This letter to the editor was submitted to LebTown. Read our submission policy here.

In a strange way I got a little chuckle from Casey Long’s letter “Palmyra School Board dangerously out of touch” as being a board member we are often open to critical opinions. But what makes me extremely sad is how uneducated and ignorant Mr. Long’s letter is when considering facts. In today’s society, the sound bite is always taken as fact and the need to really educate oneself before deciding to publicly call people out typically does not happen. The more interesting fact is that Casey was not even part of the audience in our last board meeting that I am aware of and if he was, he declined to speak during public discussion.

Read More: $5.6m turf field project at Palmyra High School will continue through shutdown

One could only think why someone would do this, and then it came to me, as he leads the Lebanon Republican Committee.

Because Casey can simply blurt out ignorant and uneducated comments, I thought it would be good to provide some facts to allow you to form your own opinion.

  • State funding is supposed to account for 50% of a school districts operating cost. Today the state provides far less than that, 29% for Palmyra Area School District, requiring the local taxpayer to make up the difference.
  • The state continues to require local taxpayers to fund Cyber Charter schools at subsidy rates equal to what it costs to educate a student in a brick and mortar system, when cyber schools do not maintain the same costs, such as school buildings, utilities, etc. This money goes directly to “FOR PROFIT” entities. When you consider expenses and tax increases, our current liability for cyber schools is $1.3 million dollars annually. As a comparison a tax increase of 3.3% would generate $1.0 million. To add insult to injury, the school district has its own Cyber School, which offers high level educational services at the same cost as what it costs for a traditional student. You can see advertisements, TV commercials, and the such paid for with local tax dollars. As you can see above, the cost of the cyber liability covers any proposed tax increase and then some.
  • The school district budgeting process moves to its proposed stage in May. Casey is correct that some board members stated it’s “important to keep all options on the table.” Please note that a proposed budget is simply that, proposed. This does not mean a tax increase, if any, is finalized, adopted or anything other than it’s still part of consideration for when the board adopts a final budget at the end of June. This practice is well established in the school district budgeting cycle.
  • District administration has been diligent in coming up with a plan that removes $3 million dollars from the district’s preliminary budget to achieve a balanced budget without a tax increase. The concern here is where the cuts are too deep and how that will impact students with increased class size, less social and mental-health related services, and potentially programs that are cornerstones to the program that PASD delivers, etc.
  • The state will indicate that districts are saving money while being closed. That is true. At the same time the state also passed a bill that requires local districts to continue to pay employees who were on the payroll as of March 13. Additionally, the district is incurring additional costs relative to the current pandemic. What the state fails to tell you is that funding for districts will also be greatly diminished in the near future as the funding is driven from income tax, land transfer taxes and property tax. With more people on unemployment, people making less money, and land transfers not at normal levels, the primary funding source is also reduced. This doesn’t impact districts in the current fiscal year significantly, but greatly impacts funding for next year and even years to come. In fact, the concern over the 2021-2022 budget is even more heightened.
  • There is a real chance that education will be delivered virtual when school starts. Many school districts do not have the infrastructure to support virtual real time learning. A significant investment would be required to implement this. If we can have the students in our buildings, investment would need to be made in training, staff augmentation, supplies, etc in order to handle the hourly and daily disinfecting that would need to be done to ensure safety for students and employees.
  • Palmyra School district has the 12th lowest cost per pupil in the state (based on most recent ranking using 17-18 fiscal data).
  • A Palmyra education, when measured by test scores (achievement and growth) is one of the leaders in the state, equating to the 5th highest SPP scores in the state. An incredible value for relatively low costs per student is realized for our taxpayers.

We are in unprecedented times. Governments and businesses alike are trying to determine how any loss of revenue is going to impact their bottom line. While I agree that we don’t want to have a tax increase during this pandemic, a good business plan leaves everything open for discussion including that tax increase, building closures, staff layoffs and other measures. Without knowing what the state will provide each school district, how do you form a budget without all your inputs? Funding from tax revenue is projected to fall by $2 million dollars based upon what we know today. As this pandemic prolongs, the impact to that tax revenue diminishes as well. How does an organization prudently account for that?

From a business perspective, informed decisions are the best decisions. And since we don’t have to make a decision until final budget adoption at the end of June, I would hope that the future would look brighter and more factual so that the appropriate decisions can be made. Hope is not a plan.

As I have put my thoughts on paper, I realize that Casey’s intent was not to raise concerns but raise politically motivated headlines and soundbites that would indicate an out of control atmosphere. What I would say is that Casey is out of control and it’s a shame he raises politically motivated initiatives in a time when everyone is suffering and impacted by this terrible pandemic.

As I have pointed out to Casey before regarding the impact of FOR-PROFIT Cyber Charter schools, I continue to be surprised that no action is taken either in Harrisburg or locally. The funding of Cyber Charter School is bad business, but I don’t see Casey or other state legislative leaders taking action to address the robbery from the local tax payer. That’s a headline I would like to see and would fully support. One has to wonder why no action is taken, but you don’t have to wonder too far, as money trumps the better business decisions that are for the greater cause.

The state, has a consistent history of passing burdens to local taxpayers. The state has an obligation to every taxpayer to step up and do the right thing.

I would ask the public to attend our school board meetings. This is where facts are presented, and you have an opportunity to ask questions and be better informed.

Casey, two things

  1. I ask you to use your position to stop the highway robbery of local tax dollars that drain local taxpayers via Cyber Charter schools.
  2. I would ask that you attend our school board meetings to make sure you have all the facts and participate at the end of our committee meetings offering alternatives, thoughts or any suggestions you might have.

I hope for the general public that this has been informative and at least an indicator that I nor any other board member is “out of control”. Having the lowest cost per student and best in class educational opportunities and results is a product of many years of hard decisions and good fiscal management.

Christopher Connell
PASD Board President

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