When it was mentioned that our area did not have the economy to support higher taxes, the response was that it is because of lower home values and lack of businesses that we need to pay higher taxes. When mentioned that the average income in the area is not only lower than the rest of the county, and incomes have gone done since the beginning of the Great Recession, we were told that the high taxes are still a bargain compared to the costs in other part of Chester County. When it was mentioned our labor costs were the biggest portion of per-student cost, there was almost confusion at the mention.
In their own 2013-14 Preliminary Budget Presentation, the Octorara Area School District shows the local economy has declined since the 2007-08 budget. Revenue from Interim Real Estate (new construction & improvements), Real Estate Transfer Taxes, and Earned Income Taxes have all fallen.
Known, or Should Have Known
The question exists, “What did the school district know, or should have known, during the formative stages of the Octorara High School project?” The project schedule shows the bidding process started in August 2008 and was awarded that October. The financial crisis, which caused the Wall Street Crash of October 2008 starting the Great Recession, began in 2007. The housing market had been in decline for at least a year before the crash, and the school district awarded the contract the same month of the crash. When the environment changed, why didn’t the school district adapt and change their plans?
Faced with a global financial crisis, considered by many economists to be the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the school district chose to move forward with the High School Renovation schedule. The question is why?
In October 2008, more than 50 people showed up to challenge the project. What was the response?
About 50 area residents turned out for a special meeting Monday night at Octorara Middle School to discuss the possibility, extent and financing of renovating the high school.
“How many of you are concerned with raised taxes?” asked Patrick Booth, 51 East Highland Road, of West Highland Township. Nearly all in the crowd raised their hands.
Board members argue that the building, constructed in the 1950s, is in dire need of improvement.
“This has been debated for the last four years,” said Octorara Superintendent Thomas Newcome. “It’s a 1957 building. You need to walk through it, and you’ll see, there needs to be improvement there.” (Read more…)
The economic condition was evident. Why were taxpayers’ concerns dismissed?
“I’m a working man — I’ve come to the meeting with the dirt still on my work boots, Booth said. “And now you tell me that you’re raising my taxes to build new pottery classrooms? Are these going to help most of the students?”
Residents say they are already paying enough taxes for school district projects, including construction of the Octorara Intermediate School. (Read more…)
The message to taxpayers was their opinions and concerns were unwanted. The decision was made.
2011 Teacher’s Contract
The initial reports were that “seven local teachers associations have agreed to concessions that will freeze or reduce raises and cut labor costs for school districts by about $6.5 million over the next three years.” As details emerged, it was found that after only one year of a pay freeze, there would be an “average 1.46 percent in years two and three of the contract.” The local community continued to decline, and with labor costs already high, they agreed to higher wages.
The new contract also increases the starting salary for a new, entry level teacher from $46,914 to $49,191. The Octorara Area School District already pays above average wages. Taxpayers are struggling, and this is what was said:
Given the economic times, the new agreement is fair, Octorara Superintendent Thomas Newcome said.
“The community has been saying, ‘We don’t have jobs and we’re not getting raises. We’re struggling out here, please help us,’ and I think the two groups worked hard together to make (the new contract) happen,” he said.
“I think the community should be pleased that the school board heard what they were saying and the teachers responded to what they were saying.”
They knew taxpayers in the area were suffering, with many unemployed and underemployed, but thought a plan that would guarantee more tax increases was fair.
Significant to 2013-14
We are seeing the community still agonizing over the bad economy, but controllable spending is going up. The school district predicts continued local economic declines, specifically from Interim Real Estate by another 33% year-over-year. The budget has increased by $1.2 Million, and of that $1.1 Million is labor costs. Labor represents 57.7% of the proposed 2013-14 budget.
The school district has failed to control controllable costs. The school district has refused to listen to taxpayers and voters. It is time for a change. It is a time for accountability. It is time they are made to listen. Sign the petition. Come to the Meetings. Vote!!