Octorara Part Of The Top Five Highest Paying School Districts In Chester County

Labor CostOver the last several years, we have been tracking Labor Cost. As a line-item tracked as Actual Costs, the total amount the District has been paying has been pretty stable. However, this was done primarily by eliminating positions.

I have included in the list two adjacent Lancaster County school districts.

2013-14 Average Teacher Salary – County Wide
LEA LEA Type County Sal-CT
Tredyffrin-Easttown SD SD Chester 82,548.72
Great Valley SD SD Chester 80,012.89
Unionville-Chadds Ford SD SD Chester 74,500.67
Chester County Technical College High Sc CTC Chester 72,520.61
Chester County IU 24 IU Chester 71,810.79
Phoenixville Area SD SD Chester 69,698.68
Octorara Area SD SD Chester 67,758.47
Avon Grove SD SD Chester 67,282.81
Downingtown Area SD SD Chester 67,137.37
West Chester Area SD SD Chester 65,445.91
Coatesville Area SD SD Chester 64,601.33
Kennett Consolidated SD SD Chester 62,614.26
Owen J Roberts SD SD Chester 62,036.21
Pequea Valley SD SD Lancaster 58,158.70
Oxford Area SD SD Chester 58,129.71
Solanco SD SD Lancaster 58,077.26
21st Century Cyber CS CS Chester 55,795.65
Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School CS Chester 48,681.83
Renaissance Academy CS CS Chester 48,269.95
Achievement House CS CS Chester 47,735.24
Avon Grove CS CS Chester 47,408.77
Collegium CS CS Chester 46,890.22
Chester Co Family Academy CS CS Chester 46,333.33
Agora Cyber CS CS Chester 38,903.75

Comparing Our Neighbors

The average teacher salary of neighboring school districts is only $64,072.71, which is $3,685.77 less than Octorara. Keep in mind, that average includes Unionville-Chadds Ford which, because of their wealth, pay an average salary of $74,500, an average that is actually down more than $1000 from last year. If we were to exclude Unionville-Chadds Ford from our calculations, because they are not representative of our area, the average teacher salary would only be $62,334.71.

2013-14 Average Teacher Salary – Neighbors
LEA LEA Type County Sal-CT
Unionville-Chadds Ford SD SD Chester 74,500.67
Octorara Area SD SD Chester 67,758.47
Avon Grove SD SD Chester 67,282.81
Coatesville Area SD SD Chester 64,601.33
Pequea Valley SD SD Lancaster 58,158.70
Oxford Area SD SD Chester 58,129.71
Solanco SD SD Lancaster 58,077.26

Most Like Us

Back in December, we used the Pennsylvania School Performance data to determine which and compare those School Districts that “look the most like Octorara.” We have seen how we compare based on performance. We can now compare based on the average Classroom Teacher Salary. The criteria used for “most like” included percentages of Economically Disadvantaged and percentages of Special Education students.

Octorara pays on average $5,144.22 more that the next highest “like us” School District, and is $6,810.79 higher than the combined average.

2013-14 Average Teacher Salary – Most Like Us
LEA LEA Type County Sal-CT
Octorara Area SD SD Chester 67,758.47
Kennett Consolidated SD SD Chester 62,614.26
Pequea Valley SD SD Lancaster 58,158.70
Oxford Area SD SD Chester 58,129.71
Solanco SD SD Lancaster 58,077.26

Who Reduced Salaries?

Some School Districts have made headway in actually reducing the Average Salaries for Classroom Teachers, even in some of Chester County’s wealthiest School Districts, which are also some of the wealthiest in the state and nation.

Chester County saw 33% of School Districts (4 of the 12) reduce their Average Salaries compared to the previous year, along with BOTH of our Lancaster County neighbors.

2013-14 Average Teacher Salary – Reduced
LEA LEA Type County 2012-13 2013-14 Difference
Pequea Valley SD SD Lancaster 60,283.82 58,158.70 -2,125.12
Kennett Consolidated SD SD Chester 64,619.23 62,614.26 -2,004.97
Tredyffrin-Easttown SD SD Chester 84,257.11 82,548.72 -1,708.39
West Chester Area SD SD Chester 66,924.30 65,445.91 -1,478.39
Unionville-Chadds Ford SD SD Chester 75,510.74 74,500.67 -1,010.07
Solanco SD SD Lancaster 58,352.44 58,077.26 -275.18

Average Salaries Cost More Than You Think

One of our major cost increases every year is the School District’s contribution to the Pennsylvania’s Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS). This is often described by the District as an “uncontrollable cost.” That idea is not completely accurate.

In the 2014-15 school year, Pennsylvania has increased the District’s contribution to PSERS from 16% to 19%. When looked at from this very limited point of view, it can be said that this is a cost the District cannot control.

However, the cost is 19% of salaries. It is very simple math… 19% of a $58,200 average salary is less than 19% of Octorara’s $67,758 average salary.

Octorara premium salaries is a double whammy for taxpayers. It hits the taxpayers a second time by drastically increasing the amount the District must pay to the state’s defined benefit retirement plan.

Does Pennsylvania need to do something to fix the Public School Employees’ Retirement System? They sure do!! But wringing our hands, complaining about what the Governor is or is not doing, or pointing a finger at the State Assembly is a waste of everyone’s time and energy. Playing the Blame Game with Harrisburg is a distraction from focusing on what the District can do to improve our budgetary situation.

Note: The 2013-2014 salary information, in this post, was sourced from the “2013-2014 Professional Personnel Summary Public Schools Final‘ report found on the Pennsylvania Department of Education website.


6 thoughts on “Octorara Part Of The Top Five Highest Paying School Districts In Chester County

  1. You like to say it’s a waste of time to focus on the biggest part of the problem, which has historically been in Harrisburg. First, the Ridge Administration increased the multiplier for the pension payouts, then the Rendell Administration did not pay into the system for 8 years and although Corbett has paid he has not kept up with the actual costs. You can say it is a waste of time to focus on Harrisburg, but if people lobby their representatives and the Governor to make the needed changes I absolutely do NOT see this as a waste of time. Unless of course, you are saying the Governor and legislators will not respond to their constituents and do their job.
    You have continued to say we should concentrate on what we can do at the local level, but in this article you are not saying what that plan should be. Would you like to enlighten us with “your” plan for reducing and/or containing costs?
    I agree things can and should be done on the local level, but I totally disagree with the notion of ignoring and giving up on the state level. Changes at the state level can be MUCH more effective and should be. If people were to lobby Harrisburg to roll back the multiplier to per 2000 levels I believe the system could be fixed rather quickly. Of course people must mandate that the state pay it’s obligation after that each and every year.
    BTW, how were average salaries reduced at the schools you mentioned? I haven’t read anything about teacher salaries being reduced anywhere in Chester County. My gut tells me they reduced the costs by not filling vacancies as well. This is contract year is it not?

    • Mr. Jones,

      If you had followed the 2013-2014 Budget process, last year, you would know that Octorara eliminated the positions of several retiring teachers to help cut costs. The impact to our average Classroom Teacher salary cost was NONE… our average cost still went up.

      Complaining about Harrisburg is a waste of everyone’s time and energy. That is not to say they don’t need to get their act together, but we should not be paralyzed by their failures. Harrisburg did not force Octorara to drastically increase the starting salaries of new, inexperienced teachers to $49K last year. Harrisburg did not force the poorest school district in Chester County to pay salaries in competition with some of the wealthiest districts in the Commonwealth.

      Moreover, if Harrisburg suddenly did everything the way you wanted them to, none of it fixes, eliminates, or even mitigates the District’s own self-created problems.

      When we examine neighboring school districts that look “most like us,” we see that Octorara pays an average $9,000 a year more. Harrisburg did not cause that problem. This adds $1.6 Million to Actual Costs, and represents 3.4% of our Budget, for just the salaries. Our taxes are roughly 2 mills higher to pay for just that premium in salaries, and then the additional PSERS cost is close to an extra .5 mill burden.

      What happens if Harrisburg fixes the retirement plan problem? The answer is “not much.” Switching from a defined-benefit retirement plan to a defined-contribution plan will not save the District money. It may stop the out of control increases to support a failing system, but it will not decrease what we are actually paying now.

      Let us take it a step further… if Harrisburg suddenly decided to pay us the few hundred thousand they owe us for construction, it is a one time drop in the bucket. It would be nice to have, but would make absolutely no impact to the $6 Million we pay is debt service every year, and will continue to pay for the foreseeable future. Our debt is a rough 7.5 mills paid by the taxpayers. Keep in mind, the CCIU is recommending a $25 Million renovation to the Jr High School within the next 5 years. There is already talk that we may have to extremely limit what is done, and instead patch problems as they arise, because we will not be able to afford the massive cost. Ultimately, the Jr High School may have to go without needed repairs because we over-built the campus for students we did not have and may never have.

      Spending all our time whining and complaining about Harrisburg only distracts from focusing on the District’s self-created issues. The answer to most of our budgetary issues is not in Harrisburg. It is right here in Octorara. Of course, that is just my informed opinion.

  2. The teachers union is a major problem they collect there dues and do nothing with it except to lobby our useless reps. in Harrisburg.One person namely Pileggi if he were to support HB 76 there would be a major input to the Pa economy.No school taxes people spend more buisness would be drawn to a state with no school tax bottom line more jobs a better economy and seniors not worrying about losing thier homes.

    • I certainly do support the Property Tax Independence Act. I think it would be a big win for the taxpayers of the Octorara Area.

      However, it will not address the School District’s unique problems.

      While they did not put it in these terms, the Administration has identified the timetable to the School District’s financial collapse.

      Without full tax hikes, Business Office projections show Octorara will be at negative Reserve within 5 years. At that same point, the Jr High School will need a $25 Million renovation, taking our existing $6 Million in debt payments and making them $9-10 Million per year.

      A Perfect Storm is forming that, if not addressed, will cause Octorara to be added to the list of school districts in financial ruin… like Philadelphia and the City of York.

      We just had a group of parents fight a long battle for armed security. We paid for it with Reserve Fund money and, with our current trajectory, I guarantee the armed security position will not exist in 5 years, and there will be nothing to stop it… and it won’t matter how many parents show up or who is on the Board at the time.

      Could you imagine a day when Octorara can no longer afford to bus students? I can. The writing is on the wall.

      In the past 2 budget cycles, things like Kindergarten, Summer Reading, and even Bussing were on a cut list. The District has found ways to keep them going. However, in five years, those programs being eliminated could be a reality.

      All the adults need to put their egos, and personal agendas and ideologies, in check, and start putting the children and their education first.

      If it wasn’t for use of the Reserve Fund, Chester County’s tax rate should be legitimately around 38.5 mills. In the next round of budget talks, that number will be roughly 39.4 mills. However, as I understand Act 1, we will not be able to raise taxes that high in one year, making the actual tax probably around 37.5 mills, and again we will dip into the Reserve Fund.

      In the past, use of the Reserve Fund was only on paper. However, 2 years of flat taxes, without addressing what I believe to be root problems, means we will see maximum tax hikes over the next 5 years to keep the District financially solvent, but then we hit a wall with the needed renovation to the Jr High School.

      The 2019-2020 Budget (if the $25 Million renovation is done) could have us seeing property taxes being around 41.4 mills, but should be 46.3, with close to $4 Million addition from the Reserve to balance. However Act 1 exemptions could possibly be used to push the tax rate even higher, reducing the need for that level of Reserve Funds.

      Currently, if approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, a school district may, without seeking voter approval, increase the rate of a tax levied for the support of public schools by more than its index if the following apply:

      • School Construction
      • Indebtedness incurred prior to effective date or Electoral debt (ie voter approved debt)
      • Special Education Expenditures
      • Retirement contributions

      Imagine that… property taxes going from 36.6 mills to 45 mills or more by the end of the decade.

  3. Imagine that… property taxes going from 36.6 mills to 45 mills or more by the end of the decade.
    Imagine what property values would be like if that happened.I have lost over 30,000 on home value in only four years thanks to the previous School board decisions and supt.Newcome the bottom line it does not take a phd. to spend other peoples money any moron can do that.For example look at the morons in the( DC )District of Corruption.

  4. Wow, I’m looking for a home and thought the rural Octorara area would be nice, then I saw this! Looks like I’ll be looking elsewhere.

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