Dear West Chester Area School District Community Members and Parents:
I’m extremely concerned about state legislation that’s about to be proposed that would completely change the way public schools are funded in Pennsylvania. The plan would leave schools dramatically underfunded by eliminating property taxes and replacing them with increases in personal income and sales tax. If this plan goes through, our school district will be facing many cuts in programs and staff.
Please take a moment to read the summary of this bill and its impact on our schools. Senator Dinniman is listed as a co-sponsor. I have written a letter to Senator Dinniman and other lawmakers outlining my concerns and the details of my concerns are outlined in that letter. I have included the letter below, or you can find the letter here.
I am asking that you contact and send a similar note to your legislators whose contact information can be found here. Feel free to send them this letter and tell them your thoughts about this bill. Don’t hesitate to call them, as well. The more people they hear from, the more likely we are to get this stopped.
Property tax and school funding certainly need reform, but this plan is not an acceptable solution. I’m asking for your help to stop this legislation in its tracks. It sounds trite, but truly our children’s future is at stake.
Dr. Jim Scanlon, Superintendent
Dear Senator Dinniman,
I am writing to express my extreme concern for any legislation that would eliminate the school property tax as a revenue source for school districts. Senate Bill 76, which was presented to the Senate in the fall and failed by one vote, would have eliminated the ability for local school boards to collect a property tax and replace it with a school funding formula determined by the state legislature.
I am anticipating that some version of SB 76 will be introduced into the upcoming Legislative session, outlining a plan to replace the school property tax with an increase in the personal income tax (from 3.07% to 4.95%) and an increase in state sales tax from 6% to 7%, with new items being taxed such as clothing and food. The bill would guarantee the same funding for school districts in 2017-18 as they currently collect in property tax during the 2016-17 year. However, it would cap increases at that rate, except for cost of living. Cost of living increases simply do NOT cover the mandated expenses that our public school system faces.
This new funding system would leave public schools dramatically under-funded and would force them to cut programs and staff.
The West Chester Area School District gets a quarter of its property tax revenue from businesses. This new plan would eliminate those funds, which amounted to $41 million this past year alone.
The new plan would allow school districts to go to voter referendum for capital improvements but not for operating expenses. Within a few short years, we will simply not be able to operate at our current levels, and the quality of our educational system will dramatically suffer.
We work very hard in our school district to spend wisely and control our finances. Six years ago, we formed a community budget task force to analyze our revenue and spending. We have implemented numerous cost-saving measures and continue to scrutinize our budget.
As we plan our budget for 2017-18, we must cover the following increased costs that the new plan simply will not fund:
- $4.6 million in special education costs that we incur due to a federally unfunded mandate called Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA)
- $1.4 million in additional state mandated costs for pension increases
- $700,000 to implement a full day kindergarten program, which was strongly supported by our community two years ago for implementation in fall, 2017. We have been planning financially within the Act 1 limits to fund this very important program for our children.
- Cash flow schedules for renovations of an elementary school that is nearing 60 years old. We have been planning financially within the Act 1 limits to make renovations slowly and over time to keep our 16 school buildings safe.
If this funding formula is enacted, I don’t see how we will be able to implement the programs for which we have carefully planned.
Our district has the lowest millage rate in Chester County. We have worked very hard with our community to provide an excellent education and spend dollars wisely. The additional income tax and sales tax will cost our residents significantly more than the property tax they pay. I don’t see this as a viable option for fair funding of schools nor do I see this as a viable option for our community.
No one debates the fact that property tax and school funding need a closer look. However, I have seen no analysis of what has worked well in other states, and no attempt to provide an adequate funding source for public education, perhaps our most precious commodity.
I can’t strongly enough express how much I oppose this plan, and I will ask my community to join me in that opposition. It is not the right thing for our children.
I look forward to hearing your response.
Dr. Jim Scanlon, Superintendent