Much to the chagrin of Dr. Tom Seidenberger and Rich Sniscak, Superintendents of the East Penn and Parkland School Districts, I attended last week’s Lehigh Valley Chamber luncheon, “What’s Happening in Your School District” at the Brookside Country Club in Macungie. I felt like Dagny Taggart at Lillian Rearden’s anniversary party mingling with the fifty or so other Chamber members, many of whom I quickly discovered were government trough feeders whose first instincts were to excitedly inquire if the company my husband and I own was 51% in my name (i.e. woman-owned, a.k.a. qualified for government grants, and FYI it’s not). After shaking hands and reintroducing myself to Mr. Sniscak (Dr. Seidenberger scampered away as I approached), we settled down to eat a lunch that didn’t quite mesh with the healthy, low-carb diet I’m on. Oh, well. I was there to listen, not to eat anyway.
After some pleasantries, the two superintendents moved to the front of the room where they proceeded to, as Joe’s earlier blog predicted, lament about “budget constraints” and the “need” raise your property taxes. They presented the usual list of excuses and "strawman" arguments:
- “Cuts” in state education funding
- Increased PSERS contributions
- Loss of revenue, particularly to Allentown’s NIZ and due to the Lehigh Co. reassessment
- The “cost” of charter and cyber schools
- Unfunded mandates, particularly special education
Of course, it’s always a revenue problem, never a spending one.
And, like the first dog-and-pony show held in East Penn in late April, the two panelists offered “no differing views, no alternative positions, and no substantive debate.” Mr. Sciscak was the first panelist to speak, and Dr. Seidenberger wholeheartedly agreed with his assessment of the reasons for the necessity of raising taxes. And, also like the April event, there was little to no time allotted for questions.
Generally, it was interesting to confirm that the superintendents and administrations of school districts, as Mr. Sniscak stated, “communicate a lot, comparing and contrasting notes, and bouncing ideas off one another.” Dr. Seidenberger confirmed that they do indeed “learn from each other.” This fact is interesting because for as much as coordination and cooperation between districts is encouraged amongst administrators, it is equally discouraged amongst school board directors from different districts. For instance, a few months ago, a board member participating in the PSBC from one district contacted the superintendent of another to obtain the email addresses of the school board members there since they weren’t listed on the district’s website. That superintendent immediately called the superintendent of the inquisitive board member to find out why they needed such information. Also, in districts where LfL and the PSBC have been actively working with school board members on alternate budgets, they have been chastised by the administration because any ideas coming from another district are irrelevant. In fact, some school board directors have been told that they risk a lawsuit if they talk to and share information with board members from other districts. Administrators apparently consider it an affront if school board directors talk to people outside the district.
The most comical comment came from Dr. Seidenberger, who stated that in the 24 years he’s been a superintendent, he’s become an “expert at cutting [spending].” Who’s he kidding?! In each and every year since 2007 that he’s been the Superintendent in the East Penn School District, the taxpayers have seen a tax INCREASE! 2012-13 will be no different. Of course, Mr. Sniscak parroted his remark, adding that this year’s Parkland School District budget is a whopping 0.33% less than last year’s. But, cutting 1/3 of one cent of every dollar from last year’s budget didn’t translate into relief for taxpayers, though. Parkland is raising taxes by 3.67% this year to make ends meet. (BTW—if Mr. Sniscak walked into a board meeting of a private firm proudly touting that he cut 0.33% from his department’s annual budget, he would be laughed at and probably fired.)
After listening to Dr. Seidenberger and Mr. Sniscak, you would think they are completely helpless to control things in their respective districts. Who are the saviors, you might ask? Well, it’s “big government” of course. Both men, as well as the President of the local Chamber, Tony Iannelli, repeatedly mentioned the “long-overdue” legislation for reforming charter school and special education funding. It’s amazing, actually. These two professionals, who both receive taxpayer-funded six-figure salaries, apparently can do nothing more to rein in spending in their districts enough to balance the budget, and must, year after year raise taxes to make ends meet, even though they received millions more in taxpayer funding from the state last year. They must always rely on Harrisburg to “save” them. In my earlier blog, You Are NOT Powerless, I pointed out all of the ways citizens and school board directors can take control of the out of control spending and taxation in their districts. And, in the Catasauqua and Upper Perkiomen School Districts, LfL and the PSBC are proving it can be done, and none of us receive any salaries to do it.
We will be writing in-depth blogs over the next several weeks to address each of the excuses listed above for the “need” to raise your taxes. Nothing presented last Wednesday was a surprise, but it did raise some additional questions like:
- Is Governor Corbett really cutting $900 million from the K-12 education budget?
- How can school districts soften the blow of increasing PSERS contributions?
- Why is there suddenly a huge increase in the number of students in government schools labeled as requiring “special education”?
- Now that it looks like the EIT will be removed from the Allentown NIZ law, will the proposed tax hikes in these two school districts be reduced or eliminated?
- Was the tax increase in East Penn (and Salisbury Twp.) really due entirely, or even in large part, to “pay” for charter schools?
- What are all of these “unfunded mandates” and how much do they really cost?
- Why are East Penn taxpayers funding the development of model national curriculum?
So, stay tuned. More details, facts, reality and truth to come.