To the editor:
Because my words may easily be misunderstood as written in the May 17 article regarding the school board's budget meeting of Wednesday, May 16, I am taking the time to clarify my position on a tax increase in Mifflin County.
Did I use the word "foolish"? Yes, I did. But, in speaking to the other board members, most of whom had already agreed to raise taxes to some degree, these were my words: "If you are going to raise taxes, it would be foolish not to raise them to the maximum allowed because this is the only year that you will be able to raise the taxes to this maximum." In other words, voting on a lesser tax increase than the maximum allowable (2.1884 mils) would create only a band-aid for 2012-2013. In five years, or fewer, we could be looking at bankruptcy. Is it not foolish to continue to set our district up for bankruptcy?
Further, at Wednesday night's meeting, I was the only board member who refused to be part of a straw poll regarding an increase in taxes. Why? As I said Wednesday night and have repeated on many occasions, I find it very difficult to raise taxes when other non-educational cuts can be made. While I have not supported cutting valuable educational programs for children, I have supported cuts to central office and other Act 93 administrative positions. I believe that additional cuts can be made in these areas without affecting students adversely.
Additionally, keeping Union Elementary School open for 85 students, who would be able to receive at least the same or even greater educational opportunities at Indian Valley Elementary Center, simply does not make sense. Why should 90-95 percent of our taxpayers pay higher taxes to keep a school open for 5-10 percent of our district's taxpayer population?
Finally, selling those schools that are no longer in use would enable the district to save thousands of dollars.
I certainly do not want to raise taxes. However, we are facing a major dilemma. This dilemma has not been caused by all of the current board members, but we are the ones who must now deal with it. Besides having had too many years of no tax increases, recent attacks on public education by some state lawmakers and the governor will continue to cause our district, and many others, to look at program cuts, as well as tax increases, in years to come. While the governor has suggested using reserves rather than cutting programs, those who were listening at the board meeting Wednesday night certainly know that we do not have enough money in reserve to pay for a major emergency situation. Reserves should be in place to ensure emergencies can be handled. Saving for unexpected circumstances is part of fiscal conservatism.
On May 24, the school board will vote on whether to increase taxes. I still would like to see more non-educational cuts, or at least a commitment to non-educational cuts, before agreeing to any tax increase. However, the time for creating a balanced budget-a requirement for school districts- is running out.
Mary Lou M. Sigler
Mifflin County School Board