Board Debates a 4.86% Tax Increase While Saying Goodbye to Three Members

Board Debates a 4.86% Tax Increase While Saying Goodbye to Three Members

The October 16, 2015, Regular Board Meeting, of the Octorara Area School Board of Directors, was the last for three of our members. Shawna Johnson (6 years), Sheri Melton (4 years), and Leon Lapp Jr. (4 years) made their last votes, each having decided not to run for re-election. Each received a plaque for their service, and made statements of appreciation regarding their experiences.

Brian Fox, Stephen Spoto, and Linda Bicking are expected to join the Board at the Reorganization Meeting on December 7th. Fox and Spoto have both attended and spoke at Board Meetings in the recent past. Linda Bicking, I believe, is the same Linda Bicking from Region 1 who served on the Board for several terms, most notably during the the expansion of the District with the building of the Intermediate School and High School project.

2016-2017 Budget Update

During the Finance Committee Meeting, the members were given the 2016-2017 Budget Timeline, which requires a decision on whether or not to apply for Act 1 Exemptions by January 4th, which would allow the District to tax beyond the limit. The base Act 1 limit is 2.4%. Octorara’s adjusted limit is 3%. If the District applied for each Exception we qualified for, the Board could potentially raise taxes up to 4.86%.

During this time, members discussed a potential budget deal between Gov Wolf and state Republicans. Wolf wants to increase the state sales tax from 6% to 7.25%, and use the increase to subsidize property taxes. The Republicans want protection that the money would not just be gobbled up by districts, and property taxes would continue to increase.

The potential deal would strip school boards from raising property taxes on their own, and would require all school property taxes to be placed on the ballot as a voter referendum. The idea of this as an outcome concerns several Board Members who believe school property tax increases would never be passed.

The possibility had Brian Norris, Board Vice-President, arguing that we should take the Act 1 Exemptions, increasing taxes by 4.86%, to ensure the District gets as much revenue as possible before leaving it in voters hands.

There does not seem to be much support for Mr Norris’ suggestions currently. However, we will have three new Board members in December. Who knows how this will turn out? We may find ourselves in a heated Budget battle over the Winter and Spring.

In Other News…

The bond refinancing has been finalized. The District will apply $375,000 of the savings to the current year, and $376,000 to 2016-2017. This gives us an update to the District’s 2015-2016 projections, with a deficit of under $1 Million.


18 thoughts on “Board Debates a 4.86% Tax Increase While Saying Goodbye to Three Members

  1. Outside of the voting area in Atglen, Mr. Norris was quick to tell my wife, when she asked about school tax increases, was that “the board” was going to stick to a 2% budget increase each year. Apparently he lied. I’ll make sure I remind him of that next time I see him.

    • This is why people need to come not only to board meetings, but committee meetings. I don’t know where the 2% comes from, but no final decisions or votes have been made to that effect, and 2% is not a number I recall being batted around. “The board” seems to be leaning toward a combination of keeping the budget flat, along with tax increases to the our adjusted Act 1 limit, which would be 3%, in order to get control of the financial situation. There is no way anyone can say with certainty what the board is going to do because we are nowhere close to a budget deal, especially with the significant change in members. However, Brian Norris has repeatedly argued since July that we should take the Act 1 Exemptions in order to tax beyond our limit. The potential deal between Gov Wolf and the Republicans is just his new reason for doing it. Talking about “the board” rather than himself and his position on taxes ultimately may have been a little bit of word play.

      • For the record, i was telling folks that came out to vote and inquired about potential tax increases, the board most likely would be around the index, Which varies from 2.0 -2.8 percent depending on the various variables that are used to formulate the index for each school.This year, the index will be closer to 3 percent. Last night i suggested there will be some schools that will tax to the exception if the state legislation passes the requirement for referendum. It has happened in the past at other schools. At no time , did I actively try and have members support this notion. It was merely brought up as a point of discussion. I have said in the past that at least one time in a contract cycle you should use the exceptions to tax to what is allowable , because it is used against the board because we have not raised the amount of revenue allowed. During the recent fact finding process, this very point was argued by the association representation. I gave Mr Alexander the invitation to report what i said, and he did. Once again it was mis represented a bit. There is not one person who was in the room who actually thinks raising taxes by the full amount this year is going to happen. Myself included.

      • Brian, the only way you can say I misrepresented what you said was that I left out your statement, “…and feel free to post that on your blog, I won my re-election.” Sure, you didn’t aggressively argue your position, but that was because there is no support for it… as there was no support when you brought it up in the past. When you first brought up taking Act 1 Exceptions it was in regards of the budget and the district facing cuts. You did bring it up again when we discussed the contract, for the reasons you stated. Last night, you brought it up again because the the potential budget deal in Harrisburg. You just support taking the Act 1 Exceptions.

        One of the best ideas you had, and I give you all the credit in the world for it, was recording Board meetings. However, as Shawna Johnson brought up last night, most of the discussion happens in committee. Maybe it would be a good idea to record those as well. That way, there is no more he-said-she-said going on. Don’t you agree?

      • Yes, indeed i did win reelection. One could interpret the totals, since I out paced all candidates , and a write in who is a security and program retention advocate, had a respectable showing, that at least the vast majority of the folks who voted want their schools funded, programs and staffing left in place. As you Tim will and should never regret being an advocate for cutting taxes, I will never regret, or apologize for being a voice for trying to provide all of the resources our kids so deserve. Thanks for providing the forum for all citizens to speak.

  2. “The possibility had Brian Norris, Board Vice-President, arguing that we should take the Act 1 Exemptions, increasing taxes by 4.86%, to ensure the District gets as much revenue as possible before leaving it in voters hands.”

    So what I am hearing is that we can’t trust the Board Members we vote in anymore than we can trust our Representatives and Senators in State Government. Sad to think locals can’t be trusted to act in our best interest. Why when you know the trouble we Seniors on fixed incomes have keeping up with increasing taxes, would you suggest taxing us to the max? And how about the young families with small children paying daycare etc…are you trying to empty our small towns and turn homes into abandoned houses? How about cutting some expenditures out of the budget instead? I am ashamed of you Brian….

  3. Mr. Norris – Don’t toot your own horn too loudly…your name was on the ballot and that sadly, is all it takes to get re-elected in this district.

    “I will never regret, or apologize for being a voice for trying to provide all of the resources our kids so deserve.”
    Please define “resources” and where you thinks the taxpayer’s responsibility ends and a parent’s responsibility begins in providing them.

  4. All of the talk about budgets is just that talk at this point. Until the Governor actually signs a budget and the districts find out how much they will get under the new formula (which hasn’t been finalized yet) there’s no way of knowing how revenue sources will need to be split. I would hope that we could all follow the lead of the new speaker of the house, Paul Ryan, and return to respectable dialogue on specific issues and leave out the demonizing of our representatives. All of our Board members are honest people who want the best for their constituents. As citizens, our job is to tell our elected officials how we want to be represented and what position we would like them to take while voting. Ultimately, we have to trust that they evaluate all of the options we do not see and they vote with integrity. I believe they will all do so. Thanks so much to the Board members who are leaving for your service to your school and community.

  5. I am not a resident in Mr. Norris’ region, but when i voted at my polling place, I specifically recall a sign outside that stated “no campaining allowed” If people cannot follow simple rules, i am not sure they are the best person to protect my children’s best interests…

    • I believe the “no campaigning allowed” is for inside the voting area. Candidates can stand outside, hand out literature and talk with voters as long as it’s not within 10 feet of the entrance. Mr. Norris wasn’t doing anything wrong as far as that is concerned.

    • People running for an office are allowed to be at a polling place to hand out election materials as long as they are a certain distance from the polling place entrance.

  6. Brian Norris, a proud and self-proclaimed “voice for trying to provide all of the resources our kids so deserve.” Notice his emphasis on ‘ALL of the resources’ that the kids ‘SO deserve,’ as though nothing else matters in the OASD but Brian’s strawberry plum dreams of a perfect, idyllic school district, according to his vision. Notice also that he doesn’t speak about what the kids need, but rather what they ‘deserve.’ And clearly in the mind of Brian Norris the kids ‘deserve’ everything we can possibly provide. To hell with trying to keep the budget and taxes in check. In the simplistic, leftist mind of people like Brian Norris, hard and cold practicalities are just a nuisance. To such people all that really matters is ‘the dream.’ Utopia, Nirvana, whatever, and at whatever expense.

    Notice also that Mr. Norris makes no reference, none at all, to Tim Alexander’s recent post about how the OASD is lagging and slagging in state standards for school district performance. Oh no, for Mr. Norris to admit that would be to call into question why our taxes are so high, among the highest in Chester County, while the performance of our students is behind the curve. Better, in the minds of persons like Mr. Norris, to turn a blind eye to the cost vs. value equation of the economics of the OASD, than to doubt that ALL of the kids DESERVE everything we can throw at them. But since when have ‘ALL’ the OASD students demonstrated that they are making maximum use of everything we already provide and ‘DESERVE’ even more? Since when has the student body come close to justifying their nearly $20,000 per annum per student cost?

    Somebody bring up to speed on the percentage of OASD high school students who win academic scholarships to meaningful colleges and universities.

    Bottom line for me: Brian Norris is a well-intentioned but dangerous man. He is a Leftist, pure and simple. One who cares only about good intentions, never about things like affordability, practical results and repercussions. A person who essentially resides in a la-la land, divorced from reality, but who nevertheless insists that his way is the right way.

    Think Al Gore and his never-ending but bogus crusade that ‘global warming,’ now renamed as ‘climate change,’ is the greatest threat humanity faces. Leftists like Al Gore and Brian Norris will always try to fudge, or ignore, the numbers and the facts. They will always appeal to emotions rather than the intellect.

    And I for one have had it up to here with their silly, nonsensical, illiterate arguments…if arguments they can even be called.

    C. Vail

    P.S. And finally, let us note that Mr. Norris’ few comments on this thread are, to the best of my recollection, the first and only time that any member of the school board, aside from Tim Alexander of course, has ever deigned to speak in a public forum outside of official board meetings. Welcome to the fray, Mr. Norris, and may your comments serve as an example to other members of the Board. Tim Alexander’s blog may not be the perfect forum for discussion of any and all matters relating to OASD, but until something better comes along it is the only game in town.

  7. Mr. Brian Norris: still waiting to hear a response, a reply, a rebuttal, anything. In case you missed it in my previous post, and in case I wasn’t quite clear, I am calling you out, for debate, in any forum you wish. We can thrash it out here on Tim Alexander’s blog, or we can go mano a mano in person, which would be my preference, perhaps at the end of a regularly scheduled board meeting.

    The debate topic would be what is high on the mind of many if not most taxpayers: namely, why are our school district taxes so high, enough to break the bank of many living on fixed incomes, whereas OASD student performance is mediocre at best, and whereas salaries and benefits of district employees seemingly just keep going up. But to streamline the debate parameters we might simply posit: is the current rate of OASD taxation, all things considered, justified?

    Anywhere, anytime, Mr. Norris. I will debate you at your convenience. The only thing I ask, insist upon, is that I, and you, be free to engage as much media attention as possible.

    You are stuck in your view, me in mine. So let’s come together, thrash it all out, and see if there might not be a happy medium. But it will take debate, communications. Here’s hoping you will accept my invitation, my challenge.

    The bedrock of democracy is discourse, debate. So let’s you and I debate, before as many people as we can collectively gather. And including as many members of the media as we can get to cover the event.

    Frankly, Sir, I am sick to death of observing you in board meetings, in all your sanctimony that you are in the right, and in all the thinly-veiled contempt you hold anyone who speaks against you and your views. In my opinion you are a disgraceful representative of your immediate constituents, the larger body politic, and public servants en masse. The fact that you serve without compensation is immaterial. A paid or unpaid jerk is still a jerk.

    But enough. Please accept my invitation, my challenge, to debate. Of course, if you agree, we will have to meet to iron-out the ground rules. But let us agree beforehand to let the public and the media in on those negotiations, and let’s mutually agree to pre-publicize the event so that the greatest number of people can witness it first hand. Let true transparency be our watchword.

    Eagerly awaiting your reply.

  8. Mr. Vail, I believe, if you have an issue with “any” school board member the appropriate forum for you would be a board meeting, not the internet. As far as a public debate between a private citizen and an elected official I’m not sure I see how that can further anyone’s positions on topics of concern and interest. Public debates of this nature are reserved for opposing candidates and it would be unwise to open the door to elected officials engaging in open and public debates with anyone who wants to do so. The proper forum is to speak your mind at a public meeting and let the elected official respond. Short of that, you speak to YOUR elected representative and have them debate the issue(s) with Mr. Norris. This is not meant as a criticism Mr. Vail, but simply an observation that we have enough debates going on now between people who are actually running for offices. It might also be instructive that you understand the way to engage in public debate and dialogue is not to start by calling people names and attacking their integrity. Unless of course you’re a graduate of the Trump school of debate:) In the public forum of elections, Mr. Norris has done quite well this year. In the sanctity of the smaller board he has also been supported in his position by a majority, so I think it’s not in his best interests to engage outside of traditional venues.
    I’m not speaking for Mr. Norris, nor do I know his feelings and intentions on your challenge, but as an interested observer of the public forum on which you have put forth your thoughts.

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