Gerrymandering and Octorara Area School District Election Regions


PARKESBURG, PA — When many think of gerrymandering, it is in connection with state and federal level elections. Additionally, it is often characterized as a form of partisan politics and a way for one political party to have an unfair advantage. Yet, gerrymandering is the manipulation of election boundaries for the advantage of any group, not just political parties.  In the Octorara Area School District, some would allege that School Board officials intentionally make use of gerrymandering “cracking” to dilute the voting power of Borough of Parkesburg residents.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Parkesburg has 3,593 residents and is the largest municipality within the School District. However, Parkesburg’s voters are split between Octorara’s Region 1 and Region 3. “Until recently I assumed gerrymandering was a fact of life- I have lived Parkesburg all my adult life and knew nothing else,” states Mel Keen, a former Parkesburg Borough Councilperson.  “I think Parkesburg was split to reduce Parkesburg voter power. Now we have little say since the majority of both regions is from townships.”

The claimed impact of “cracking” Parkesburg is for the “packing” of voters from less populated communities into election regions. Regardless, gerrymandering has significant impacts on the representation received by voters in any gerrymandered district or region. Ultimately, gerrymandering’s goal is to design election regions that increase the number of wasted votes among a certain segment and drastically alter that group’s actual share of the voting population. So, by diluting Parkesburg’s voting power, some would contend that the Octorara Area School District can ignore or dismiss the Borough’s needs.

Continue reading on MyChesCo… →


The Daily Local News Compares Chester County High Schools


The Daily Local News Compares Chester County High Schools

On April 25th, The Daily Local News compared and ranked Chester County High Schools based on analysis done by U.S. News and World Reports. Using publically available data and statistics, the analysis comparing Chester County High Schools created a list not all that dissimilar to when one compares the Building Level Academic Scores from the state’s School Performance Profiles.

Comparison of Chester County High Schools

1. Conestoga High School
2. Unionville High School
3. Great Valley High School
4. Avon Grove High School
5. West Chester East High School
6. West Chester Bayard Rustin High School
7. Kennett High School
8. Downingtown High School West Campus
9. Phoenixville Area High School
10. Octorara Area Junior/Senior High School
11. Coatesville Area Senior High School

As in previous analyses, the only school district with a worse performance than Octorara is Coatesville. Of course, this is not breaking news. We have known for a long time about Octorara’s declining academic performance.

However, what I do question is, why The Daily Local News did not list all Chester County high schools? For instance, Downingtown High School East Campus and Owen J Roberts High School also received scorecards from U.S. News, but the media outlet chose not to list them. Continue reading

UPDATED: Lancaster Online Investigates Raccoon Shooting

Lancaster Online Investigates Raccoon Shooting

Early Wednesday morning, I was contacted by a Lancaster Online staff reporter regarding Octorara’s recent raccoon incident. The news organization had received a call from a citizen, concerned about how the whole episode unfolded. Lancaster Online found the controversy to be newsworthy, and went to look deeper into what happened.

Read their article here: Octorara parents upset they weren’t told district security officer shot, killed raccoon on campus

Have you ever heard the saying, “It is not the crime, it is the coverup”? Well, I think that all perfectly encapsulates this situation. Another Board Member is quoted as saying, “I think that Dr. Newcome acted very appropriately in not notifying so as to keep it from becoming more of an issue than it really is.” This is exactly why open records and transparency laws exist. Government agencies should not withhold information because they fear a negative public reaction.

This week, I attended the CCIU Board of Directors Meeting. Talking about a different subject, an official from another district stated, “The best policy is to share bad news, and share it often.” The public does not trust officials when they believe they are not being completely upfront and straightforward. Making information open and easily accessible goes a long way. Democracy relies on a government that is transparent, participatory, and collaborative. Don’t you agree?

All that said, Lancaster Online interviewed Dr. Newcome, three Board Members, the security officer, Pete Mango (the local Signal 88 franchise owner), and the Chester County Health Department. There was an attempt to contact the West Fallowfield Police Department, but they could not be reached. As with other conversations, others seemed much more focused on talking about the “how”, as in how the raccoon was killed and if it was procedurally correct. Of course, my focus is on the “why”… as in, “Why were the parents not notified,” and “Why did the incident happen at all?” Continue reading

Pa. Senate rejects bill to kill school property tax by 1 vote

Pa. Senate rejects bill to kill school property tax by 1 vote

Reposted from The Mercury:

The Pennsylvania Senate narrowly rejected a measure Monday night to eliminate billions of dollars in school property taxes statewide by replacing the money with increases in state tax rates on sales and income, although the legislation could re-emerge with more support.

The preliminary vote tied, but was recorded as 24-25 after Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, a Democrat, cast a vote against it to break the deadlock.

The vote split both parties, and both party’s majority leaders opposed it, but it could re-emerge since one co-sponsor was absent and a newly elected candidate from a suburban Pittsburgh district was to take office later this week. Both are likely to vote in favor of Senate Bill 76.

Still, the future of the bill is in doubt beyond the Senate. Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday that he opposes it, while a similar bill failed in the House two years ago, 138 to 59.

During more than an hour of debate, proponents promoted the move as modernizing the tax code and public school funding by ridding the state of a tax that doesn’t reflect one’s ability to pay and puts the fixed-income elderly at risk of being forced out of their homes.

“This is a unique, quantum change in the way we look at Pennsylvania,” said Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria. “If you have the ability to pay, then you should pay. But it should not be on the property tax, which is there whether you’re making a million dollars or you’re a widow on a fixed-income making $15,000.”

Opponents, however, said it would put unfair restraints on school boards and grant unwarranted tax breaks to major commercial enterprises, such as owners of casinos and skyscrapers, and translate into a tax increase in many areas.

“This is just too big a giveaway,” said Sen. Robert Tomlinson, R-Bucks.

The legislation would have imposed a multibillion-dollar state takeover of public school funding from school boards and a monumental change in state taxation. The Legislature’s Independent Fiscal Office projects total school property tax collections, including existing state rebates, will exceed $14 billion next year.

The legislation, however, arrived on the Senate floor without any independent assessment of how much the proposed tax changes would net. It was not clear that the 91-page legislation could raise the precise amount of school property taxes to be collected by districts next year, or even that it was required to raise that amount before taking effect.

Nationally, about four in five states use the property tax to help fund schools.

The measure would have ended the collection of school property taxes from millions of Pennsylvania households and businesses starting July 1, except to pay off about $25 billion in school debts.

The bill also would have delivered a significant new constraint to the ability of school districts to raise taxes in the future. The state’s allotment would get an inflationary increase every year, and districts wanting to spend above that would have had to win voter approval to increase local income or wage taxes.

Starting Jan. 1, the personal income tax rate would rise from 3.07 percent to 4.95 percent while more types of food, clothing and shoes would be exposed to a new, higher tax on sales — 7 percent, up from 6 percent.

The sales tax also would be applied to a wider range of services that are currently exempt. Renters would immediately pay higher sales taxes, with no guarantee that their rent would come down proportionally or even immediately.

Many more items and services currently exempt from the state sales tax also would have been taxed, including day care, movie tickets, trash pickup, diapers and caskets, prompting one opponent to say that it would tax from “the cradle to the grave.”

Proponents say Pennsylvania taxpayers, especially senior citizens, are losing their homes because of the state’s onerous property tax system.

A number of high-profile organizations opposed SB 76, including the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the NAACP and a range of education advocacy organizations, food charities and trade associations.

PA Budget Twist: Attack on School Property Tax


Reposted from

It might be a wake-up call to anyone expecting a smooth path to a final state budget.

Senate Republicans plan to vote next week on a proposal to eliminate property taxes as a source of school revenue and replace them with hikes in the sales and personal income taxes. And the bill’s key sponsor says he has support from both parties.

“You don’t reform property taxes,” Sen. David Argall (R., Berks) said Wednesday. “The only solution is to eliminate them.”

Even if his measure fails, its emergence could signal cracks in the tentative $30 billion budget deal Gov. Wolf and Republican legislative leaders touted last week. Neither side has offered details, but both said the plan they hope to finalize by early next month will include a 1.25 percent increase in the state sales tax, changes to the liquor and pension systems, and a reduction in property taxes.

But all that does nothing, Argall and others say, to stop school boards from raising taxes in future years.For him and his 21 cosponsors, including seven Democrats, the issue is not so much about passing a budget, but permanently changing how Pennsylvania funds its schools. They say the current system, based on sometimes outdated and illogical assessments, is a relic.

“It’s based on, how big is your house? When did you buy it? How big is your lot? Did you remember to paint your door last year? I mean, that’s crazy,” Argall said.

Wolf’s office declined to comment on the bill, saying only that it was not part of the framework agreed upon with Republican leaders.

Property taxes generate about $12 billion for public schools statewide each a year. The bill would generate the same funding, supporters say, by increasing the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, expanding the number of taxable items, and hiking the income tax from 3.07 percent to 4.34 percent.

Underscoring the bipartisan nature of the bill is Sen. Lisa Boscola (D., Northampton), who believes the current dependence on property taxes places the school-funding burden on too few people.

“When you go to a sales tax [funding stream], you get more people paying into the system,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) has not said how he may vote, in part because he doesn’t want to sway undecided legislators, spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said.

She said a vote before Thanksgiving was expected, partly because GOP caucus members “have been asking for it for some time.” … Continue reading →

Tim’s Thoughts on SB 76

I have written about the Property Tax Independence Act many times over the years, but you may want to also read PA HB/SB 76: Octorara vs ‘Property Tax Independence Act’.

Why do I support SB 76?

  • School taxes will no longer be placed on the shoulders of the few.
  • The amount paid in school taxes will more reflect what a person can afford.
    • Those who earn more pay more.
    • Those who consume more will pay more.
  • School taxes will no longer force people from their homes..
  • The grandmother who purchased her home 40 years ago, and now is paying more in taxes than her whole original mortgage, no longer has to choose between paying taxes or buying food and medicine.
  • More young families will be able to afford buying their first home,School property taxes will no longer be a factor in calculating a monthly mortgage payment.
  • There will no longer be a tax shift from farmers to other property owners.
  • School boards will be forced to become more prudent with spending.

The Property Tax Independence Act is not a great solution, but it is the best solution that anyone has been able to come up with. The whole reason this is even being considered is because many school boards, across Pennsylvania, have been shown to be irresponsible with spending… and I think we can all cite examples of Octorara doing the same.

If this passes, we all need to send John McCartney, a former Octorara Area School Board Director, a note of appreciation. McCartney has worked for years with Chester Lancaster Anti-School Tax Assoc. (CLASTA) and Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayers Assoc. (PCTA).