Loss of Local Control
With the elimination of property taxes, school directors, elected by their own constituents to govern the community’s public school system, will no longer have the ability to support programs and services that are important to their local community. Needless to say, those priorities vary in all 500 school districts and the communities in which they serve. A “revenue cap” more than likely will stall advancements in not only non-core subjects, but also the arts, technology, music, and athletics, all of which are desirable in our local community.
Difficult would be an understatement in describing a school district’s ability to undertake large scale construction projects from renovations to new schools. Districts would be compelled to seek voter approval on not only the validity of a construction project but also on incurring any new debt service. Questions remain on how new debt service, if a referendum passes, would affect the state-wide cost of living increase and could possibly set a school district up for financial collapse in the event of an immediate proven need. In addition, it is anticipated that school district bond ratings would be diminished making it more expensive to borrow money and draining more and more of the cost of living increase from the classroom to other ancillary costs outside of the classroom.
Local control is again eliminated. How could a school district keep and preserve quality educators when a revenue cap has been placed on the school district? In essence, school boards would need to collectively bargain teacher salary increases and benefit options with a significant constraint in how much money they have to spend and where they want to spend it. In the long run, we fear that one of the bedrocks of our democratic society – public education – will go by the wayside as current teachers and young college graduates will no longer pursue teaching careers and degrees with benefit and salary packages no longer attractive. In turn, diminishing interest in the teaching professional will have a direct impact on student learning and the quality of our schools, communities, and state.
Much like you as a state representative cares about his constituents, so do we as elected officials. With the likelihood that some element of school property tax remains in place to cover existing debt service, our constituents will not only pay a higher sales and personal income tax, but also continue paying a property tax. More of the burden for funding public schools will be shifted to local constituents and away from business as it is estimated that business will contribute only about 11% of the revenue generated from the PIT increase and 10% of the revenue generated from the increased sales tax.
Lack of Cost Controls
The Property Tax Independence Act addresses the revenue side and loss of local control when the real culprit to school budget woes is out-of-control expenses like PSERS; the prevailing wage mandate; and rising special education, cyber, and charter school costs placed on school districts by the Commonwealth. As an example, planning at the state level had the unintended consequence of increasing PSERS costs at unsustainable levels. Elizabethtown’s have increased by an astounding 525% in the last 11 years while we have reduced staff from nearly 540 employees to around 500 employees. Another sobering statistic is the special education costs that have risen by nearly $3 million the last eleven years while our subsidy has grown by a grand total of $300,000 or an average of $27,000 a year. Replacing local control and priorities with a state-established “revenue cap” will unduly lock in the programs and services Elizabethtown can deliver and will ultimately lead to staff, curricular, and program reductions as compared to what we all desire and that is growth and opportunity in our school systems where students are being adequately prepared for the 21st Century.