Friday, November 19, 2010

Taxpayer Victory--EASD Will Not Apply to State for Exceptions to 1.7% Tax Cap

EASD will have to pursue deep cuts and a property tax hike of 
1.7% or less to balance the budget this year.

Posted by: Noel Jones

Colin McEvoy's article in today's Express-Times and Chris Baxter's article for The Morning Call both cover last night's school board meeting which saw a packed room, a fair share of public comment, and went well past 10pm. I hadn't had a chance to check the agenda on line before the meeting, so I was surprised to find that neither the "I (heart) Boobies" breast cancer awareness controversy nor the debate as to whether cheerleading should become a competitive sport and satisfy Title IX were on the agenda. Nonetheless, the agenda was four pages long, the most eye-catching item being a resolution to direct Business Manager Marie Guidry to apply to the PA Dept. of Education for an exception to the 1.7% cap on property tax hikes this year.

At the beginning of the meeting, Solicitor McFall read to the public from the Easton Area School District's public comment policy, stipulating that the public may comment at the beginning of the meetings on agenda items only, that residents are to only address Board President Pat Fisher, and are to save any questions for discussion until the time allotted for public comments (on any issue) at the end of the meeting.

Superintendent Susan McGuinley made a big show of starting off the meeting addressing the board and the audience to say that she was introducing a resolution to ask the board to pledge not to exceed a tax

hike of 1.7% because the board and administration understand how hard times are for the taxpayers, which of course, was received well, but left those of us from the public wondering why the request for exemption was on the agenda. Residents got up to speak against requesting the exemption (and against an increase on taxpayers at all), including a representative from the AARP, who pleaded on behalf of senior citizens who are living on fixed incomes and often having to make the decision between buying food or medication in these terrible economic.

Then about half way through the meeting, when the resolution to apply for an exception to the tax hike came up, as four different board members spoke up and made it clear that they were against voting to apply for the exception, Susan McGuinley interrupted the discussion to warn the board that they would not be able to balance the budget with only a 1.7% tax increase. It was such an insult to the public's intelligence after her whole speech at the opening of the meeting that I could have sworn bullets shot out of my eyes. A very energetic discussion ensued, during which time several board members spoke up for the tax payers, and Jodi Hess suggested a very interesting detail--that apparently the district has the ability to also apply to use some of their $8.3 capital projects fund to balance the budget. This came as a surprise, as we were told during last year's budget meetings that money in the capital projects fund cannot be used to balance the budget. Ms. Guidry neglected to tell us then that they could have applied to PDE to use it. Kerri Leonard-Ellison debated the most passionately against applying for the exception, reminding McGuinley that the district still, even after firing 72 teachers, has not gone line by line through the budget to eliminate waste. McGuinley argued that they had, but that is not true. There were several times that taxpayers requested McGuinley to order all departments to examine their budgets line by line and propose a 10% cut all across the board, but she never did. Various departments proposed some cuts, but in the end, the ax came down on the teachers, the crisis counselors, literacy counselors and the tech department, after which the administration saw fit to give themselves a raise.

Thankfully, when it came time to take the vote, the resolution to apply for the exemption from the tax cap failed 8-1. The only board member who voted in favor of applying to the state to be able raise our taxes above the state cap was Tim Reilly, who, sounding a lot like Susan McGuinley, gave the excuse that he would never vote for tax hike higher than the cap, but didn't want to take away the board's ability to do it. Right...

At the end of the meeting, Kerri Leonard-Ellison proposed a resolution asking the board to reaffirm its commitment to the public's right to comment at all public meetings. The resolution was at the request of the College Hill Neighborhood Association, who came to the defense of the taxpayers when the EASD, in violation of the PA Sunshine Laws, banned public comment at the workshop meetings that precede board meetings. A bizarre reticence to this simple vote of good faith ensued, and in the end it only passed 5-4, at which point Susan McGuinley addressed the public and said that she hoped that with this vote we all felt reassured that the board and administrators really did want public comment. A split vote was supposed to reassure us of that--really? 

What is reassuring, is that the board pulled together and voted against giving the administration the ability to raise our taxes above 1.7%. Now taxpayers will have to be vigilant and continue to speak up at the meetings to make sure that waste is cut, that no unnecessary spending is taken on, that the administration does not vote themselves another raise, and that our taxes aren't raised again in these tough economic times.


Luther said...


Now that you have the pledge to not raise taxes about the 1.7% threshold, don't badger the Board and administration when the cuts come later in the year.

You pulled this stunt last year and looked ridiculous arguing for a 0% tax increase but bitched about the staffing cuts that ensued.

You, your buddies and Mrs. Ellison can't have have it both ways.

noel jones said...

Luther, no need to be nasty. And you are obfuscating. As I and other taxpayers said at the meetings last year, we want to see WASTE CUT and side-by-side sacrifices of raises by the teacher's union and the administration. The staffing cuts were unnecessary and a result of stubbornness on both sides, as well as a failure to ask each department to present line-by-line budgets with 10% cuts across the board.

For instance, things that came up in the board meeting that the EASD has been paying for without thinking are troubling. Why are we paying D'Huy so that non-district employees can attend webinars? Why are we paying them to do another full facilities study rather than an update? Why last year did one of our newer board members discover that invoices were being paid for contracts with D'Huy that were never approved by the board? Why did we pay last year for additional milk vending machines (and the additional electric bill it takes to run them) when milk is already offered in the cafeteria? Why after firing teachers, crisis counselors and tech people did we hire new coaches? Why has the administration tried twice to push through approval for expensive swimming pool renovations? Why did the administrators GIVE THEMSELVES A RAISE AFTER FIRING 72 TEACHERS?

But it is taxpayers that look ridiculous for asking for a zero tax increase?

If you want to refer to taxpayers making these demands and asking these questions as "badgering" so that we don't raise taxes on people who have been struggling to save their homes and afford health insurance, or on seniors with fixed incomes who have to decide between food and medication, then so be it. We will "badger" them.

You and your administrator "buddies" (and perhaps your contractor/engineering buddies) need to get the message that the gravy train is over and stop presenting a false either/or scenario that suggests there are only two choices--a large tax hike or lost teachers. That is a lie.

Cut wasteful spending and negotiate a side-by-side freeze on wages. Leave the taxpayers alone--times are hard enough already. And why anyone thinks they deserve raises when taxpayers are taking pay cuts--or not working at all--is beyond me.

noel jones said...

Here's an interesting letter-to-editor from the ET:


noel jones said...

here is an updated article by Chris Baxter of The Morning Call:,0,7306715.story

Tim Pickel said...

It is my opinion that McGuinley and many of the board members are in over their heads. Running a school district effectively is not an easy job and one they might have underestimated. It is a role that once taken on, must be done in the most serious manner.

Without thoroughly reading the budget line by line, the nonsensical spending cannot be eliminated. I would bet that many items in the budget could be eliminated without causing a ripple in the educational process.

Somewhere, sometime, all involved (teachers, administrators, board members and the public) need to saddle up and do the job right. Come to the table, be honest and objective and solve the issues at hand. Public education is one of our most valuable resources and we have to make it work.

noel jones said...

Thanks for posting, Tim--I wish you were still on the school board to back up the board members that are trying hard to make things right--they lost a good one when you left!