Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Senate Bill 76, or How to Save our Schools

A Letter from our District Forum representative, Elizabeth Rambeau.


Dear fellow DMS parents:

District Forum and Superintendent Dr. Gene Freeman believe it is imperative that parents understand the nature of a proposed bill that, if passed, would create onerous funding hurdles for FCASD. 

What is the legislation we oppose?

Sometimes called the Property Tax Independence Act, this bill has been proposed in the past in both the house (HB 76) and senate (SB 76). A recent memorandum released by our state senators indicates that it will be introduced to the senate soon as SB 76. Unlike in past legislative sessions, there’s evidence there’s more momentum for it this year. This bill proposes to fund schools largely through a hike in state income tax and an increase in state sales tax including taxing food and clothing that are currently untaxed. 

What can we all do to prevent this bill from passing?

The last time this bill came up for a vote, it lost by only one vote! We cannot afford to assume this bill will not be passed when it is reintroduced to the Senate as early as next week.

Act NOW!

  • Come to the EMERGENCY District Forum Meeting. Please come learn more about the negative impact these bills will have on our schools, our community, and our property values, by coming to a meeting at the Fox Chapel Area High School TODAY, Tuesday, January 31 at 7 PM in the LGI Room.
  • Call your state senator (see below)

Why do we oppose this bill? 

Loss of local control. Right now our educational money stays in the hands of our local district. Most of the money used to fund FCASD is local—in fact about 83 percent of FCASD funds are generated right here. Why would we give up local control of our tax dollars when we know Harrisburg has proven unreliable in disbursing funds to schools in the past? This is a gamble we can’t afford to take. Local school districts would lose control of their budgets, because these tax dollars would be controlled by the state.  Property taxes would not go away. 

Referendums are a risky bet. SB 76 attempts to provide local communities with the ability to raise additional school funds through voter-approved referendums that would raise local income tax. To maintain current levels of funding, our district will need to pass a referendum within a year. While the FCASD community is supportive of its children, the reality is that 72 percent of households in our district DO NOT have children in the FCASD and may not be connected to the educational community. We cannot be sure that this group will want to increase their personal income tax contributions to schools they are not using. The burden of these referendum campaigns will more than likely fall on the 28 percent of households with school-age children. Frankly, the odds of getting a majority of votes are not in our children’s favor.

Regressive tax. Linking education to sales tax and income tax disproportionately burdens working families and individuals. SB 76 will make goods and services cost more for individuals and families because of the sales tax hike, but this same group will have less income to spend on those goods because of the income tax hike.

Tax on workers. Retiree income in Pennsylvania will be exempt from school income tax. Did you know that less than 48 percent of Pennsylvanians are employed and that Allegheny County is one of the oldest by age in the country? With the number of working Pennsylvanians expected to decline over the next few years, a shrinking pool of workers will be responsible for the ever-increasing costs of education.

Unpredictable revenue stream. Income and sales taxes are unpredictable sources of revenue, which will make budgeting extremely difficult.

Does not help poorer school districts. It is important to note that this is not an attempt to equalize school funding across the state.  Under SB76 each school would be ‘locked in’ to the current year’s budget—never getting an increase.  Schools in poorer districts are not getting help, instead, they will forever have an insufficient budget. 

Community support. Currently about 17 percent of FCASD funds are generated from local business property contribution; our business communities, like RIDC, are valued contributing stakeholders of our schools. It is unlikely that FCASD can do without their contributions.

Calling your State Senator:

Your state senator is Randy Vulakovich or Wayne Fontana (Sharpsburg only). They need to know that their constituents will not benefit from SB76.

Please take a moment to call Senator Vulakovich or Senator Fontana and voice your concerns. It is that easy—but senators can only listen to the constituents they hear from.

Please call either office or both. Below is a suggested message:

“Senator, my name is ____________ and I am a parent in the Fox Chapel Area School District.   I am very concerned about the impact that SB76 would have on Pennsylvania schools. This is wrong for our children and community. Please voice my concerns to the senate. Thank you for your time.”

Randy Vulakovich (R) – 38th PA Senatorial District
District Office 412-487-6600
Harrisburg Office 717-787-6538

Wayne D. Fontana (D) – 42nd PA Senatorial District
District Office 412-344-2551
Harrisburg Office 717-787-5300