Philly.com reports of the growing tax burden within suburban districts. According to their analysis, school taxes in Montgomery, Bucks, Chester and Delaware Counties increased more than 40 percent in the last decade, in some cases double and triple the rate of inflation. On average, the increases have added about $1,200 to homeowners’ tax bills. In the Octorara School District, bills have risen almost $1,700.
Inquirer Staff Writers, Jessica Parks and Chris Palmer, focus on the problem common to all districts, personnel costs, which include average annual teacher salaries, generous medical benefits plans, and the Public School Employees Retirement System‘s defined benefit pension.
At Octorara, we know that a very large percentage of the budget also goes to debt, paying for over building. The 2003 Feasibility Report, used to justify spending, speculated 500 new students in 10 years. The enrollment for 2012-13 was actually only 2,508, the lowest enrollment in more than 10 years. In fact, enrollment has been in decline for a good number of years now. There were 75 fewer students in 2012-13 than 2011-12, with continued declines expected by the PA Department of Education into the next decade.
The report also highlights the struggle many homeowners are going through to pay their taxes, and how taxes threaten to put many on the street. It reminded me of the first time I went to speak before the Octorara Area School Board of Directors, armed with facts and figures about taxes, income, home values, and other demographic information showing Octorara’s high tax rate was causing real harm. The initial response was to dismiss there was a problem.
The preliminary budget presentation for the 2014-15 school year is less than 5 short months away. It will only be through making your voice heard to the board that real change will occur. Octorara’s mission statement is, “A partnership among school, community, and family.” The role of government officials is to listen to all opinions, especially the ones they would rather not.
Pennsylvanian’s Governor Corbett supports pension reform, and changing the Public School Employees Retirement System from a defined benefit to a defined contribution. While this will save Octorara some money, it will not relieve the burden of higher than average salaries and unnecessary debt.
The only way for the Octorara Area School District to fix the tax problem is a top to bottom reorganization of the district, which includes building consolidation and concessions from teachers. If I have my timing correct, contract negotiations with the teacher’s union should begin sometime this Fall. Don’t expect it to be announced like other districts. Octorara likes to keep things on the Down-Low. Parents, citizen, and taxpayers will need to be preemptive and proactive in order to get a contract that is fair to homeowners.
- FINAL: Octorara Area School Director 2013 (octorarataxes.wordpress.com)
- Octorara Area School District website receives D- on Sunshine Review (octorarataxes.wordpress.com)
- Octorara to combine bus runs with new contract (parkesburggazette.wordpress.com)
- Octorara OKs budget with tax hike for Lancaster County district residents (parkesburggazette.wordpress.com)
- Lazy Daze of Summer: July’s Work Session Meeting (octorarataxes.wordpress.com)