Tuesday, March 31, 2009

PA Sen. Piccola: eliminate school property tax before consolidation talk

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania state Sen. Piccola made an eye-opening comment when asked about Gov. Ed Rendell's school consolidation plan as contained in the Governor's 2009-2010 budget.

Eliminate the Property Tax

Bigger school districts, lower taxes?
By Anthony R. Wood and Dan Hardy

Inquirer Staff Writers

Eighty percent of the state's school districts would disappear, small districts would become parts of bigger ones, and hundreds of administrative jobs would evaporate.

In one of the more ambitious initiatives of his six years in office, Gov. Rendell has called for a major reorganization of Pennsylvania's school bureaucracy, in part to tame wildly unpopular property taxes.

But based on the early response - and the long, tormented history of school district mergers - the road to school consolidation in Pennsylvania is likely to be a torturous one that could take years to navigate.

The Rendell administration holds that enlarging districts would lead to better schools and to lower - and fairer - taxes by reducing administrative costs and spreading property wealth.

Janis Risch, head of Good Schools Pennsylvania, a reform group, argues that since schools are so dependent on the property tax, the disparities have driven well-off homeowners from poorer towns.

"For several decades, we've had a public policy that did a really good job of concentrating poverty and fostering divisiveness in communities," she said.

"To talk about consolidation without addressing that reality is missing a giant elephant in the room."

Piccola agreed that those wealth disparities were the biggest obstacle to consolidation.

"You are not going to get any widespread mergers until you eliminate the property tax," he said...


Our thoughts exactly. "You are not going to get any widespread mergers until you eliminate the property tax," he said...

In fact, PA reformers seeking elected public office just a few years back made just that promise. "Eliminate school property taxes."

The tune sure changed once the office was clinched.

State Representative Tim Mahoney made the promise as his second 'top priority.'

After open records, Rep. Mahoney announced on a local talk radio program (WMBS 590 Let's talk)(August, 2007) his second top priority (after his first, open records): eliminate property taxes.

Now, he's talking about consolidation of local school districts, but has yet to have a study completed to back up savings he's already announced publicly.

During his interview with the Herald-Standard Editorial Board, Rep. Mahoney highlights the costs to run several Fayette County school districts, citing the figure $250 million.

Yet Rep. Mahoney doesn't note, as one of our previous posts reveals with resources that include a "pie chart" of district costs, the largest cost to a school district, 70%, is that area which Rep. Mahoney's legislation does NOT deal with. Those costs being employee/teachers' salaries, pensions and healthcare.

Rep. Mahoney then uses a technique familiar to anybody who's been around the political block at least once.

He promotes the savings his bill will bring, and the waste that will be eliminated when his bill takes effect.

Rep. Mahoney states, he doesn't suggest, he states:

Mahoney said while meeting with the Herald-Standard Editorial Board that Fayette County has traditionally had the highest rates of poverty, unemployment and crime across the state. He said people don't want to discuss consolidation because of "imaginary lines." He added that U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown, won't always be in office, calling Murtha a " job-creating machine."

"We have the opportunity to change our course and we have to cross lines," Mahoney said. "We spend $250 million a year on education in this county and it's time to overhaul the system. There is so much waste we could absorb."

Mahoney said he believes that homeowners could save 25 to 30 percent on their property tax bills if his bill were to become law and get implemented

Mahoney said he would like to do a two-month, state-funded study after the state budget is adopted later this year that he could use as a selling point to get the county commissioners to put it on a referendum. He said he is looking at consolidation for purposes of transportation contracts, and reducing administration and operation costs.

Now anybody who's passed even basic 5th grade reading comprehension tests will question:

How can Rep. Mahoney claim a belief in any savings first on homeowners property tax bills, let alone a range of savings 25 to 30 percent since he states he'd "like to do a two-month, state funded study after the state budget is adopted later this year..."

So how can Rep. Mahoney claim any potential range of savings when he doesn't have a study in hand to back up any savings.

But there's more. Assuming such savings let's take the high end 30 percent on homeowners school property tax bills, across Fayette, on the total Rep. Mahoney cites - $250 million - would mean a cost savings of $75 million.

Yet, Rep. Mahoney's bill as noted does not touch the largest cost to a district, and that will remain unchanged with consolidation.

Rep. Mahoney's bill consolidates for purposes of Administration and "taxation purposes..."

Rep. Mahoney's interview with Herald-Standard Editorial Board:

He said he is looking at consolidation for purposes of transportation contracts, and reducing administration and operation costs.

(Amy Revak, “Mahoney meets with H-S editorial board,” Herald-Standard, 03/22/2009)

What happened to "for taxation purposes" expressed specifically in his HB 351? We'll get to that in another post.

Nevertheless, Rep. Mahoney ignores completely the largest cost with consolidation of schools will remain employees/teachers' salaries, pensions, and health care costs.

And even if Rep. Mahoney claims the consolidated school district can save on health care by bundling costs, it's been noted by a Commonwealth Foundation group in PA that such can be done without formal consolidation of individual districts.

Herald-Standard Editorial Page Editor Paul Sunyak stated in “Mahoney on right track,” 03/22/2009:

During a recent meeting with our editorial board, Mahoney reiterated the objectives of a bill he's introduced that would let voters decide whether to create a countywide school district. A single seven-member board, elected by voters by region, would oversee the operation; a single superintendent, responsible for all hirings, would be at the helm; each school would be guided by a principal, who would ultimately be responsible for student performance...

Sorry, but we're still looking for who actually does the hiring as such doesn't appear in Mahoney's HB 351.

Does this power remain with the county school board members? Does the county superintendent have a "final say" by virtue of as Mahoney stated on local talk radio Let's Talk with Bob Foltz, the county superintendent would "approve" of and "sign-on to" hirings?

HB 351


Would the superintendent be able to nix a hiring of a unanimous 7-member board, or a majority 7-member board?

All questions and more left unaddressed since Rep. Mahoney fails to engage the public in even one town-hall meeting on this consolidation legislation.

See our other criticisms...

Sunday, March 29, 2009
Gov. Rendell Budget School Consolidation Plan Criticized


Net the Truth Online

Posted on Tues, Mar. 31, 2009 held in reserve and revised April 14, 2009

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