July 29, 2016
The tax bills for the Avon Grove School District were sent out in early July. These bills included the 3.1% increase approved by the current School Board Directors. This is the 3rd consecutive increase in three years and the 6th increase in the last seven years. AG school taxes have increased by 17.5% since the 2010-11 school year. The operating budget has grown from $74.1 to $87.8 million during this same time frame.
Based on a home assessed at $200,000, the current school tax would be $5,808. Using the historic tax rates, the owner of this home would have contributed $75,367 to the school system over the past 15 years, or 38% of the value of their home. This is an enormous expenditure for any homeowner to bear. In addition to other revenue streams the district receives, the Avon Grove School District has budgeted to collect $53.6 million from the community next year.
We do not question the value of investing in the education of the children of our community but rather how effectively the funding provided is being used to educate our children. The number of students being educated by the Avon Grove School district has been steadily declining. A recent study commissioned by the Administration shows a downward trend resulting in 6.6% fewer students being educated since 2007-08. However, the overall cost of educating those students in the AG school district continues to soar while measured academic performance is largely unchanged. SAT scores over the same time period are essentially flat. The Avon Grove School District compares very favorably to the rest of Pennsylvania in any ranking. We have had and continue to have a successful, effective school system.
The administrative staff (non-teaching staff) has grown significantly in recent years and continues to grow based on the most recently approved budget for 2016-17. The Administration has shown that there have been cuts and changes to the school budget to gain efficiency and reduce costs in recent years. Aside from what is directly controlled by the school board, there are increasing costs associated with pension obligations (PSERS), healthcare and other costs that impact the operating budget. Rather than offset those increases with the savings realized by the Administration, the Administration and Board immediately consumed any savings with new spending and programs which exceed the savings and leave the taxpayers to pay the difference in new taxes. This approach is primarily what continues to drive taxes up.
The Administration and Board frequently point to tuition allocated to the Charter School as a growing cost pressure. Those costs are a function of how many students attend AGCS and what it costs per student to educate students in the main school system (as that number increases so does the funding for AGCS). AGCS educates students at about 70% of the cost of the main AGSD system requires per student. The current Board and Administration has a clearly stated goal to undermine AGCS by bringing those students into a system that would ultimately require additional resources to accommodate them.
The Superintendent is driving the Board to approve ever expanding programs, facilities, staff and salaries which most of the currently elected officials have approved at every opportunity with little regard to how the community will pay for them. In the upcoming year you will begin to hear more about a plan to build and renovate facilities including the construction of a new high school. The cost of education will likely continue to rise even without these ambitious plans that have little to no impact on measured academic performance. As we move forward you have to ask yourself, how much more can I give and how much longer will I be able to do so? How is the success of these programs being measured? Is the benefit (or lack of any benefit) worth the increased revenue?