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Poll: What Should School Districts Do To Avoid Raising Taxes?

Some say tax increases are inevitable; others say schools need to live within their means and make cuts accordingly.

Because many school districts throughout western Pennsylvania raised property taxes this spring to balance their budgets, the public spotlight on them is burning brightly.

What is the answer to balancing a school district's budget as costs rise?

As students prepare to go back to school within the next few weeks, Patch is asking what you think school districts should do.

Budget deliberations are an annual affair. When spring rolls around in 2013, many of the same questions and issues will remain.

What do you think should be done? How do you think cuts will affect the coming school year?

Please tell us your thoughts by posting in the comments. This poll will be cross published on all Patch sites across western Pennsylvania. If you are referring to a specific school district, please let us know which one.

PA Mom August 13, 2012 at 01:19 PM
I am just throwing this out for discussion. Our district raises salaries from approximately 65K to 95K+ several years before retirement so teachers get the highest pension and benefits plan from the state. (I am not saying teachers do not deserve 95K a year. I am suggesting looking at how the state system is "played".) I also agree with the previous suggestions with starting cuts from the top down. Our district administration office received well over 30K this year in raises. The district I am in spends close to 2 million dollars every year just to support extra curricular sports and spends 500K to support extra curricular academic activities. They just spent 2.5 million on a brand new turf field for practices and JV--not the main football field; while cutting 5K from academic extra curricular team competitions in the name of saving money. Do you all think that is alright? I think sports is of value to children; however, it is my opinion when it begins to take priority over educational academics, it is a serious issue that needs to be looked at.
Outraged Citizen August 13, 2012 at 01:25 PM
@Mike – That would be an awesome way to educate to the lowest common denominator. Additionally, you would end up destroying property values overnight. People would no longer desire certain neighborhoods if the school system is no better than inner city Pittsburgh. You can kiss that property tax money goodbye.
Elizabeth August 13, 2012 at 02:38 PM
While principals are not part of the union then why has this director of student services or whatever her title is,(third title in as many years) been tossed around in different positions, created ones at that, with a terrible track record as principal and not let go. it's not being misinformed, its a waste of a high salary,( 6 figures) its a JOKE!, employees know and parents know it too.
Ernie August 13, 2012 at 02:46 PM
It is refreshing to see so many discussion threads about so many issues that are truly pertinent to the larger discussion of public education in America, and what that means. Some of the threads are disturbing due to the lack of understanding of how the schools are financed, what a school budget looks like, and how benefits are funded. However, it seems a lot of people here are starting to understand how problematic the system has become. I recall all of the passion expressed in the recent upheaval in Wisconsin, and recall discussing with peers that every State will soon be experiencing similar upheaval. All of the topics presented here (well most of them!) are going to be part of the equation to fix public schooling. There is no single magic bullet. However, all of the solutions require the participation of educated citizenry. Take some time to learn some of the basics about school financing and school budgets. Take more time to attend school board meetings to understand who stands for what in your local community, take more time to become an activist for what you want to happen in your district. And, most of all, spend the greatest amount of time helping your kids thrive in your school.
Beth Eckenrode August 13, 2012 at 05:01 PM
This is one of the most topical and important strings I have read in a long time and each of you should be applauded for taking the time to share your point of view! There are, in fact, 400 people on the Chartiers Valley Taskforce for Academic Excellence and we have one agenda: make the changes necessary to hold our leaders accountable for raising the bar on academics. If you would like to join our taskforce, please email chartiersvalleyacademicexcellence@live.com and tell us you want to join our effort. You will get updates on the decisions of our school board and a history of what has taken place over the last 2 years. Finally, please bring your opinions to the school board meetings. They meet virtually every other Tuesday evening at 7:30pm in the Administration building adjacent to the Intermediate School (times and dates can be found at www.cvsd.net). You collectively outlined above what is at stake....it's time for us to get this right!
Richard August 13, 2012 at 05:11 PM
What a great discussion...sad state for education but where was everyone (including myself!) when our school board voted on Eden Hall as well as the High School expansion. $80 million for two schools? Cut out some of the non-essentials from those buildings and you save 10-20 million. It sure would be nice to have that now...Its not the principals, teachers, custodians or support staff that overspent but they will suffer along with our children.
Mike August 13, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Sometimes there are more important issues at play than the spooky spectre of increased property taxes. For one, we have too many municipalities and too many school boards. Consolidation will save money.
Outraged Citizen August 13, 2012 at 06:18 PM
@Mike – Let’s put aside property values and suppose for a moment you’re right, there are too many municipalities and school boards. Let’s also suppose for a moment this single county-wide school board would be willing/able to operate all schools FOR LESS money than is currently being used. How does this guarantee a better educational outcome for all children? Where has a proposal like this been successful? How is achievement measured? The fact is there are enough people – myself included – who are willing to pay more to live in an area with a good school system. We pay this premium to give our children the best chance at a successful future. No parent in these communities is going to stand by and let the disaster known as the Pittsburgh Public School System come in and destroy our high-achieving schools by obliterating our curriculum and redistributing our tax dollars to failing schools. We value our children’s education too much. If you’re a parent in a low-performing school district, move if you can. If not, demand better. If your officials won’t give you better, vote the bums out of office. If all else fails, demand school choice.
crosbycat August 13, 2012 at 06:48 PM
An article in the "your north hills" section of the tribune- review actually reported on July 26 that Pine-Richland teachers make from $43,661 to $95,650 annually, or $29 to $64 per hour. And a whopping 20% make more than $92,000 in pay. All for working 9 months a year with mainly clean polite kids with college educated parents, plus low contributions into retirement and health care. PROFESSIONALS do not belong in a union.
Richard August 13, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Crosbycat- Salaries seem right but I would like to know where they got the hourly rate from. Does this include getting to school early and staying late? For my son in special ed, his teacher would spend at least an extra hour a day with him. That lowers her hourly rate by over 11%. I also doubt this is all the extra time she put in, she was worth every penny!! There would be many, many teachers there at 4pm when I would pick up my child (school is over around 2:30). Retirement costs are what they are, set by the state and raised by Ridge before he left office. This was where government officials got a 50% raise in retirement and public employees got a 25% raise in retirement. They also raised public contributions by 12% at this time. I don't like the system, as I put in 6% and am matched up to 10% at my job. But, it is not the teachers fault, start with the government and work their way down. The average teacher's retirement is 60K a year which is a lot. Do you realize that the average for college professors is double that, while some are getting over 440K a year (PSU has 3). But the teachers are the problem???? Change the governments retirement, then the professors and then the teachers. Lets start from the top, not from the bottom-
Parent of 2012 Grad August 13, 2012 at 08:12 PM
@Outraged Citizen. Let's put aside property values and focus on this misnomer of high-achieving public schools. The reality is that the playing field (or, ultimately, a competitive slot for selective college admission) includes an international arena that in many instances dramatically outpaces us academically. Ranking PA public schools may make you feel good, but is irrelevant; in fact, laughable. The public school system is systemically flawed regardless how much money you throw at it. Unless you are willing to pay for an academy education, employ personal tutors, enroll in college classes for enrichment, your student will be behind the eight-ball as far as college admissions to the ivies, baby ivies or hidden ivies (blah, blah, blah) Just saying, you might want to start to plan for more than just "premiums." As an aside, only so many slots for full paying college admits. Hope your student has a hook. Just a sycophant.
tired of nonsense August 13, 2012 at 08:19 PM
Back to basics why isotope always the unions fault with you.The facts point to the people in charge being the problem.An example is a quad at one of the schools not having duct work run for HVAC ..Looking the other way when union members pointed it out.Then hiring the same friends to build high school addition.
Outraged Citizen August 13, 2012 at 08:33 PM
@Sycophant – Welcome back! How’s the recent grad doing? I hope the job market finds them well. I agree, many nations educate their children far better than we do. I also agree the public school system is fundamentally flawed. But what isn’t right? After all, we’re just human beings and perfection is not possible. Shoot, I also agree that not even an academy education – not sure if you mean Sewickley Academy here – along with hours upon hours of private tutors is a guarantee my progeny will make it into a top-tier (blah, blah, blah) school. You’re right, rankings can be deceiving. What value should we assign to them? Who makes up the criteria to determine these ranking any way? All that said, not all districts are created equal and given the choice many parents would choose the meaningless “high-achieving” school districts over the “poorer performing” school districts.
Andy Halliday August 13, 2012 at 10:14 PM
I'm against living in a theocracy no matter what. if you think living in one is such a great idea then move to Iran or Pakistan. If you want to send your children to a private school that's your affair, but ruining the public schools by reducing their funding through a misguided voucher system should not be an option. Pine Richland is a good school district that probably needs some changes (retirement) but to gut it on a whim is counterproductive.
Parent of 2012 Grad August 13, 2012 at 10:49 PM
Warm welcome, Outraged! I hope that you and yours are well also. Student #1 will be returning to college for senior year, graduating with job in hand after summer internship. Student #2 will be venturing out this fall. My advice: plan now for college (tutoring included!!) But back to the state of the school system. I wrote on another thread (sorry for the repeat) "There is an established and burgeoning cottage industry of tutors that exists as a result of Pine-Richland inadequacies. There is a waiting list for students who want to challenge themselves academically and for those who find academics challenging. With the advent of on-line classes and independent learning opportunities, a student can develop a program for success. In fact, I would venture that many of the NMS and top scholars have taken a self-directed route. Of course, this really supports the concept that the public education system is a broken system, or at the very least, a mediocre one... After visiting over 30 colleges and universities (Villanova, CMU, Bucknell, etc.), I can unequivocally state that Pine-Richland has the best stadium, except for Penn State.The ad nauseam debates regarding “pay to play”, activity fees and turf issues while students don’t have AP Psychology books illustrate Pine-Richland’s misguided focus. " Promised a Lexus. Paying for a Lexus. Told it's a Lexus. Getting a clunker. No accountability. We are losing the race.
ronald cianelli August 13, 2012 at 11:01 PM
vouchers are an interesting topic. if the state issued a 4000.00 voucher to attend a religious school such as st, patricks in canonsburg it would save approx. 7000.00 since st pats receives no state subsidy. an increase of a 100 students--700,000.00.maybe competition would be good.
Bob Howard August 14, 2012 at 02:03 AM
Out-of-control spending threatens to engulf our economy here in Pennsylvania and threatens education budgets. In just the next five years, taxpayer contributions to state pensions are set to increase 257 percent. That's the equivalent of more than $1,000 in additional taxes on the average household in Pennsylvania! Higher pension payments in the form of increased property taxes or reduced education opportunities have arrived. And I will bet that many of you voted over the last two decades for the people who created this mess. Likewise the growing cost of Medicaid, which currently consumes 31 percent of Pennsylvania’s total operating budget, is growing out of control. As welfare costs continue to climb, they will crowd out other departments like Education and Transportation. Yet we have citizens blaming Corbett who did not create this problem for trying to fix it. If any of this surprises you maybe you should quit watching TV for a week and take a look at the state budget, Pennsylvania’s unfunded liabilities (ran up by the last several administrations and approved by the legislature) and the cost that Obamacare is planning to force on the state. Then will you go to the polls to vote you can vote to reform and stop this mess or like many Pennsylvanians accept the Representative who lies and blames the other guy the best.
Outraged Citizen August 14, 2012 at 01:16 PM
@2012 – Good to hear the family is well and that your oldest has a job in hand. That’s great given the current job market. Also, thank you for the advice on tutors. Are we talking about beginning in high school or before? The thing I look at most – rightly or wrongly – is matriculation data. Given the areas we wanted to live, Quaker Valley presented the best options.
Lou August 14, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Hey - it's really easy in Upper St. Clair - they could save $300,000 EVERY YEAR by eliminating the IB program. Oh, wait....other public schools in the area canNOT choose that option - their districts cannot afford the IB program - just USC!!!
Parent of 2012 Grad August 14, 2012 at 05:55 PM
I wish you well, Outraged! I’m not familiar with QV, but when reviewing rankings http://www.pinerichland.org/20211071074410157/cwp/view.asp?A=3&Q=302690&C=56576 it is competitive with reputable districts. Smaller too? Of course, the Newsweek methodology is illogical (number of AP tests taken rather than score, SAT accounting only 10%, matriculation is merely attending college, etc.) But I digress. Beyond matriculation and if your crew is nearing high school, I would also explore the guidance dept college prep and essay writing (i.e. cite an example when you witnessed or faced discrimination, your response, lessons learned? How do you deal with adversity? in fifty words or less), what colleges visit QV, what colleges do QV counselors visit, etc. How many AP classes offered? What are trending test scores ? Can student enroll in on-line college courses? Who pays? Tutoring, if needed!! We were compelled to find tutoring because of a fundamentally flawed math program (read nonperforming teachers) in high school. Student #2 was capable but not being taught. Tutored, progressed and completed all A’s in math/AP Score 5 in Calc BC. We economized for future dividends. Our goals were that none of us graduate with college debt, employment upon graduation and that my husband and I need to walk to our car rather than walk down the gameroom steps to visit with kids. Obviously, you are an engaged parent. I feel certain your diligence will pay off.
Outraged Citizen August 14, 2012 at 06:43 PM
@2012 – I believe you’re right that QV is smaller than other reputable school districts. Students at the high school are allowed to dual enroll at the school and local colleges and universities. There is a small grant to pay for the classes, but the vast majority falls to the family. There are plenty of AP course and other technology-based programs as well. Additionally, all students receive a laptop and training on how to use it. Thank you, again, for all the advice on what to look into and what services are out there is the school isn’t living up to expectations. Despite all the information that’s out there, you’re right. The best chance a child has to succeed is having parents who are actively involved in their education and growth.
The Voice of Reason August 14, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Nearly every kid who takes AP Calculus AB or BC at Quaker Valley scores a 4 or 5. It is mandatory for all QV kids to take the AP test if they are in the course and the scores are still remarkably high. Check out the school district report for exact data. QV also pays for the AP tests for all of its AP students. QV normally puts several students into the Ivy League or high-level institutions each year as well.
Alum/Resident August 14, 2012 at 07:33 PM
412lorie--No, I don't believe the administrators have taken any concessions. I wonder , in fact, if they've accepted a raise???
Alum/Resident August 14, 2012 at 07:49 PM
The actual savings would be higher than that. There are many additional costs.
Jacob Pavlecic August 14, 2012 at 07:50 PM
OC- Your scenario and mine prove my point. My view is that tying student performance to teacher's salaries is not an effective solution. There are too many holes.
Outraged Citizen August 14, 2012 at 07:59 PM
@Jacob – My point is that teachers are going to have good and bad students. I suspect the ratio is based in good part on the school districts demographics. That said; it’s not unreasonable to hold teachers accountable and demand excellence. Evaluating student performance is a perfectly good metric to use to determine performance. That doesn’t mean it’s the only metric, but it should be in the mix.
Parent of 2012 Grad August 14, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Nearly all students who take AP Calc BC at PR also score 4 or 5 on AP Exams too, Voice of Reason. What a great way for these students to begin college. As an aside, Outraged, I would be willing to compensate this Calc a lot more!! From first hand experience, she duly deserved Pennsylvania 2010 Teacher of the Year. What an exceptional role model for these students, with a bar-none work ethic. There was no time limit if you needed assistance. Voice of Reason, quick question: Are students reimbursed 100% for AP classes/exams? Do they need to attain a certain score? Just curious. Thanks for the additional enlightenment. QV sounds like it is deserving of its reputation and a fine institution.
tired of nonsense August 14, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Blah blah
Chris Township September 24, 2012 at 05:49 PM
I don't have many ideas, but one would be to at least hire teachers that don't put movies or T.V. shows on in class so we can at least get our moneys worth. I wouldn't normally condone posting to Facebook while in class, but considering my child just posted "How the heck is watching South Park educational?" says that she is probably learning more from Facebook than watching South Park in class. Last year one teacher routinely showed the series Gilmore Girls in class, as well as movies. My child is a senior. I don't think Seneca Valley has quite the good teachers people think they do. Lazy, if you ask me.
Bob Howard September 24, 2012 at 06:04 PM
You are making a great case for school choice. As it now stands the district will rally around the organization and explain that you don't understand. But if you had the choice of taking your money and child elsewhere (like customers do) you can bet they would be all over themselves to address your concern. School choice is the only and obvious answer but you can't have it because the unions are in control of the PA General Assembly.

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