Board Votes to Increase Property Tax Rate to Limit

The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held its monthly Regular Meeting, and Finance and Policy Committee Meetings on June 15, 2015. There were seven Board Members were in attendance. Sheri Melton and Leon Lapp were absent.

During the meeting, the Board approved all listed recommended action items.


Passage of the Budget

The Board voted to approve the 2015-2016 (6 to 1 vote) in the amount of $50.7 Million, an increase of $1.5 Million, and approved (6 to 1 vote) to increase taxes in Chester County to 37.51 mills and Lancaster County to 27.20 mills.

The tax increase, which is the maximum allowed by Pennsylvania’s Act 1 Index without PDE exception or voter approval, leaves the District with a deficit of $1.7 Million.

I commented before the vote, and stated that I felt passing the 50.7 Million Budget was irresponsible knowing that the tax increase does not even touch the $1.5 Million budget increase. This sparked a lively, at times heated, discussion. You can watch on The Cube, starting at about 11 minutes in. [CLICK HERE for The Cube: Octorara Area School Board Meeting 6-15-2015]

A blog post from June 2013, from before I was on the Board, was entitled Gone in 30 Minutes. In it I wrote:

That is how long the meeting took. It started at 7:30pm, and I was home drinking coffee by 8:10. I bring this up because last night, more than any other meeting, I noticed a true lack of public discussion or debate…

So, I do have to apologize to my constituents. As a private citizen, and then as a candidate, I continually criticized the Board for not truly discussing items at the Board level. Some of that has changed since I’ve been on the Board, like the discussion of the Armed Security Officer and the changes to the District’s Drug Policy, But the majority of issues are hammered out at the Committee level.

When I came to the Board, there were those who believed I was unreasonable, unnecessarily harsh, and overly aggressive, and I would not be able to build conscious. However, after last night’s Board Meeting, I had a colleague tell me the issue was that I was not aggressively arguing my positions. Duly noted.

There are those that conveniently forget, I was the one that asked for the population report that showed we had an enrollment problem. When the other Board members didn’t want to discuss it, I wasn’t aggressive enough.

I am the one who asked for the “cut list” to try and control the Budget. When no other Board members had the political will to stretch the neck out, and discuss cuts to help our financial situation…. I wan’t aggressive enough.

When I asked for an audit of the full-day Kindergarten program to see if it was accomplishing the goal it was intended, I was not aggressive enough in forcing others to defend what has become little more than free daycare.

I have not been aggressive enough making my point that things like Armed Security and the iPad program are adding to Deficit without advancing our primary responsibility to improve Academic Achievement and Growth.

I was the only Board member that kept referring to Mr Carsley’s January 2014 projection that the District was on a pathway to Negative Reserve, while others wanted to put their head in the sand and pretend it wasn’t happening. Reality has finally caught up with us, and we finally have some Board Members realizing our financial situation, but they will cut teachers before the fluff.

The iPad program has already cost the District over $400,000, not including internal time and materials for implementation. It will cost the District another $500,000, plus other costs, over the next 3 years.

The lease for the iPad program in 2013-2014 was over $200,000. The audit of the 2013-2014 numbers relieved the District had a deficit of $123,681. We would have had no deficit if there was no iPad program.

This year, the iPad program was another $200,000, plus we added $65,000 for armed security. We are expecting a deficit of over $800,000 this year. The deficit could have been reduced to about $500,000 this year.

Returning to half-day Kindergarten could save the District another $170,000.

Building consolidation and District reorganization has the potential of save hundreds of thousands more by cutting administration and non-teaching staff, custodial, maintenance, and other costs.

July begins the 2016-2017 Budget process, and a reevaluation of how I have been conducting business.

Other Votes

I joined with Sam Ganow not to approve Ms. Laura Pillard as a seventh and either grade Reading Specialist for the salary of $53,392. The agenda item passed by a vote of 5 to 2.

I voted against the Lease Agreement with Apple Financial Services for iPads, which will cost the District over $510,000 over the next three years. The agenda item passed by a vote of 6 to 1.

The iPad program was sold on the idea that digital texts books would save the District. The fact is, which was confirmed by Elena Wilson, digital texts books are not discounted as initially believed.

I also do not believe, based on discussions at public meetings, the program has a real goal other than just getting teachers to use them. If the iPads are not improving Academic Achievement or Growth, then they are wasted money.

I joined with Shawna Johnson not to approve the contract for the Armed Security Guard with Signal 88, at a cost of over $65,000 for the year. The agenda item passed by a vote of 5 to 2.

The Board approved the Armed Security Guard last year knowing it would add to our deficit, and it is irresponsible to vote for it knowing our financial situation.

School Security is something I support, but the money spent on a Security Guard is money lost. The same amount spent on infrastructure is long-term, and provides benefits for years to come.

I joined with Sam Ganow not to approve Ms. Carrie Dickmann as assistant principal at the Octorara Area Sr High School, with a salary of $85,000 per year. The agenda item passed by a vote of 5 to 2.

My votes not to hire personnel replacements was in agreement with statements made by Mr Ganow. The District cannot keep running deficits year after year, cannot continue to allow the budget to grow at a rate greater than what we can tax, and we cannot keep kicking the can.

Concluding Statements

Towards the end of the Board Meeting, Mr Ganow asked be what would have got me to vote for the Budget, and if that would have been keeping taxes flat?

My response was that keeping taxes flat over the last 2 years have been irresponsible because the budget has continued to grow. Even if we get the $1 Million in additional state funds from the Wolf Budget, we are still looking at the $700,000 deficit this year. The only way to responsibly keep taxes flat is to limit budget growth.

Mr Ganow voted against hiring staff replacements to save money, but voted for Armed Security and iPads. The annual cost for Armed Security and iPads combined equates to 3 teaching positions. If it comes down to a choice between teachers or iPads, my preference is to save the teachers. Unfortunately, we are now locked into a 3 year contract with Apple. So, that is no longer up for discussion.


15 thoughts on “Board Votes to Increase Property Tax Rate to Limit

  1. This is so depressing. It appears that you are the only one on the Board with any common sense and basic intelligence. Is it a reflection of the majority of the population at large? Spend, spend, spend and worry about how to pay for it later?! Expecting others to bail you out?! Unfortunately, the majority of Board members have no qualms about forcing the taxpayers to shell out more and more of their hard-earned money on programs with no real and lasting value, i.e., I-pads and armed security. Get rid of the I-pads and keep a teacher for goodness sakes!!!! Consolidate the buildings and cut costs for goodness sakes!!!! I don’t care who did what when decisions were made to over-build school facilities. Step up, do the right thing now, and make the smart decisions to cut costs that are not beneficial to academic achievement. GOOD GRIEF, it’s not that hard. Mr. Alexander, thank you, for your level head, common sense, intelligence and hard work in fairly representing the taxpayers and students of the Octorara Area School District.

    • I hope that next year we can get the votes needed to take control of this budget. We need more people to step forward and help. as a community I am sure we can find ways to cut spending while increasing the quality of education.

    • I don’t know if they truly believe this, but there are Board members who will point blank say that people in my circle, who comment on this blog, and who participate in the Parkesburg Locals Facebook Group discussions, are not truly representative of the District.

      They can make this argument because the small groups that lobby the District to spend for this and that show up, and they show up meeting after meeting until they get what they want. Heck, they even use District facilities to organize. I believe the majority of taxpayers want the budget controlled, but even the most vocal don’t show up on a regular basis.

      The Board members who vote to spend, can feel confident they are doing what people want because no one runs against them, and no one is going to be voted out of office because of this tax hike. They don’t seem to accept the idea that people vote with their feet, and the reason we have low enrollment is because young families with school-aged children are choosing not to buy here.

      I can’t fix this problem alone. It is that simple.

  2. Sure just keep pushing everyone on limited income out of there homes. I think that all taxes should be even across the board or everyone needs to pay not just home owners or someone needs to stop pocketing money . It’s getting redicous that people are getting to the point that they have to sell there homes to be able to live. Maybe we all should go to just renting.

    • Linda , renter also pay the property taxes indirectly. the landlord has to pay the mortgage and the property taxes than they pass that on to the Renter. Everyone’s cost of living is going up.

      • Lets say a renter lives in a 5 apartment building taxes are 2500 a year. The renter is only paying 500 per year.30% is the Pa. estimate for apartment dwellers .

  3. Watching the video of the meeting was infuriating.

    “We all have been silent, and the record reflects that.” – (14:32)

    So a board member admits to his as well as the other board members ineptness is telling. The fact that he admits this without any remorse shows that [Brian Norris] should not be on the board.

    • Brian Norris needs to be voted out along with Lisa Bowman, and if not I smell an expensive lawsuit on the horizon for wrongful spending in my opinion.

  4. raising local taxes is only going to hurt the people in the School District. People are being forced to move or worst abandon their homes due to high taxes. The answer is lower taxes and a controlled school budget. raising school taxes is unacceptable let alone maxing them out every year. We need to have a serious discussion about budget cuts. I would start with staff cuts and start asking if we really need so many buildings. Why are we paying more for the same level of education for our children.

  5. I think this blog should have a petition where we can state our concerns and allow Tim to print it out and take it to the board meetings as evidence that we have had enough since most of us work more now to make up the difference and can’t attend the meetings all the time. I sat through a meeting where Brian wanted to spend, spend, spend like he had a blank check from the tax payers, well Brian I am personally calling you out because there were people in that room that asked you not to push for the Ipads and you irresponsibly did so without a care in the world and Lisa Bowman just followed you like a lost puppy. I was there along with another witness, and we couldn’t believe how you acted that night. You are a disgrace to our district, and you failed us as a board member in my opinion.

  6. Its no wonder that so many homes are for sale in the district They are bleeding the people who pay taxes dry while others do not have to pay. Time to cut the assistant to the assistant at a growing rate the administrator need to down size, to many chiefs. I am a grown woman and i Do’t have a Ipad my children graduated from Octorara they didn’t have Ipads I graduated from Octorara. When we build are home 24 years ago my taxes 900.00 a year Not muh has be done in to the house since and my taxes are 4 x times that now. Do i have to leave my home and rent a apartment so i an afford to live? You are bleeding us dry. Vote for astraight tax so everyone can get killed not just the home owners.

    • There is not such thing as a straight tax. It’s called a propery tax, not a home owner tax. That millage rate goes to everyone, commercial and residential.

      • Not exactly everyone equally. Farmers receive a substantial discount. That discount is paid for by shifting the tax burden to other property owners. In Octorara, over $6 Million is shifted from farmers to other property owners.

  7. How curious it is that in Board meetings there is seldom if any discussion of what taxpayers can bear, or the socio-economic implications of ever higher taxes. Except, that is, on this blog, where citizens routinely speak up to state the obvious: that taxes are killing us, driving some of us out of our homes, and depressing economic growth because nobody wants to move into a school district with too-high taxes and too-low student achievement.

    Look, I don’t envy the role or the responsibilities of any member of the Board. To anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the complicated issues they deal with it should be obvious that their (uncompensated) service is like a tour in hell. I don’t question the good intentions of all of them. But I will question the thinking of some when it comes to what is necessary vs. what is desirable…or what is perceived to be needed in order to keep up with the Joneses in Chester County communities to the east. If modern education is so great, why is there no significant improvement over generations past, and why does our student achievement lag behind so many other countries who spend less per student than we do? Hint: a focus on the fundamentals and a bare-bones approach to administrative overhead. Indeed, study after study has indicated that bloated administrative overhead is one of the primary drivers of high college costs: persons on the payroll who have nothing to do with actual teaching. Does the Octorara Area School District suffer from the same condition? I don’t know. But I do know that efficiency experts can always wring savings from even the leanest of organizations. There is nothing that can’t be improved, made better.

    To the Board I would say this: don’t have just one prism through which you look at the District’s challenges and aspirations. Consider, more carefully than I think you have previously, the broader socio-economic implications and impacts of your decisions. A dwindling tax base serves nobody’s interests.

    C. Vail

    P.S. And never forget that the annual average cost for each student in the Octorara Area School District is around $18,000, among the highest in the nation, and on a par with costs for many colleges, even private colleges, and even including board and books. And for that we are getting…what?

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