Encouraged to finally attend a finance committee meeting in this new budget year, I have decided it’s time to resurrect this blog. School spending is a big deal — but this year it’s really more than a big deal. Locally (TESD) we are in the process of deciding if we are getting what we pay for, and whether we are willing to pay for what we are getting. I’m not going to write much now because I am putting together some information regarding our tax rates locally. Pattye Benson has productively stepped into this arena to keep the discussion flowing, and I have no interest in debating topics originating there. But after attending the January 4th finance meeting, and then reading Mr. Clark’s summary, I see many questions surfacing that don’t as much require debate [read: heat] as light [read: understanding]. I made a comment at the meeting about TE millage rates being lower for education than neighboring districts (including some with earned income taxes) except for Upper Merion. Mr. Clark suggested that we need to realize that their assessments are different. Well — it turns out that we are both right (surprise!) but I believe this community needs to come to terms with the level of support we need to offer our educational programs. Millage rates are apples and apples in that they represent the relative percentage of your property value that you contribute to education.
But more on that in the next post. I refer you to the website for the State Tax Equalization Board (www.steb.state.pa.us) to start to look at the relative values of communities and the contributions to education. There are all kinds of factors to consider — total student population, total assessments, market values vs. assessed values….and I’m going to look at all of it and report to you here.
So — I don’t want to take readers from Community Matters — I want to add some information on school spending here to be sure when we debate, we have answers, not just questions and ideas. Plus, those supervisors in Tredyffrin are all posturing for political advantages. Their tax effort may be about future election materials. Think about it — the Tredyffrin township budget was held at 2.23 mills. The school district budget starts at 17.47 mills. During this past election, I got 1 mailing for the Republican candidate for school board. I cannot begin to count the number of mailings I got for Supervisor. Clearly we think that’s the most important position — at least the politicians do….
After serving on the school board for 11 years, I can assure you that no one decides to serve there for any amount of time with political aspirations. People may go on to other political roles, but being on the board is simply an unpaid, vastly underappreciated task. But it’s time to get serious folks. TE Schools are remarkably successful. Our property values are fueled by their reputation (then again, maybe folks move here because of our excellent park system). The decision to take $9M out of the budget for next year will assure a dismantling of several programs. Now, maybe we will decide to do that, but let’s not ignore the realities of getting what we pay for. Union contracts aside (and that is another issue — truly — and moot for this time around), TE’s contribution to the value of homes in this area is not in dispute. Sure, they cancel the FLES program – we cannot “afford” to teach elementary foreign languages. No problem. That’s a K-4 program and won’t be felt for years. But what does it say about a district that abandons a program specifically designed to address what may be one of the flaws of American education — and had a strategic plan specifically to answer the call (see the post here on FLES)
Okay. Time to publish this and get this started. I encourage feedback and comments. You have the topic. Now, take the floor.