Despite teachers’ and administrators’ salary freezes, the Upper Perkiomen school board voted last Thursday to raise taxes more than 9 percent under a preliminary budget that included a 2 mill increase. The final budget will be adopted in June.
Taxes would have gone up a minimum of 7.57 percent even if the board had voted for no increase because of the way the state calculates property taxes through the State Tax Equalization Board (STEB).
That board has determined annually that the market value of properties has gone up, raising taxes through the STEB ratio used to determine millage, despite a depressed real estate market, administrators said.
The preliminary budget of $51,329,235 with a 2 mill increase was not passed unanimously. It represents a 3.44 percent increase over last year’s budget.
School board directors Rob Pepe and Catherine Fenley voted against the measure. Pepe made a previous motion to vote on a 0 mill increase, which failed 4-4. Director Raeann Hofkin was absent.
“This has nothing to do with wages. We want to keep the status quo,” Superintendent Dr. Beth Yonson said.
“I think we do recognize that the staff and the district made incredible contributions,” Pepe said, referring to the wage freezes.
“It’s pretty hefty,” he said, noting the 9.66 percent tax increase with a 2 mill jump. “I don’t know that all the people in this community can afford that. That’s what, a 50 percent tax increase over the past 13 years?”
The budget didn’t include any major increases in expenditures aside from more than $400,000 additionally set aside for debt services as well as big increases to workman’s compensation and charter schools. The district refunded their 2006 bond issue in 2011 to get a better interest rate and saved more than $120,000. That was a one-time savings.
Through budget talks, which began in January, the board decided not to cut any more staff positions, programs or institute “pay-to-participate” for sports or clubs, as was suggested in the 2011-12 extended budget plan.
The district will, however, reinstitute a special education administrative position, which was cut in last year’s budget and left that department spread too thin, Yonson said.
“It’s a tough balancing act between the needs of the school and the needs of the community,” Board President Harry Quinque explained. “I believe, in our positions, we are charged with leaning towards the needs of the schools.”
Several residents echoed his sentiments.
“I know we are in tough economic times but we need to keep the focus on our kids,” said Anthony Rybarczyk of Pennsburg. “If we cut more of our programs we are going to see more of our kids in charter schools.”
“Our teachers do a great job but everybody is spread a little thin. There are 29 students in my son’s fourth grade class at Marlborough. I think we have to look at how high we’re going to let class sizes get,” said Tracy Sincar of Pennsburg.
Others noted parents are concerned about outdated schools and programs; saying the majority of the board’s attention should be on keeping more reductions out of the classrooms.
The proposed 2 mill tax increase will mean the following increases according to property owners’ assessed values in each county: Berks - lower third for assessed value - $41.78; median assessed value - $227.39; upper third assessed value - $368.72. For Montgomery: lower third for assessed value - $193.76; median assessed value - $288.35; upper third for assessed value - $402.81.
A zero mill increase would have been reflected in a $32.48, $176.77 and $286.64 for respective Berks property owners and a $150.63, $224.16 and $313.14 for respective Montgomery property owners.
Homestead/farmstead reductions will amount to an additional reduction of $189.09 on tax bills.
The budget calls for $2,557,948 of the district’s fund balance to be used as compared to $3.6 million from this year’s budget. Business administrator Sandy Kassel said the district will likely use only about half of the allocated money for 2011-12.
After extensively discussing the need for property tax reform, Pepe announced an upcoming forum on the subject to be hosted by Rep. Marcy Toepel’s (R-147) office. The forum, to feature Rep. Jim Cox (R-129), Sen. Bob Mensch (R-24), Rep. Toepel and Dave Baldinger, a grass roots advocate for property tax reform in Pennsylvania, has now been postponed until an undetermined date in July.
In other district news, the board noted the passing of Dr. Beth Williams, director of Teaching and Learning, who served the district since 2008.
“She made us a better place to be. She was a true friend and colleague and she’ll be missed,” Quinque said.
Yonson and the board also recognized district maintenance employee Richard Kulp, who is retiring this year, with the Above and Beyond award.
Yonson also presented certificates of achievement to the middle and high school Reading Olympic teams, which recently competed. The high school team merited a blue ribbon. Each team read 45 books to compete.