Octorara School Board Prepares for 2.25% Property Tax Hike Vote

Octorara School Board Prepares for 2.25% Property Tax Hike Vote

The Octorara Board of Directors held their Facilities and Policy Committee Meetings, and the Work Session Meeting on Monday, June 12, 2017. All nine Board Members were in attendance.

With the exception of two items of note, Monday’s Committee and Board Meetings were generally unremarkable. The Facilities and Policy Committees are dealing with rather routine issues. While it is important work, most of it is also not very newsworthy.

Octorara SD’s 2.25% Property Tax Increase

During the Work Session Meeting, Board Members reviewed the changes made to the 2017-2018 Budget since the initial Draft Presentation back in December. Most can easily be described as minor and peripheral. The one major change that many people are concerned with is the lowering of the property tax increase from 3.2 percent to 2.25 percent. Next week, Board Members will vote to increase the real estate property tax millage rate in Chester County to 39.49 and in Lancaster County to 29.45.

I will be voting against both the budget and the tax increase, and here is why. First, with as high as the tax rate already is, I believe any tax increase is too much. Over the last 15 years, property taxes have grown at a much faster rate than incomes. Additionally, our retirees have it the hardest. Since 2010, their social security cost-of-living increases have been small or nonexistent. In many respects, the Board wants you to be grateful that they only punched you in the face rather than kicked you in the groin, as they originally intended. Continue reading

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This Final 2017-2018 Budget Showdown Is About to Begin

Octorara Property Tax Increase

The Octorara Board of Directors held their Facilities and Policy Committee Meetings, and the Work Session Meeting on Monday, May 8, 2017. Seven Board members were in attendance. Hank Oleyniczak and Nelson Stoltzfus were both absent.

Final 2017-2018 Budget Vote Countdown

Typically, by this point of the process, there is a level of certainty with the budget. The Octorara Area School Board has already voted to present to the public a 2017-2018 Budget that includes $54 million in expenditures, a 3.2% property tax increase, and a $563,000 expected use of fund balance. In years past, with the exception of some minor updates, that would be the Budget the Board would vote on come June.

However, the very evident public anger over another property tax increase calls this into question. Regardless, the proposed cure may cause more problems than it fixes. We have all seen those pharmaceutical commercials trying to sell you a drug to cure some affliction. But, then comes the list of side effects at the end… may cause insomnia, suicidal thoughts, kidney failure, problems with memory, tremors, nausea, increased appetite and weight gain, fatigue, high blood pressure, and risk of heart attack. Is a cure for toenail fungus really worth all that?

Taxing Less and Spending More

Well, the idea placed into the discussion last month by Brian Norris, and supported by Lisa Bowman, is to have a 2 percent property tax increase, rather than the full Act 1 limit increase of 3.2 percent. The change in the Budget would cause an increase in deficit spending from $563,000 to over $940,000. Moreover, the decrease in revenue, without corresponding budget cuts, will have a compounding effect going into future budgets. This could dramatically impact the financial health of the District. We will start the next budget process with a large revenue deficit before even one new dollar is added for just regular and predictable cost increases. Continue reading

Starting Down the Road to Octorara’s 2017 Election

Starting Down the Road to Octorara's 2017 Election

The Octorara Board of Directors held their Facilities and Policy Committee Meetings, and the Work Session Meeting on Monday, January 9, 2017. Only six of the nine members were in attendance. Brian Norris, Samuel Ganow, and William Kloss were absent. Additionally, Dr. Thomas Newcome, District Superintendant, was also absent.

This week’s meetings were probably the lightest since I have been on the Board. As a result, there is not much to report. The Policy Committee is working on the DIstrtic’s “Unlawful Harassment” policy. It is a work in progress, and changes are being made to consolidate some redundant language. Also, Facilities received updates on some ongoing projects. They also discussed the positive impact of having the 10-year Facilities Report and the possibility of creating a Long Range Plan as an additional tool.

The Work Session Meeting was also a bit short. What passed as a Budget Presentation was limited to a statement that there have been no changes since the last presentation. However, Mr. Curtis did report that the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) is recommending that districts not budget any revenue increase from state for 2017-2018. As you may be aware, Pennsylvania is suffering from a tax revenue shortfall, and there is no expectation that the state will have the money to spend more.

If Not You… ?

It is that time again. School Board elections are on the ballot in 2017. Moreover, as we have discussed, voters have the capacity to replace 6 of the 9 Board Members, radically altering the balance of the Octorara Area School Board and the direction of the School District. Those positions include 2 seats in each of the 3 regions.  Continue reading

Octorara’s Enrollment Continues Freefall

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Octorara's Enrollment Continues Freefall

The Octorara Board of Directors held their Facilities and Policy Committee Meetings and the Work Session Meeting was held on Monday, September 12, 2016. Hank Oleyniczak was absent.

How Low Can We Go?

Earlier this year, Dr. Newcome provided the Board with the District’s student population history from 1990-91 to 2015-16. It showed that Octorara’s enrollment had dropped to its lowest since 1994-95. The 2489 student population was a drop of 248 students (a 9% loss) since 2008-09. At the time, I wrote, “Any more losses and we will have to look back 25-30 years to find a lower enrollment number.” Well, get ready…

Last night, Sam Ganow asked Dr. Newcome for Octorara’s 2016-17 student population. At the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, the District has reached a historic low of 2404 students or a 3.4% drop in just one year. This is a loss of 333 students or a 12% decline within 8 years, and a population so low we will have to look back to the 1980s or maybe even 1970s for similar numbers.

I have been trying to make people aware of Octorara’s population problem for a long time and argued for building consolidation. Back in 2013, there were 2,502 students and the trending decline was obvious. Regardless, many Board members at the time were unwilling to accept this reality. Even today, there are Board Members who will describe building consolidation, as a budget-saving measure, as “a stupid idea.” This is despite the fact that the students that were the reason for building the OIS never appeared. Moreover, the children that were the reason for building the PLC have completely vanished.

Why is this happening? I think it is because young families do not find our area attractive. The property taxes are the highest in the area, and continue to go up drastically yer after year. This makes Octorara properties less attractive than other adjacent communities. Add to this the reality that our area has virtually no jobs, no shopping, and no entertainment. Worse yet, businesses are leaving the area or closing faster than new ones coming in. The combination of the District’s high taxes, and a general unwillingness of local municipalities to develop and revitalize the area, means young families are choosing other places.

Push to Change Track Terms… Again

At last nights Facilities Committee, Dr. Newcome gave an update on Track progress, Additional stone for the base has increased the cost by $26,575. Under the terms of the agreement and vote from September 2015, this cost is the responsibility of the Field Development Task Force. The Board approved spending 50% of the cost, not to exceed $210,000. Nonetheless, the total project has increased to $445,508. The Field Development task Force is now responsible for $235,508. Continue reading

Octorara’s Libraries, Track Spending, and Locker Rooms

Octorara's Libraries, Track Spending, and Locker Rooms

The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held their monthly Work Session Meeting on Monday, June 13, 2016. Prior were the Policy and Facilities Committee meetings. Hank Oleyniczak was absent.

2016-2017 Budget Update

Ok, the original budget was $52.4 Million in total expenditures and $49.4 Million in revenue. The Budget next week will include a 3 percent tax increase for Chester County, a 5.63 percent tax increase for Lancaster County, and $537,800 in budget cuts that will include eliminating the K-6 Librarian position. The total expenditures are now $51.9 Million and the total revenue increased to $50.9 Million. This leaves a budget deficit of more than $1 Million.

The anticipated use of Fund Balance is only $316,883. This is because the budget includes a $350,000 Budget Contingency, and we are receiving a one-time Debt Service Savings of $340,000 from refinancing. Keep in mind, this means the 2017-2018 budget starts in the red by more than $656,000 before any budgetary increases.

Also, you may remember last month Mr. Curtis informed the Board that the state is delaying around $500,000 in reimbursement. Depending on when those funds are paid, we may or may not have a very large deficit for the 2015-2016 school year, creating a very large surplus in 2016-2017. This is the kind of insider baseball that is important to know. The 2016-2017 year may get misrepresented by some Board members as a successful budget. Don’t get duped when the time comes.

K-6 Librarian… GONE!

The K-6 Librarian is being cut. Julie Bowers of Atglen spoke to the Board on behalf of the Octorara Library & Literacy Team. Since mid-May, the group collected 384 signatures, from both parents and community members, hoping to change enough minds on the Board to save the position. Members of the community group have been calling and emailing Board members, and sending research documenting the importance of school librarians.

Board members did not change their minds, and most did not defend their positions or even address the group’s concerns. Lisa Bowman and Brian Fox did make comments that seemed to suggest they believe Librarians are outdated and irrelevant in today’s world. Anthony Falgiatore did again offer up cutting the Traffic Control Office position as a way to keep the Librarian, but it does not cover even half of the cost. While Falgiatore made the suggestion, he made no comments that the Librarian is a deal breaker for his vote.

I wanted to attack the notion, being put forth by the Administration, that either nothing changes for the children or that somehow things will be better. If nothing changes, how was the District able to take credit for Library as a Unified Arts Class before the cut, but after the cut, it is just “book exchange”. Dr. Newcome’s position is that it has been just “book exchange” for years. At the end of it all, I still had no idea how Library was a class yesterday, but not a class after next week and everything will stay the same. Continue reading