Continuing to Discuss TSED Teacher Pension Plan

Following up on my last post about the Great Valley School District, I think that I am beginning to understand their resident involvement. One of the best parts of Community Matters is that readers bring new information to the discussion.  I received a comment from ‘Berwyn Reader’ that offered interesting insight on the Great Valley School District (GVSD) residents and their ability ‘to hold the line’ on school tax increases. A few years ago, Brian O’Neill of O’Neill Properties (Worthington project) asked GVSD to be a lender on his Worthington project.  In the end, GVSD choose not to lend money to O’Neill.  However, because of residents concerns, Great Valley Stakeholders was formed about 18 months ago and has become a sort of watchdog organization for the Great Valley residents.  The purpose of the Great Valley Stakeholders is to provide information to the public and School Board to ensure fiscal responsibility, transparency and better communication between school board and taxpayers. 

Here’s hoping that Community Matters will be able to provide similar information to taxpayers and Tredyffrin Easttown School District school board members.  Many of our residents who have provided commentary to this site on the school district topic have helped us better understand our own budgetary process.

Beyond the current 2010-11 school budget discussion, I remain concerned that many of our taxpayers do not understand the PSERS (Public School Employees Retirement System) teacher pension plan and how our taxes are going to be affected as a result.  I found an interesting statement from the Commonwealth Foundation on pensions. The Commonwealth Foundation is an independent, non-profit research and educational institute that develops and advances public policies based on the nation’s founding principles of limited government, economic freedom, and personal responsibility.

Public Pensions: Beginning in 2012-13, taxpayers will see a dramatic increase in their contributions to pension plans for state and school district employees. This scenario is due in large part to misguided policy decisions-including substantial increases in pension benefits in 2001 and 2002, and deferring increased payments following fund losses-as well as the recent downturn in the stock market. Pension contributions are estimated to rise by $1,360 per homeowner/household, resulting in higher property and state taxes. Additionally, local pension plans are facing major deficits. . .

 A few weeks ago a opinion article written by Thomas Gentzel, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer. This commentary titled, Change Pennsylvania Pension System or Prepare for Catastrophe should be a  must-read for all taxpayers!  Here’s the link:

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/opinion/80562927.html

Comments anyone?

Great Valley School Board Votes to Keep Tax Increase within Act 1 Index of 2.9% . . . But at What Price?

Great Valley School Board Votes to Keep Tax Increase within Act 1 Index of 2.9% . . . But at What Price?

 On January 13, I wrote about the ‘standing room only’ crowd at the Great Valley School District (GVSD) budget meeting. (Here’s the link for that post). This week the GVSD board held their regular business meeting with 300 residents in attendance; the major topic was the $3.2 million deficit in their proposed 2010-11 budget. With a projected budget of $78.3 million, the school board voted 6-2 to keep any increase in taxes within the state’s Act 1 index of 2.9%.

Applying for an exception to Act 1, would have allowed the school district to raise taxes as high as 4.7%. Some of the school board members argued that by keeping the tax increase to the 2.9% rate may force the administration in to making some drastic cuts in programs and/or personnel. (However, in the end by a margin of 6-2, the school board votes in favor of using the Act 1 index).  There were many residents in the audience who wanted to hold the line on tax increases to the 2.9% or less; some expecting 0% tax increase.  There did not seem to be an explanation as to how the budget deficit would be handled; no clear cut answer as to what programs (or people) might find themselves on the cutting block. Because the school board decided not to seek exception to Act 1, a preliminary budget approval is not required until April.  The school board will continue the discussion at the finance committee meeting in early February.

Does this news from our neighbors have any effect on us taxpayers in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District?  The taxpayers of GVSD have taken a stand (and it appears that the new school board members agreed) to do whatever was necessary to balance the budget, just not raise taxes beyond the 2.9% threshold.  Do you agree with their decision?  Would you rather see TESD hold the line at all costs — rather than increase taxes above the 2.9% Act 1 index?  This decision is going to require GVSD to make major cuts in program/personnel . . . how are the school board members going to make that decision?  With the large program cuts required in the Great Valley School District, I certainly would not want to be the person making up the list of programs/personnel for the cutting block!

How Can the Residents of Great Valley School District be so Different from the Residents of Tredyffrin Easttown School District?

How many residents typically attend our school board meetings vs. how many residents attend township meetings? There is quite an imbalance in attendees; does low school board attendance equate to apathy, lack of interest, . . . ? The school district is facing a $9.3 million deficit and what undoubtedly could be the highest tax increase to the residents in years. I just do not understand.

OK, now I hear that Great Valley School District held their budget meeting tonight and unlike TESD meetings of late, there was not a free seat in the house. Great Valley is facing a $3.2 million deficit in their 2010-11 budget of $78.8 million budget. Three main options discussed – (1) 2.9% in accordance with the Act 1 index, (2) 4.7% increase if the district gets two exceptions and (3) no tax increase. If the GVSD board applies for an exception, 4.7% is the maximum for a tax increase. However, if they take that route the preliminary budget must be approved by February 16. Last year, GVSD imposed a 1.7% tax increase. The current property tax rate in the district is 18.22 mills and the owner of a house assessed at $234,900 now pays school taxes of $4,279.

It would seem to me that neighboring Great Valley and Tredyffrin Easttown school districts are of similar quality, teacher and staff qualifications, economics of taxpayers, etc. so why is there is such a disparity in the interest of between both sets taxpayers? Why don’t we have standing room only at school board budget meetings? Keene Hall at the Township Building was full to overflowing for the township budget meeting yet only a handful of residents are at the school board meetings? And our school tax increase is going to be enormous! What am I missing here?