Sunday, March 11, 2012

February PSBA and Legislative Update

The February WCASD Board Pennsylvania School Board Association report noted the detrimental impact of two of the many unfunded state mandates on the district. It is interesting to note that both of these mandates are part of PSBA’s  FREE (Focusing Resources on Educational Expenses) Plus* initiative.

The FREE section of this PSBA campaign targets unfunded mandates in 3 specific categories:
1. Personnel Management – furloughs, collective bargaining, school nurses, etc.
2. School Funding – special education funding, cyber charter school funding 
3. Buildings, Construction, Operations and Transportation – bidding, transportation, delinquent real estate tax collection, and prevailing wage
*(The “Plus” portion deals with waivers that would allow school boards to suspend a wider scope of mandates)

The two unfunded mandates mentioned by WCASD Board PSBA representative, Maureen Snook, fall into FREE category #3:
       1. Delinquent R/E tax collection:  Mrs. Snook cited HB 1877, which  amends the Real Estate Tax Sale Law, allowing school districts to forego the commission paid to a local county tax claim bureau and  to utilize the services of entities other than the local county tax claims office for collection of delinquent real estate taxes.  Basically, the district would save the 5% commission paid to the County on delinquent taxes.  Read recent House Finance Committee testimony by Cheltenham School District business manager on HB1877:
      2.  Prevailing Wage Act, HB 1329: School districts must pay state-mandated prevailing wage rates for workers on every construction or renovation project in which estimates exceed $25,000. This bill would raise the threshold to $185,000 and create an annual inflation adjustment to that threshold. Mrs. Snook reports WCASD has six-eight  $25,000+ projects per year and the district could save between $120-180,000/year if the threshold were raised.   To see a great example of PSBA advocacy in action, read about the Donegal School Board who unanimously passed a PSBA resolution to support prevailing wage reform: 

The introduction of the FREE Plus campaign, though admittedly implicit, is encouraging and we  remain optimistic that our Board PSBA representative will continue to provide us with  information about additional  unfunded mandates included in the initiative. (Visit  for more details on how local boards can  “encourage elected officials to approve legislation aimed at providing meaningful mandate relief”).

Mrs. Snook  also serves as our legislative liaison and that portion of her report cited the deficiencies of the STEB (State Tax Equalization Board) system.  We were reminded that both Dr. Moore,  through correspondence with PA Auditor General Jack Wagner and Dr. Scanlon, through discussions with legislators, continue to question the inequity of this system on behalf of WCASD.    One will recall this past December when the WC board unanimously approved the hiring of PFM/Civic Research as a consultant for a STEB appeal, believing their market values were certified as higher than they actually are. We are confident that our legislative liaison will also take an active role in reinforcing the administration’s opposition and continue to inform and empower the community through legislative updates. 

Who/what is STEB? The State Tax Equalization Board is appointed by the Governor and approved by the Legislature for a term of four years. The STEB determines annually the “aggregate market value of taxable real property in each political subdivision and school district throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania”.  Market values are certified annually to the Department of Education and the respective school districts on or before July 1 of each year and are used by the Department of Education as one factor in a legislative formula for the distribution of  state subsidies to each school district.   Want more?  Visit 

What does PA Auditor General Jack Wagner have to do with STEB?  The Department of Education, school districts and taxpayers noted significant discrepancies  between 2007 and 2008 market values. Wagner’s office was asked by members of the General Assembly to review the STEB’s process for annually calculating and certifying market values of taxable property. The audit resulted in  the following findings:
 1) The Revised 2008 Market Value Report was incorrect and could adversely affect the recently published 2009 report:  the “incorrect” 2008 market value report was  originally released in June 2009, with a revised  report issued in August, 2010 . However,  in October 2010, Wagner’s office suggested to the STEB that it consider conducting a complete review of that 2008 revised report to ensure accuracy prior to releasing the 2009 market value report.  The STEB Chairman found additional review unnecessary and went forward with the release of the 2009 market value report without completing Wagner’s suggested review. 
2)  STEB certified and published inaccurate 2008 market values due to lack of management oversight  and controls, i.e., human error. For much more on the STEB audit and findings, see

Or better yet, come hear about STEB calculations, school funding formulas and “The Real Impact of the Proposed State Budget on Public Education” when the Auditor General visits Stetson Middle School on Monday, March 19.  The Bayard Rustin High School Brass Ensemble will introduce the event with a performance at 6:30 PM and the Auditor General will speak to the public at 7.  He will also take a few questions from the audience after his presentation, so you are encouraged to visit  before the event to familiarize yourself with the duties and responsibilities of the “independent fiscal watchdog for Pennsylvania taxpayers”. 
Other audits of possible interest/reading enjoyment:                                                        

I close with a  piece of legislation absent from the legislative report,  but mentioned by an audience member during closing comments: SB 327 is a bill that would take the office of school board director out of the primary election, thus abolishing the need for party endorsement of that position.  A candidate wishing to run for the office of school board director would circulate nomination papers for signatures (the number needed would depend on the “class” of the district) and their name could appear on the ballot in November, regardless of party affiliation.  I hope you will agree that such a  bill is a critical first step in attempting to remove party politics, personal agendas and political aspirations from the elected office of school board director.  Please stay tuned on where and when to find out more about SB 327 and how you can help Pennsylvania join the 47 other states who have non-partisan school board elections.  

A personal note: March is Women's History Month and I find the theme for 2012 particularly  fitting:  Women's Education and Empowerment. 2012 is the 40th anniversary of Title IX of the Education Codes of the Higher Education Act Amendments. This legislation was passed in 1972 and enacted in 1977 and  prohibited gender discrimination by federally funded institutions. I was not blogging in February for Black History month, and must also acknowledge what would be the 100th birthday of Bayard Rustin on  March 17th.  Rustin is not simply a building or a "lights issue". Bayard Rustin was a West Chester native who devoted his life to the causes of civil rights,non-violence and acceptance of all lifestyles.  So while you're raising your glasses of green "cheer" on St. Patrick's Day, please raise one for Bayard, thanks. 

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