Vote “NO” on Ballot Question on November 7
By Dr. Jim Scanlon
Dear Community Members,
As a supporter of our public schools and the belief that every American child deserves the right to a quality public education, I’m writing to ask for your action at the polls regarding a legislative proposal that could seriously impact the quality of our schools.
Many educators are very concerned about a November 7 ballot question that asks whether the Pennsylvania Constitution should be amended to allow local taxing authorities to exempt homeowners from paying property taxes. We strongly feel the answer to this question should be “NO.”
This ballot question doesn’t include the critical piece of information that according to state law, another source of revenue must be created to replace local property taxes. Legislators are considering that the new revenue source could come from increases in other taxes, in the form of Senate Bill 76. Under SB 76, Income Tax will go up from 3.07% currently to 4.95%, sales tax will go from 6% to 7% and the list of items to be taxed would increase. Those new revenue sources would go directly to the state, and it would be up to the state to determine how much each school district would receive.
This means that under this new funding formula, the state could decide to give more money to urban districts and less to suburban ones, like West Chester. Or, they could determine another complicated funding formula that would once again leave funding up to the state and take away our local control.
Harrisburg struggles to balance its own budget. The General Assembly currently doesn’t have a revenue budget for the current year. How can we leave our own school funding up to them?
School districts are currently facing so many unfunded mandates. Special education costs are skyrocketing due to no fault of public schools. Pension costs are increasing dramatically, again, because of a state mandate. Many districts are also facing aging buildings and population growth. Without the ability to collect local property taxes, who’s to say that adequate funding will come from Harrisburg to support these essential needs? Legislators have already placed a three year moratorium on construction reimbursement for public schools, because the state is essentially broke. What is next?
This ballot question does not apply to businesses, which means they will still pay property taxes. Surely, businesses will not be pleased with this inequity, and will want some relief also. They may fight legislators to limit property tax appeals by school districts, as previously proposed. Under this previous proposal, school districts would not be allowed to reassess businesses. This means a business built or purchased for $1 million, and sold for $10 million would only be assessed at the $1 million rate.
While I firmly believe that our school funding formula and system of taxation needs significant reform, I am strongly convinced this kind of back door legislative change is not the kind of positive, sustainable solution that we need. It deserves a much longer, more thorough review, with more equitable and sustainable solutions.
Pennsylvania already ranks 45th in the nation in percentage of state funding for public education. We are already nearly last in the nation for funding! This will only make it worse.
The West Chester Area School District School Board is planning to pass a resolution on October 23 asking residents to vote NO on this ballot proposal.
Public schools deserve adequate funding. Without it, the quality of our schools will rapidly decline. There is a direct correlation between property values and the quality of our public schools. As the quality of our schools fall, property owners will see their own homes drop in value. This is simply not good for the residents of Pennsylvania.
If you care about the quality of our schools, please vote NO on the Nov. 7 ballot question. The future of our children literally depends upon it.
Dr. Jim Scanlon
Superintendent, West Chester Area School District