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Slight Uptick In Schools Seeking To Exceed Tax Limits

Victor Bjorkund

Pennsylvania school board members came to the Capitol earlier this week, some of them downright weary.

“It’s been a grueling year,” said Nathan Mains, director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. PSBA was in town for its annual legislative lobbying day. Its members wanted to underscore the damage caused by the budget stalemate.

Taken together, they said, school districts have had to borrow more than a billion dollars to keep their doors open during the more than eight-month impasse. As schools pay that back, they’ll also be on the hook for thousands of dollars in interest payments and legal fees. Thirty-five of the 500 school districts in the commonwealth have seen their credit ratings take a hit.

All this was mentioned by Stacey Thompson, treasurer of Keystone School District in Clarion County.

“These are sacrifices,” said Thompson, “that the school districts, students, parents, community, and personnel had to endure due to our legislature and governor not working together.”

Thompson also pointed out the number of school districts that have applied for a special exception to raise their local taxes above a state-mandated limit.

A 2011 law requires districts to ask the state for permission to raise local taxes by more than a state-mandated percentage or index – otherwise, the districts have to put the tax hike to a voter referendum.

This year, 179 school districts have applied for the special exception. Last year, 172 applied, according to the state Department of Education, and 83 districts followed through with the higher taxes.

Those figures don’t include school districts planning to raise taxes within the percentage set for them by the state.

And Mains, the director of PSBA, notes that the budget impasse hadn’t concluded by the time districts had to apply for their exception.

“The deadline came and went prior to the budget solution, and so I think you had districts that held on,” said Mains. “A lot of schools were trying to wait and see.”

“I don’t know what that means for next year,” added Mains. “We might see an after-effect.”