Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What do tax reform and strike-free education have in common?

They needed to break out some extra folding chairs for the crowd at August WCASD Board meeting.   And while one anticipated hearing more of the same since negotiations began, i.e.,  the  aggressive and endless rhetoric of blame concerning  “what the union wants” vs.  “what the Board is offering”,  it was an uncharacteristically civil and thankfully short evening. 

Public comment on agenda items:

Just one, concerning a special education settlement.  An admittedly nervous parent spoke bravely of her frustration each time she sees a special education settlement on the agenda, stating that money spent for lawyers is money NOT spent on a student.  Thanks for your courage.

Committee reports:

Education Chair Mrs. Adsett gives us a recap of Education meeting, thanking the now-vacationing Dr. Pimley for filling in for her while she was enjoying  a much needed vacation with her family. 

In Dr. Pimley’s absence, Mrs. Tiernan covers Pupil Services. Items approved by Board: Special Education settlement and service agreement with PTS, a physical therapy provider already working with District. (Education/Pupil Services summary: http://westchestervote.blogspot.com/2012/08/if-nothing-else-lesson-in-acronyms.html )

Property and Finance – among items approved, Policy DFF, Grants from External Sources and Policy KDC, Flyer Distribution.   

Other Reports:

Mr. Coyle/Intermediate Unit – there was no IU Board meeting in August

Mrs. Tiernan/Charter & Alternative – she has a couple of visits lined up for September

 Ms. Raileanu/Outreach – Board outreach season is officially open in September.  We are reminded to let the Board know of PTO and other school events and they will do their best to attend.

 Ms. Miller/Personnel – new hires were welcomed and hiring will continue as needed. 
Listing of hires: http://home.wcasd.net/files/_fbI67_/8afa2add6a88dbc73745a49013852ec4/August_27_2012_Board_Packet_for_Website.pdf

 Mr. Murphy gives a brief update on negotiations.  District Negotiations team and West Chester Area Education Association will meet again on  8/29.

 Mrs. Snook/Legislative –informs us that the PA General Assembly reconvenes on 9/24.  The horrors of state pension system and its impact on district are once again noted and while there are numerous proposals out there, we are reminded that the Board favors Representative Warren Kampf’s House Bill 2454 .  (FYI, local co-sponsors of Kampf’s  House Bill 2453, addressing state employees, and HB 2454, addressing school district employees: Representatives Truitt, Barrar, Killion and Ross)

 Mrs. Snook also reports on the first official meeting of the House Select Committee on Property Tax Reform, held on August 20.  This Committee was established through the passage of Representative Tom Quigley’s (R-Montgomery) House Resolution 774.   The Committee heard testimony from the prime sponsors of the following property tax proposals:

House Bill 2230, sponsored by Rep. Seth Grove (R-York, local co-sponsor Steve Barrar), would allow school districts to reduce or eliminate property taxes and replace them with a 1% increase in the county sales tax, with voter approval. The measure would also allow local governments to levy an income tax to reduce millage rates by at least 30%. The bill was voted out of the House Finance Committee and sent to the House floor for consideration. http://www.pahousegop.com/NewsItem.aspx?NewsID=15065

House Bill 2300, sponsored by Rep. David Maloney (R-Berks), would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow principal places of residence to be completely excluded from property taxation. Such a constitutional change requires passage in two consecutive sessions and then the approval of voters. The measure was unanimously passed by the House and sent to the Senate for consideration.

Senate Bill 1400 , sponsored by Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill, local co-sponsor Ted Erickson), would eliminate property taxes and replace those funds with revenue generated through an increase in the state personal income tax and an expansion of the state sales tax. The proposal has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee. http://www.pahousegop.com/NewsItem.aspx?NewsID=15067

Per Representative Quigley’s resolution,  the Committee meets again in September to continue to study these tax proposals and will report its findings to the House by a deadline of November 30.  At least one member of the Select Committee does not hold out much hope for true reform.  State Representative Nick Micozzie (R-Montgomery) served on a property tax reform committee nearly 12 years ago.  At that time the committee crafted a report to reform school property taxes, yet all attempts at gaining support for legislation failed.  He is not optimistic this time will be any different, stating:   “I think we’re going to spin our wheels a lot of times, like I have done over the years.” http://emmaus.patch.com/articles/lawmakers-tread-water-on-property-tax-reform
Mrs. Snook  comments on the Tax Reform Committee, stating that “one of the legislators”  said something to the effect that the “only way to get tax control is to control spending”. She continues, speaking of the need to “get rid of mandates” and to remember that “we represent the taxpayers, not special interest groups”.   Intriguing words, but Mrs. Snook’s?  Alas, no - they were simply a continuation of the legislator’s quote referenced by Mrs. Snook.

 That legislator is first-term State Representative Justin Simmons (R- Lehigh/Northampton), a member of the House Select Committee on Property Tax Reform, who stated:

 “The only way you are ever going to get any tax under control is to control spending. We do know there are state mandates we can help our school districts with by getting rid of them. We need to keep in mind that each of us represents the taxpayers and not a special interest group.”

So just who is  this  thoughtful and bold young Republican? Before being elected to service, Mr. Simmons interned for Congressman Pat Toomey and also served as a legislative aide for Senators Rob Wonderling and Bob Mensch.  In addition, Mr. Simmons serves on the House Education Committee, and is a  proponent of  the “Strike Free Education Pact”, a movement in support of House Bill 1369 (local co-sponsors: Representatives Barrar, Killion, Truitt)  and House Bill 1640 (local co-sponsors: Representatives Barrar, Truitt), which actually proposes a “strike-free” amendment to the PA Constitution. See Representative Simmons’ Strike Free Petition Packet at http://repsimmons.com/strikefreepetition.aspx . 

Mrs. Snook ends on a cheery note which was clearly her own.  She,  along with Mrs. Tiernan,  attended an event to welcome new District hires, recounting it was a “heartening” experience to see many new and optimistic faces ready to begin the school year. 

 Public comment on non-agenda items:

Comment from local realtor/former Board member Mr. Davison: West Chester is “looking healthy” financially and he “applauds” Business Director Dr. Suzanne Moore and all those responsible for getting us there. 

Two-part question from East Bradford taxpayer/former Board member Mr. Smith:  What are bus costs per student and what is the status of superintendent and Act 93 contracts (principals/administrators) that expired July 1?   No public answer.

A West Goshen resident speaks on behalf of a  10th grade exchange student from Cologne Germany, who  is unable to attend East High School this year due to “technical” issues. Housed under the category of “Anomalous Students” is WCASD Board Policy JQKA/Foreign Exchange Students, which states  “Application for admission of an exchange student shall be received by July 1”.  Apparently the German student had  met all requirements for admission by July 1,  except for the fact that she had not secured a host family until last week.   Speaker is asking the Board to accept the student regardless,  asserting  it will be “win, win, win” situation: a win for the German student, a win for East students who will benefit from the cultural exchange,  and a win for the Board, who will show they have made a “reasonable decision” in the matter. The Board is mute, but Dr. Scanlon addresses the  issue: in order to accept student, Board would have to “waive” policy.  The earliest date the Board could vote to waive the policy would be at the full Board meeting on September 24 - too late for admission.    The superintendent tells those in attendance that he has been making phone calls to other agencies, including one in Michigan, in order to find placement for the student for this school year.  The timing is indeed unfortunate and the District looks forward to welcoming the student next year -  auf Wiedersehen!



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