 adjusted for inflation that is worth $4,517. In 2008-9 the average T/E tax bill was $4,331). And we are 467 out of 501 districts in terms of lowest school taxes. So no, I don’t think we overdid it when we lowered class size.

          It’s about whether society wants to make a commitment to quality education for all children, or only for the wealthy few who can afford a private school. I will grant that state wide and nation wide we do a lousy job of reaching that ideal – there are great inequalities – but the answer is not to dismantle quality public schools where they exist.

          Now, a few specific points regarding class size:

          (I shredded several thousand pages of materials a year or two after I got off the board, so I am going by memory here – to do otherwise would require one of the expensive infomration reuquests you complained of elsewhere – but the figures below are, to my recollection, accurate) Here goes:

          Again, most of the additional teachers we hired over the years were for enrollment growth. Still, I will grant that there were significant costs to keeping class size smaller – I was always up front about that and I said so from the beginning of my campaign. I got elected anyway – a lot of people agreed with me.

          23 to 25 kids was way too big for K-1. I don’t know where you got 16-18 kids on average for K-1, but I think that in most cases over the years we were towards the high end of that estimate, if not a little beyond it. If memory serves, I can recall classes of 19 and 20. In 2nd and 3rd grade our averages were much higher than that, and during my time on the board class sizes for 2 and 3 were high teens to low twenties, with classes of 21, 22, 23 quite common. In grade 4 we were beyond the class size reduction initiative – we were runing low to mid 20’s.

          When I came to the board the practice was to hire teachers at “top of the range” staffing. A watch position was filled only when a class hit the top of the range. That was changed to “around the target” staffing. No change in the policy, a change in the implementation of the policy. Some of the class size people were very upset that there was never a formal revision of the policy – some wanted a hard cap of 20 – but that was never done. I don’t know what they thought I could do with one vote, which is all I had for a revision of the policy, and I came to see that a hard cap would not leave the administration with enough flexibility and would in some cases result in class sizes that were too small. I thought I was doing well to keep “around the target” staffing and this did result in redcutions in class size. Pretty good result for one vote . . . .

          And I put the word “bubble” in quotation marks for a reason. I never believed it was a bubble. I said so at the time. The word “bubble” was coined by some of the opponents of class size reduction as in “It’s just a bubble – we don’t need to make any changes, and in a couple of years the bubble will have moved through and the problem is solved.”

          Exaggeration is in the eye of the beholder – one of the defining moments was a 2nd grade New Eagle class of 28 – on parents night (open house) it was discovered that there were not enough desks for all of the children. At least on child was using either the window sill or radiator unit as a flat surface for writing. So I think it is “exaggeration” to characterize this as “hyperbole” now.

          I will grant you one thing – as a practical matter, it may be very difficult for current and future boards to keep class sizes as small as they were in my day. I don’t have an answer for that, but I think it stinks.

  9. We can all agree that decisions made in better times (wages, pensions, perqs) did not adequately factor in the risk on the revenue side. The problem is that adversarial union/employer relationships and contract law just don’t allow for equitable adjustments. (It may do us all good to really understand how the German model is so successful – and then apply it).

    So, at Monday’s TESD Finance Committee we’ll see how the rubber is beginning to hit the road for 2012/13. Even with a maxed out property tax increase (index and exceptions), the forecast deficit is still $3.25 million. Half of the $2 million benefit of listed deficit reduction strategies comes from outsourcing janitorial services. Class size is not on the agenda at all (except possibly fewer aides).

    Which brings us to an interesting crossroads. The community is clearly uncomfortable with the idea of cutting the jobs of its own members, but equally as clearly does understand that the current compensation package is wholly unsustainable. TENIG needs to continue its partnership with the district and work out a solution that transitions to a market compensation structure.

    Which would do nothing, though, for the largest component of the problem – teacher compensation. TR – we do like your benefit plan, we really do…. In fact there is a school of thought (see Peter Orszag in last week’s WSJ) that by 2020 the standard healthcare benefit (in the corporate sector) will be defined contribution rather than the current defined benefit. (Just like the transition to 401ks from pensions). The key here will the the mandate that the Board has given to our lawyer, and the degree of communications to the taxpayer throughout the process. I have no idea to whom we can now turn to be accountable for that.

    And to close with a question to all: what exactly would you propose that “Harrisburg” do regarding the PSERS problem?

    1. What exactly would you propose that “Harrisburg” do regarding the PSERS problem?

      Isn’t that the million dollar question! Given the finances of the state, how is Harrisburg supposed to ‘fix’ the problem.

      1. There is only so much that Harrisburg can do to fix the problem. Those in the system are legally entitled to their pensions unless the state declares bankruptcy.

        We need to change the system from now forward — and ask for some “sacrifice” of the teachers (read: union) when it comes to new contracts on issues like steps, tuition reimbursements, medical coverage, etc. The gravy train has run off the tracks and things need to change.

  10. Harrisburg won’t fix the problem — they will kick the can a bit further down the road and attempt to change the program for new hires (they started that….but it has to get bolder). All Harrisburg has to do is change the parameters associated with earnings estimates…and presto — magically lowers the amounts charged to districts. It’s like the “ponzi scheme” called social security….. (hardly a Perry fan, and I don’t think he understands it either, but it is tough when you are alllowing current employees to fund the pensions of retired employees….who are living about 20 years longer than we planned). The state can also modify the retirement option — i.e., later — but that means districts will have more and more senior teachers, and each year in the job earns another 2.5% on their pension.

    I’m not sure the current board begins to understand this, but I can tell you that getting information from them is going to be a battle.

    Kevin — your view of the “pre class size” status quo is a bit overstated — and certainly an exageration, but that’s the “scheme” used to create a class size mandate. “Parents were fed up with it” means the New Eagle parents that led the initiative. I was a fly on the wall at some of those meetings — it was like a union rally. That Kids Count regime approached elections kind of like the “EIT” scheme was this year. Seriously — it’s only lies and exaggerations when the other side says it. And a 10% increase in the faculty means a 10% increase in the payroll and the labor expense. I understand your passion, but it was still “nice to have”….this is, after all, a public school system. Parents don’t write the checks — taxpayers do.

  11. Kevin
    Odd that you would call out the 2nd grade class at NE as your example — since if you know the backstory, you also know that the principal was in the process of hiring staff to divide that class due to some late enrollments and a parental push to be “above grade level” , and one of the issues was whose child would NOT stay in the “above grade level” when in fact one of the major class size advocates was having her 2nd grader TUTORED to stay above grade level. Lake Woebegone to be sure. And the big anecdotal study used to inform the class size discussion was based on the STAR Report in Tennessee….where class sizes moved from the 30s to the mid to high 20s. And while you say people supported you in your campaign, I believe your opponent did not campaign — did not participate in the debates, and did not have signs. So let’s be fair here.

    So we can disagree on the implementation, but I will say again that independent school parents vote with their checkbooks. They can whine about placement and the headmaster needs to respond. This is a public school. We must educate everyone who comes to our door. I think initiatives that put the program at risk need to be identified — and I think dramatically lower class sizes have done that. And I am very aware of Kindergarten classes with 15 in them….the move away from that ended up being space, not class size policy — because there were not enough rooms for additional sections. Likewise, the consideration of full-day kindergarten, which was studied in the 80s has never been revisited because it doubles the number of rooms required for K instruction — and given that the population projects of the board never saw it as a bubble, that was never going to happen. Advancing the expansion of the elementary schools was hard enough — I can still remember a meeting at Beaumont where the short-term Superintendent, Jamie McKenzie, faced off against the then board President, M.E. Mittelstadt (?) about moving music off the stage. She said the board was not set on that — he said the administration was committed to it. There was a board member Mr. Clark who balked at any suggestion that the buildings were undersized, as his own kids had gone to elementary schools here that were K-6 with much larger populations. And to say that we do a better job today than in the 60s and 70s is just not accurate. Do we have more electives / more special ed/ more ADD / more IEPs? Absolutely. But as the references elsewhere are about technology strategy — the district lacks a strategic perspective nowadays — they do things they can afford — they knock down buildings and then think about where to store things — they delete technology purchases, reinstate them and then delete them again — because they do not have core values in place. Teaching to the test — but not assessing teachers by performance — it’s all complicated. But the reality is — taxpayers write the checks. Indifference to that fact — arrogance about what they think the public will bear — puts the entire program at risk. That’s what I am reluctant to face.

    1. One piece — the 2nd grade class at New Eagle was not a class, but a section of advanced math. One 45 minute period, temporarily waiting for a new teacher once Dr. Kob finished interviewing.

    2. Township Reader –

      Honestly, class size put the entire program at risk? Who’s engaging in “hyperbole” and exaggeration now?
      And if memory serves, Rick Zagol was at the LWV candidate forum. The fact that he did not put up signs means nothing. My vote total was impressive – a whisker behind the then sitting board president Andrea Felkins (as you well know). The powers that be – the board and the TTRC – could not believe I won because of class size. But I did. As you said elsewhere, a win is a win – the VOTERS decide. The fact is that in a political contest over the issue, the proponents of lower class size won. You can come up with all kinds of hindsight to discount the facts, but the facts remain – the issue had merit, was backed by research, and found favor with enough voters to elect me and to cause the board to take action to reduce class size – and keep it that way for the entire time I was on the board and beyond.

      I could go on – but as I have said, due to current and forseeable political and economic conditions it is a moot point. I really do not want to fight the class size wars again – it was a horrible experience, bad enough the first time around. So I’m done.

      1. Ironic – sounds familiar.

        The VOTERS decide. The fact is that in a political contest over the issue, the opponents of the EIT won. You can come up with all kinds of hindsight to discount the facts – the issue was studied, and research and facts were presented in 5 meetings and 2 public presentations, The Republican candidates staked out their opposition early and any objective observer would agree that there were no “game changers” found in the tax study process – the pros and cons were very much the same as they were the last 2 times the EIT issue was raised. The Dem candidates seemed to want to wait until the TSG was “done”, even as the meetings were finished, but then decided to come out as “personally opposed” (not OPPOSED or completely opposed), which was a bit ambivalent. Their incumbent candidate laid complete blame for the TESD’s financial challenge on the state, “Fix your mess”, and allowed the issue to be presented as a binary decision – either impose an EIT or cut the quality of the educational program, when in fact there are a number of options – substantial reserves, revenue opportunities, non-instructional cuts, instructional tweaks that would not impact “quality”, Act 25 exceptions…

        The opposition to the EIT found favor with enough voters to elect the candidates that were unequivocally opposed to the EIT.

        And something tells me we will fight the EIT wars again…

        1. Carla,

          I have zero problem with a full discussion on the merits of an EIT and can accept whatever conclusion the voters or community ultimately decide. The problem I have is conducting the discussion dishonestly. The comment I made above (which you replied to) has nothing to do with the EIT debate or the last election. In fact, my class size election in 1999 bears no resemblance to the EIT campaign. The difference is I conducted an honest campaign and let people decide whether to vote for me or not based upon the truth and the merits of the issue. For example, I said from the beginning that there was a cost associated with reducing class size – more teachers over and above those already needed for enrollment growth – and that I thought it was worth doing anyway. Those statements were made at a “Listening Post” held by the school district and attended by over 100 people and at the LWV candidate forum.

          As you point out, there are problems with the EIT (on many other threads on this blog I have pointed them out myself) and a strong – but honest – campaign can be run against an EIT. But that is not the campaign we got, is it? It’s the lies that I object to. I do not criticize others for taking any position pro or con. You can defend any position, but lies are indefensible.

    3. Oh, and one more thing (then I really am done) the need to add classrooms was because the board in the 1980’s (way before my time) closed three elementary schools and sold two of them, thereby drastically reducing classroom inventory. Rising enrollment growth meant that that classroom capacity had to be replaced, regardless of class size policy.

      And now I leave the field of battle . . . . .

      1. Again, I credit the Tax Study Group with conducting an objective, fact-based evaluation that was not influenced by this election cycle. If they had done their work right after October 2010, when it was “authorized”, they would have reached the same conclusions. I challenge anyone to identify specifically how their thorough effort was hijacked or corrupted by politics. It is important to distinguish the excellent work of the TSG from the problems many have with the political parties in the most recent election.

        1. Good point Carla – I agree – the TSG did a great job and deserves our thanks. The problems had nothing to do with them.

  12. Okay Kevin — but if class size was the winning strategy, then the highly aggressive and well funded Kids Count would have added to your number…and your win was the sole victory.

    I am not saying class size puts the program in jeopardy — but I am saying that cost cutting strategies have not been exhausted, and I think you would agree that the program IS in jeopardy. And the issue of buildings being what it is — the expansions were not broad — they were specific (libraries, art rooms, science rooms, applied teach rooms) and closing the elementary schools/selling them was way before any time this issue became relevant. It was short-sighted. I’m just saying that — especially given your view that this is moot in today’s climate — that we need to rethink the class size policy (as you well know, the PSEA has tried to get it into the contract by weighting students) as a way we know didn’t do any harm….ok?
    I too am on to a new battle. Benefits.

    1. TR – fair enough – time to move on. I think your ideas on beneifts are right on target. I hope you are writing directly to the board as well – not sure how many of them read this blog, especially after the election is over.

      By the way, Kids Count was 2002 and not my campaign. I think you know that but I want to make that clear for others. They did not have class size as an issue because it was much better and no one was going to be motivated to get out and vote on that issue. The came up with “campus size” – smaller schools – and among other things, claimed the high school should not exceed 1000 kids for safety reasons. Defacto, that means a second high school. That, in my opinion, is why they lost all four races. Unrealistic.

      1. Kevin
        Thanks for the benefit comment — and sadly, the board has no interest of any kind in hearing directly. They not only know more than the rest of us, they make it hard for any of us to have input — my RTK request about benefits received a response that said it could take 30 days and would require a charge….they know what I want to know, but unless I describe to the smallest detail, they claim they have to produce new documents for me or copy material in storage. Sigh. I told them I could come to public meetings and ask detailed questions….or I could use materials and produce some reports/suggestions….but they are way too smart for the rest of us. Which is why I have little faith that they will think outside the box.

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