No property tax increase this year? Where is this happening and how can this be true? It is happening in the Pottstown School District. This is the fourth year the administration and school board have not raised taxes in Pottstown. How can one of the most underfunded districts in the entire state hold the line on raising taxes for four years?
A few years ago, the school board and administration came to the decision that Pottstown School District residents and businesses were not going to be able to withstand another tax hike. The district residents paid the seventh highest property taxes in the state of Pennsylvania out of 500 school districts. This same board and administration made a list of priorities to deal with the funds they received from the former Governor Tom Wolf administration’s Level Up program, which gave additional monies to the poorest 100 school districts in the state, of which Pottstown is one.
These priorities included tax relief for homeowners and businesses, addressing facility needs, improving programming for students, and supporting new staff positions to assist students in attaining educational and behavioral goals.
This school year, 2023-2024, there is not only no property tax increase in Pottstown, but every taxpaying property will receive a rebate of up to $89, dependent on their level of taxes. This is a huge commitment from an underfunded school district.
Maureen Oakley, district business manager, says that the district is taking $740,000 from their reserve and giving it back to the people of the town.
Pottstown is surrounded by wealthier school districts. Whether in the county or beyond the county line, the districts surrounding Pottstown have more money, but are still raising property taxes. For example, Owen J. Roberts is raising taxes by 1.75%, Pottsgrove by 2.5%, Perkiomen Valley by 2.7%, Boyertown by 3%, Downingtown by 3.5%, and Spring-Ford by 4.06%.
Many of these districts offer everything under the sun to their students including many AP (advanced placement) classes, multiple foreign languages with some schools starting these languages in elementary school, a huge variety of sports from which to choose, turf fields for sporting events, many music choices including band and orchestra, multiple vocal and instrumental groups, lessons for string instruments and all other instruments, beautiful new buildings with the latest technology, science labs that are state of the art with the newest equipment, and on and on.
There are very obvious ways that every school district could save lots of money for their taxpayers, and I have wondered for years why they are not put into play. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for each county to share all of its resources and fund all the schools in the county in a fair, moral, and equal way instead of some students having everything and others having very little? Just the economy of scale would be a tremendous savings if all school districts in a given county would order supplies together instead of piecemeal, district by district. Just think of all the things that could be ordered in bulk: paper, computers, pencils, pens, books, online curriculum, cleaning supplies, fuel, choral and instrumental music, printers, sports supplies, etc. The savings would be in the millions of dollars countywide, which would relieve all taxpayers.
Other ways of savings would be for there to be a coordinated effort for all districts to write curriculum together or choose the same online curriculum. There is no reason that Pottstown School District teachers need to write math curriculum, for example, exclusively for their district, just as there is no reason Pottsgrove, Spring-Ford, and all other Montgomery County Districts need to do the same. Children all need to learn the same basic things so why pay teachers all over the county to do the same thing for each individual district?
If these kinds of efforts to save taxpayers money could first become countywide and then be moved to the state level, just think of the money that could be saved. Students in Erie and Pittsburgh need to learn the same things and need the same supplies as students in Pottstown, Shillington, Ridley, and West Chester.
Let’s use Pottstown as a model, and find ways all districts can follow in their footsteps. Let’s move forward on creative ways to save taxpayers their hard-earned dollars and, at the same time, give our students all over the state an excellent education.
Dr. Myra Forrest is a lifelong educator, former school district superintendent and currently education advocate for the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation.
Source: Berkshire mont