PSBA takes issue with my referendum commentary

Equal time was given to Tim Allwein of the PA School Boards Association to offer a rebutal to my commentary in last Sunday’s Patriot-News. Fair game.

It should first be noted, as Mr. Allwein points out, we and the PSBA jointly support a number of changes that would relieve school districts of various fiscal mandates (pension costs, prevailing wage cost, union strikes, etc.). Where we differ, of course, is whether we should allow taxpayers a say in school property tax increases. We say, YES, and PSBA says, NO.

Allwein also wants to blame the state for things that school boards can’t control. There’s truth to the fact that pension costs are set by the state, however, collective bargaining agreements are not. They are ENTIRELY a function of the school boards, and every time a board agrees to provide full healthcare coverage WITHOUT cost-sharing by employees, or agrees to salaries that are #1 in the nation (when adjusted for the cost of living), there are clearly many things that school boards can do to rein in labor costs (which account for approximately 80% of school costs).

Our point is that taxpayer referendum can HELP school boards bring these other costly items (pensions, prevailing wages, strikes) into line and put real pressure on Harrisburg to start repealing the mandates that are driving up taxpayer costs. School boards should not be afraid or opposed to giving taxpayers a voice at the ballot box. In fact, as Southeast Delco School Board member Byron Mundy points out, referendum will only help them do a better job.