21 March 2011

Education Summit preview: Joel Sears

We asked participants in "State of the Schools: A Countywide Education Summit" to respond to three questions about our schools, and we're sharing their responses on Mondays through the week of the summit on April 14. These are the questions we posed:
  • What’s the biggest challenge confronting public education in York County today?
  • What can the community in York County realistically expect to achieve to deal with that challenge?
  • What would your first priority for action be? 
Today, we hear from Joel Sears, president of the York County Taxpayers Council.

Joel Sears
What's the biggest challenge confronting public education in York County today?

In a word: Financing. Pennsylvania’s system of public education financing is an unconstitutional mishmash that reinforces the disparity among districts and significantly limits choices and opportunity for parents, students and teachers alike. The basic allocation formula still depends heavily on enrollment during the 1990-91 school year in the face of dramatically shifting population and enrollment trends.

As a result, districts such as Pittsburgh receive more state aid today, in constant dollars, than they did 20 years ago when their enrollment was 10,000 students greater than it is today. Most York County districts, on the other hand, have experienced enrollment growth unmatched by increases in their state subsidies, forcing school boards to balance budgets with property tax increases two to three times the rate of inflation with a significantly higher share coming from the residential sector.
For a homeowner with a reasonably structured 30-year mortgage, school property taxes add between 30 and 80 cents to every dollar spent on principle and interest – and it never ends.
The Band-aid provided by Act 1 of 2006 places a cap on tax increases with no consideration for the consequences to either the district or the taxpayer. It completely sidesteps the constitutional requirements for: (1) a state-provided “thorough and efficient system of public education” and (2) taxes that must be “uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax.” The “tax relief” provided by Act 1 averages $200 or so per homestead/farmstead in the face of taxes that average $3,500 per year.
This year, virtually every district in York County is scrambling to balance its budget after years of unchallenged spending and tax increases. By artificially limiting tax increases, Act 1 has exposed administrators and school boards to unprecedented criticism from taxpayers for their wasteful spending, from teachers at war with their colleagues over pay freezes versus furloughs, and from parents faced with cuts to cherished programs, such as foreign languages in middle school and free transportation to day care centers.
What can the community in York County realistically expect to achieve to deal with that challenge, and what would your first priority for action be?

In the long term (3-5 years), our goal should be to completely overhaul the K-12 funding system. Dollars from broad-based taxes, such as sales and income taxes, should be pooled into a statewide educational operating fund and allocated to schools based primarily on their current enrollment and demographic challenges. Public funds should be used to pay for the constitutionally-mandated thorough and efficient system of public education and no more. Taxpayers should be protected from unnecessary construction projects, “investments” in unproven curricula and technology, and increases in staff cost that far outstrip inflation.
In the short term, our first priority should be consolidation and formalized cost sharing in some form. There are millions of dollars spent every year on redundant services that could be provided as well or better by regional or countywide entities, including transportation, food service, and curriculum development.
Ideally, we should continue to explore academic consolidation as well to provide real choice within the existing framework. The growing patchwork of charter schools only serves to create more islands of education while adding to the total cost of education.
Joel Sears has been president of the York County Taxpayers Council since 2007 and this year filed papers to run for school board in York Suburban School District.


What: "State of the Schools: A Countywide Education Summit"
When: 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. April 14
Where: Pullo Center at Penn State York, 1031 Edgecomb Ave., York
How much: Admission is free, but advance registration is requested and box lunches will be available for $5. With your registration, please indicate your preference from the lunch wrap choices: turkey, ham, chicken salad, tuna salad or veggie.
The morning session: Elaine Weiss, the national coordinator for Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, will provide the national context, and Brian Jensen from the Pennsylvania Economy League will discuss the state’s looming pension crisis. Other morning speakers include Dennis Baughman, who will provide an update on the York Academy Regional Charter School; and Dayna Laur, an award-winning and nationally recognized Central York teacher, who will talk about new ways districts can collaborate and share resources.
The afternoon session: A panel discussion will focus on school district budgets and the looming pension crisis. Panelists include: 
  • Thomas Gentzel, executive director for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association
  • James Testerman, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association
  • Republican State Sen. Lloyd Smucker, who represents parts of York and Lancaster counties and serves on the Senate Education and Appropriations committees
  • Republican State Rep. Ron Miller, who represents southwestern York County, including York, Springfield, Shrewsbury, Codorus, Manheim and West Manheim townships
  • Democratic State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, who represents York and parts of Spring Garden and West Manchester townships
  • Robert Krantz, superintendent from Dover Area School District
  • George Ioannidis, business manager from Spring Grove Area School District
  • Judith Higgins, school board member from Eastern York School District and board president of Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12
  • Joel Sears, president of the York County Taxpayers Council
  • Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center
To register: Send an e-mail with your name, school district and phone number to events@yorkcounts.org, and if you plan to purchase one of the $5 box lunches, please indicate your lunch preference from these wrap choices: turkey, ham, chicken salad, tuna salad or veggie.
For details: Contact Dan Fink at YorkCounts at 717-650-1460 or at dfink@yorkcounts.org.

1 comment:

matt229 said...

I agree with everything Mr. Sears states, he hit the nail right on the head. Now if we can only get our elected officials to find the guts to actually initiate the required changes. We need to identify the forces opposing these changes and target them.I fear that public education is under direct attack at this time, and people are once again being influenced by a culture of fear.They are being told that we must make these drastic cuts,that its the only way to "balance the budget" and the fact is these types of funding cuts will weaken our education system and long term our workforce system! Public education is the foundation to the middle class in America and the middle class is the drving force behind our consumer driven economy!As income shrinks for the middle class average working family so does their ability to purchase and drive our econmy. Its time to spread the cost of public education more fairly, everyone needs to contribute including corporations because they benefit from our public education system more than anyone! Its time to find the will to fund it thru income and sales taxes, if you make more and spend more you pay a little more, and this is coming from a 42 year old that has NO children in public education.Its time we demand our legislators take action on this and other issues,its time to stop reacting to this fear being spread by the talking heads in the media who are all selling books and getting wealthy and thats all they care about. Its about time politics takes a side stage and we elect legislators that will make the right decisions whether it is a peronal politically smart move or not!Its time we keep good jobs in America, stop driving sdown wages so the largest working sector of America has the opportunity to get educated, earn a good middle class living and in turn pay fair taxes that support continuing that sysytem! Great questions and spot on response!!