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A Wake Up Call For Great Valley Taxpayers

A 69% increase in our school tax rate in 13 years in Great Valley - with 3.4% more at risk in 2013-14. Has your property value risen that much? Here are some facts. Make your voices heard!!!

We taxpayers of the Great Valley School District have a major problem - the constantly increasing taxation by the School Board.  Over the past 13 years our millage rate has increased 69%!  Has your income had a comparable increase?  What about your property value?  Has it risen equally?  And for the 2013-2014 school year the Board is seriously considering another 3.4% increase.

Act 1 of the state law this year allows a 1.7% increase without any special action by the Board.  Two neighboring districts - West Chester and Tredyffrin-Easttown - are staying within this Act 1 parameter.  For our district a 1.7% rise in taxes would yield $1,069,212.00 in income for the coming school year; but there would be a shortfall (as to overall income) of $430,292.00.  The Board has on hand $26 Million in unrestricted reserves.  These funds are in CDs - only 2 of which earn .5% - and less than that for the rest.  The Board’s current intent is to double the tax rate to 3.4% and create a surplus of $860,000.00 to be added to the very low income producing reserves instead of balancing the budget by taking less than 2% from those reserves.

Naturally any increase in the millage rate or the budget creates a larger base for any future year.

The theoretical basis of the present structure is analogous to a three-legged stool oneleg for the taxpayers; a second leg for the School Board; and a third for the teachers.  The Board is elected by the taxpayers and in relationship to the teachers is supposed to represent the taxpayers.  Unfortunately in the recent past, this has not been the practice.  Under the immediate past Superintendent there developed a culture of cozy collaboration between the Board and the teachers rather than an arms length collective bargaining.  This has literally left the taxpayers holding the bag.  Special interests have led to the election of “co-operative and collaborating”  Board members.  Inevitably when one leg of the stool does not function as it should, there is a problem.  If the Board ceases to be objective, we taxpayers pay the price.

Our teachers average $80,000.00 per year in income with an additional 43% in benefits.   Over 40 teachers earn $100,000.00 or more.  At $18,000.00 per pupil per year Great Valley is the third highest district in Chester County - behind only Phoenixville and Coatesville.

Probably little known to most taxpayers is the fact that the former Superintendent somehow convinced a compliant Board to purchase a lot for $6.6 Million.  It is currently assessed at $4 Million.  Perhaps that is a source to close the shortfall rather than hitting the pocketbooks of the taxpayers.  Alternatively, Vanguard may be purchasing property from Wyeth, the transfer tax on which could yield as much as $390,000.  Surely $40,000.00  (.05%) could be found as savings in an $80 Million budget.

Unless more of us taxpayers are informed, pay attention to decisions by the School Board, and get involved to make a difference, we will continue to pay and pay more.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Greg Nesspor February 28, 2013 at 02:57 PM
The taxpayers could have received a far greater "savings" last year IF the board had gone to negotiations and changed the benefit package to one commensurate with what the overwhelming majority of taxpayers currently have. The BCBS Personal Choice plan could have been replaced with an HMO with a deductible at a cost savings in the hundreds of dollars per month per participant range. That would have yielded far more than the $1.75 million. To say nothing of other possible cuts and trimmings in the benefit package you admit is "generous". So your premise is flawed.
Kristen Klugh Cannella February 28, 2013 at 06:30 PM
With all due respect to the comments above: 1. Regarding history and character of people who have served, service is done. To admonish, disrespect, or smear their decisions or actions will not bring about change now. 2. Likewise, hindsight being 20/20, the history of PSERS and decisions made over a decade ago by state politicians is also a moot point. What we must accept and acknowledge now is the domino effect that will be in play for all public school districts in Pennsylvania for years to come. 3. Data and facts can be argued ad-nauseum depending on individual sources, and despite their supposed ‘objectivity’, can be misleading and/or misinterpreted. 4. Despite political, religious, taxpayer, persuasion and/or differences, we must remember that at the core of this entire issue is our future—our children. As a GVSD alumnus, a former educator, and as a fervent supporter of public school education, I implore you to consider the following.
Kristen Klugh Cannella February 28, 2013 at 06:31 PM
Unless one has served on a school board, in education (either classroom, administratively, or even as a cafeteria aide,) or has had direct input on educational reform at a governmental or federal level, it is merely an ‘outsider perspective’ looking in the fishbowl. No one on the outside of that bowl can possibly assume or imagine all the complexities that are involved in all factors of our educational mandates, fiscal difficulties, or appropriations. What we all know is this: at the core of what matters are kids. Is GVSD perfect? No. But it is better than most. If you don’t believe me, go talk to teachers in Philadelphia, Delaware County, or even our neighbors just north of where we are. Talk to members of their school board. Talk to their administrators. No, talk to the kids of those districts and you’ll hear the truth. “We don’t have a library in our school. We don’t have computers. My classroom doesn’t have enough books. We don’t have music class or art anymore. We don’t have a field to run on. There are 35 kids in my classes.” “We don’t have, we don’t have, we don’t have.”
Kristen Klugh Cannella February 28, 2013 at 06:31 PM
Well, in GVSD-“we have.” And our kids will tell you we have. And we should be grateful we have. To have, quite simply, costs something. We are fortunate to live in an area where we can afford ‘better’ than most. And, if we can’t recognize what we have, how long before we hear our own children/students saying statements like those listed above?? Let’s agree that what we have is better than most and in the future, be prepared to stand unified and ready to support those directly involved in architecting the teaching of our children. Let’s all be thankful for what we have. Otherwise, we’ll have not.
ISmell ARat February 28, 2013 at 10:33 PM
Kristen,Re: Unless one has served on a school board, in education (either classroom, administratively, or even as a cafeteria aide,) or has had direct input on educational reform at a governmental or federal level, it is merely an ‘outsider perspective’ looking in the fishbowl. I agree We should have teachers, administrators, union members and really smart people like you on the school board because the people who are paying for it are all shiftless morons who hate education and hate children. Your arrogance is amusing.
Kristen Klugh Cannella March 01, 2013 at 12:56 AM
Dear, I smell a Rat, Clearly I am at a loss. I'm sorry you feel that those 'paying for it are shiftless morons who hate education and children.' Not so. As Mark Twain attempted to do in his own time: I merely hold a mirror up to society, community, humanity. If the reflection you see is something you don't like, change it. If you like what you see, don't. I merely carry the mirror--perhaps more out of ignorance than arrogance. This is why I battled with posting. The bitterness, the virtriolic commentary, the mudslinging. My focus, throughout, is humankind. Period. Speak kind words, you'll hear kind echoes. Be real. Be purposeful. Be truthful.
Abraham March 01, 2013 at 01:47 AM
Kristen, while you and I probably agree on most of the issues, your statement regrading "outsider perspective" is very short-sighted. Remember, when you hold the "mirror," you get to select the angle. There are many in the GV community who never served in one of the roles you listed, but who have been very actively involved in the district through our kids' education, volunteerism and attendance at school board meetings. We possess a great deal of knowledge about the workings of GVSD.
Kristen Klugh Cannella March 01, 2013 at 01:59 PM
Abraham et al- I completely agree that there are many ways to 'serve' and be passionate about education. I'm sure it is frustrating for those truly impassioned individuals to feel the sting of fiscal and political decisions made that are, quite honestly, out of our control. My hope is that those truly and willing people focus on pulling together to make change happen. Mutually determine the biggest gaps in the system, the ones which directly affect the students, and seek solutions in the best interest of the students districtwide. To all who have posted--clearly, this topic has captured the readership of many. That alone is a wonderful sign. Let's hope that the momentum continues and new voices come into the fold.
Pedagogy March 01, 2013 at 09:56 PM
Kristen et all, Let's stick with the old voices of those with ethics and integrity which was lacking in the 17 year tyrannical reign of the previous Super. There was such a person in the 70's in the name of Milton Friedman with his manifesto of 'FREE TO CHOSE'. Sadly his efforts were largely curtailed shortly after when Carter was elected and let the fox in the hen house when he rewarded the teacher's union with their own federal department. The teamsters were just as deserving but their rank and file lacked the finesse of the teachers. Most of whom did a very good job but were oblivious to the extent of the treachery their union had in mind. Today we can only surmise what the science of education could have achieved under Milton's tutelage along with the synergies of technology over the past 40 years. To have some idea and tutor yourself with the way a noble laureate would have solved the crisis of education in America, search "FREE TO CHOOSE, Milton Friedman" where you can freely view his PBS TV series of the 80's and updated 90's. HTTP://www.freetochoose.TV/ . Guaranteed that you will enhance your character with Milton's ethics and integrity so as to more appreciate the similar traits of Bruce Chambers who freely served the taxpayers of the GVSD in his herculean effort to expose the previous 17 years of malfeasants in order to protect the taxpayer purse, largely unbeknownst to them. The free market's don't produce mediocrity and are the most cost effective.
Abraham March 02, 2013 at 03:17 AM
Ah, good old Milton and the free market advocates. Reagan's hero. Get rid of all regulation and everything will be fine. How did that work out in the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008? Bruce Chambers had ethics and integrity??? What a bunch of B*!!s^#$. Chambers ran a sleazy campaign (very ethical). Once elected, he made back room deals outside the sunshine provisions (even more ethical), treated his fellow board members with total disrespect (many repeated demonstrations of his integrity) and talked down to anyone in the community who disagreed with him (more integrity). After the GV community figured out what Bruce was really up to, they elected a more reasonable board and Bruce lost his presidency of the board. Shortly there after, Bruce quit citing a "dysfunctional board." Yea, that final move showed a lot of ethics and integrity.
bill rapp March 02, 2013 at 06:48 PM
Abraham - Because I do not understand why you do not fully identify yourself, a few questions for you. Have you or a relative served in the past on the GVSB? Do you currently have a relative or close friend on the GVSB? Are you or a relative currently a Democratic committee person? Have you or a relative ever served in that capacity? As Shakespeare wrote “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive”. And the epitome of that is hiding your true identity. What is the full name that appears on your voter registration card? on your driver’s license? Inquiring minds want to know exactly who you are.
Abraham March 02, 2013 at 11:50 PM
Bill, you sure do like Shakespeare. I'm impressed. You can ask all the questions you like but there are no policies on this site that require me to answer. I choose to keep my identity to myself because I know what Bruce Chambers and his GV "Stakeholders" are capable of doing to one's reputation. Steve, Audrey, Barbara, Kelly and the rest of the group have no problem spreading lies and rumors about those who speak the truth about the Stakeholders' anti-education right wing tea party ways.
bill rapp March 03, 2013 at 03:35 PM
Kristen et al - Re your No. 1 of 2/28, the point of history and why we are in the current mess is revealed in the following Santayana quote: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. What we have is a Board who thinks higher taxes is always the answer - often driven by special interests; the underlying premise of which is “we can afford it”. But if money were the only answer the schools in Phila. and Chester would be at the top - and happily we do not resemble either. The Act 1 without exceptions allowance of 1.7% is sufficient at this time. What we do NOT have is a Board open to dialogue or disagreement. I asked several budget questions at a recent meeting only to be told imperiously, “We do not have to respond to your questions - just read your statement”. If an elected governing body declines to answer questions from a taxpayer, one may reasonably infer: a) it does not desire dialogue; b) it cannot tolerate disagreement; or c) it has taken a position which is weak or indefensible. What we DO have is the practice on important votes of packing the audience with those representing special interests which has the tendency to intimidate the Board to side with the special interests over the taxpayers.
Pete Kennedy (Editor) March 04, 2013 at 05:41 PM
I removed a few ad hominem comments. Please keep it civil and focused on issues and arguments. Thanks for the lively discussion.
Montana March 05, 2013 at 03:39 PM
Hey Pete, How come you left this one in. It looks like a personal attach to me.
Educatorandmom March 06, 2013 at 03:35 PM
Just wanted to add that mandatory costs in areas such as special education (e.g., having to pay a student's approved private school tuition at 70,000+/year) are also included in the per pupil cost so less than 18K is being spent per pupil in actuality. Costs in areas such as special education must be met under IDEA and there is nothing the board or teacher pay rates, etc., can do about that (and no, I don't work for the district and am not a member of a school board).
Educatorandmom March 06, 2013 at 03:37 PM
Just pointing out that the teachers also contribute to the pensions with every paycheck and when the districts were allowed to take a "pension contribution holiday" for several years, the teachers did continue to contribute. Yes, the benefits are good and they recognize that but I always comment when I feel the teachers are being put in a primary "blame" position for increased taxes.
Pete Kennedy (Editor) March 07, 2013 at 03:29 AM
That's a fair question. It's borderline. I can't research every comment to make sure it's truthful, but I do delete the obvious red flags (like racial epithets, threats, obscenities, etc.) and endeavor to give fair judgement to lesser offenses, like comments that don't offer much beyond name-calling. We try to encourage thoughtful, respectful and honest dialogue on Patch, and I'm thankful that, most of the time, that's what people offer.
Scargosun March 08, 2013 at 04:18 PM
Do you know what one of the first questions anyone asks their realtor or looks up on-line? "What are the schools like?" When I was growing up in Malvern, it was the sticks. I was sent to private school because the school district was not great. Over the years it improved by leaps and bounds as more people looked to settle in the area. It is now a top school district. People WANT to live there and send their kids to school there. That makes your property values higher and also justifies that tax. People complain about school taxes, conveniently forgetting that the school district is where the children in the area are shaped. The better the school district, the better the outcome for the child. Look at what Philly is doing to their schools. Do you think that is a good idea? Philly is going to be left with no teachers, empty buildings and will STILL be paying salaries to poor administrators (who jack up that average pay by the way). Teachers, the ones in the classrooms every day, teaching your kids, deserve better salaries than are given to them. It is sickening to me that people commenting here are anti-teacher/school yet want their kids coming out of the school ready to compete for college entrance and jobs. Treat the teachers and the schools with respect and you will have good results. Beat them down and treat them like dirt and your kids will not get a good education. See how that works?
Joe from Willistown March 08, 2013 at 08:06 PM
Public "taxpayer" money is extracted from the citizenry by the police power of the state. Ttax money ought to be treated with the same fear and awe once associated with holy temple sacrifices. GVSD would be the priestly class, whose temple "duties" conveniently align with somewhat baser and absolutely personal motives.
Abraham March 09, 2013 at 06:02 AM
Wow!
Hannah Goldestein March 14, 2013 at 07:03 PM
You pay teachers lousy salaries, you get lousy teachers. It's as simple as that. If you want lower taxes, move to a school district with lower taxes and mediocre schools. But then your real estate values won't appreciate like they will in a district with quality schools. That's why you can buy the same house in other districts as GVSD and pay half the price. You get what you pay for. GVSD also underfunds pension payments, which is only kicking the can down the road. Those are obligations that must be met, and continuing to underfund it only means a larger tax increase down the road. I am not a teacher nor do I have any relatives who are teachers. I just appreciate good teachers. I'm happy to pay for quality educators and am happy with the attractive appreciation in real estate values having lived in GVSD.
Sam March 15, 2013 at 05:22 AM
I am a parent of kids who go to school. We are very happy with the teachers and we love the quality of the school. I am a taxpayer and happy to pay for high quality teachers. Go Great Valley teachers, you rock. Hope the teachers can influence some of the School Board decisions, since they know what our kids will need in todays world to compete. I trust the experts and see the results every day when my kids come home from school. Sam
Kristin Thomas March 15, 2013 at 11:01 AM
Here's a thought, how about you all change your Patch profile to use your real name. We love Great Valley.
bill rapp March 17, 2013 at 03:36 PM
Sam - you have stumbled on the problem - because of the culture of cozy collaboration built over the past decade, the teachers DO influence GVSB decisions - but unduly so; and this causes the three legged stool to collapse. But the teachers are NOT to be blamed - their interest is to benefit themselves. The blame/problem/responsibility rests solely on the shoulders of the Board itself which has over the years forgotten/disregarded the fact that its primary allegiance is to the taxpayers and NOT to the teachers/administrators. In short there is no reason this year to vote for the 1.7% exception increase in taxes on top of the 1.7% increase allowed by Act 1.
bill rapp March 18, 2013 at 07:21 PM
Earnest - me thinks you dost protest too much. Of course the teachers and their union want to benefit themselves AND you say as much in your 3rd paragraph. You also implied your acknowledgement of being "cozy" in an earlier comment re purchase of land and a sweetheart early bird contract - for which I thank you. And you are also correct that the "Board members are not dictators". In fact for the past decade they have been dictated to by Rita Jones and the 2 unions; and thus are the dictatees. THAT IS THE PROBLEM!! It is also my guess that the majority of the District's population DOES NOT currently have anyone in the school system. Those with someone in the system might have the most "steak" but there are probably more stakeholders/taxpayers who deserve more consideration by the Board than they receive. And by the way, if you (as others have espoused) want to force folks to exit GVSD, wait till you see how far property values fall. We already spend $18,000.00 per student - 3rd highest in the county.
bill rapp March 18, 2013 at 07:21 PM
AND Earnest - Because I do not understand why you do not fully identify yourself, a few questions for you. Have you or a relative served in the past on the GVSB? Do you currently have a relative or close friend on the GVSB? Are you or a relative currently a Democratic committee person? Have you or a relative ever served in that capacity? As Shakespeare wrote “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive”. And the epitome of that is hiding your true identity. What is the full name that appears on your voter registration card? on your driver’s license? Inquiring minds want to know exactly who you are.
Thought March 18, 2013 at 10:00 PM
Rita Jones is back through Pat Gillespie her ardent supporter Read it here http://articles.philly.com/2007-09-19/news/25222363_1_board-meetings-school-board-board-president And Ellen Behrle supported and lobbied for the early bird contract
bill rapp March 18, 2013 at 10:03 PM
Earnest - please reply to the above series of questions - if you are man or woman to do so.
bill rapp March 19, 2013 at 10:07 AM
Earnest - I can neither confirm nor deny your assertion as to GOPers on the Board. I learned long ago that one cannot tell a book by its cover. I have also learned that things/merchandise and human beings are often mislabeled. Thus, I am not as much swayed by labels and what one says as I am by one's actions and deeds. After the 2012 election I did receive a circular from the Democratic Party which said "With our strong showing at the polls we elected four of our endorsed candidates to membership on the GVSB".

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