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28 cents a day can do a lot, schools chief says

April 04, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Twenty-eight cents a day can buy an all-day kindergarten program, textbooks and an additional special education teacher, the superintendent of Tuscarora School District told taxpayers Monday.

The proposed 28-cent-a-day increase in taxes for the so-called average homeowner would allow the district to operate with a $26 million budget and build reserve funds, Superintendent Thomas Stapleford said.

The 28 cents translates into $8.58 a month and $103 a year for the owner of a house with a market assessed value of $100,000, he said.

At a town meeting, Stapleford presented a revised 2006-07 budget that he called a "reasonable proposal that addresses our needs but isn't extravagant."

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"We have had some significant changes in the financial situation for next year," said Stapleford, who has scaled back his proposal for an 11.5-mill tax increase to one of 7.97 mills. The district operates with 86.58 mills of taxes.

Tuscarora School District is the only district in Franklin County, Pa., that chose to participate in the state's Act 72 program, which promised property tax relief after the state generated almost $1 billion from slot machine gambling.

Through Act 72, voters in the district could have been asked to approve any millage increase more than 4.4 mills.

However, Tuscarora School District has been granted exemptions that allow the board to raise taxes up to 8.5 mills without sending the increase to ballots.

One resident, Stephen Bender, asked if confirmation of the exemptions came in writing, and Stapleford said they had. Bender challenged the district's ability to raise the taxes without voter approval under Act 72 guidelines.

"I'm contacting the ACLU," he said. "You took our right to vote away from us."

Other residents didn't comment on the increase itself, but rather asked questions about other ways the district could generate revenue.

Laura Carbaugh, president of Montgomery Elementary School's PTO, said parents often ask her why new, upscale houses aren't better helping the district's finances.

Taxes paid by one homeowner don't fund the $9,300 per year education of each child living in that house, according to Stapleford.

Instead, that homeowner relies, in part, on the taxes from neighbors who either don't have children or have grown ones, he said.

"At least a third (of new houses) will have retirees probably," Stapleford said.

He also addressed Carbaugh's remarks about impact fees, which currently cannot be imposed by districts. New proposals from local legislators would provide additional relief for districts experiencing growth, Stapleford said.

It might take a while for the measures to pass because only one in five of the state's 501 school districts is experiencing growth, meaning legislators elsewhere might not see the need, Stapleford said.

The school board must approve the final budget by June 30.

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