The East Penn School district budget is of great concern to those of us taxpayers who fund it. But in the heat of debates over the proper levels and sources of funding, it is easy to lose sight of some of the fiscal discipline that the current East Penn administration and school board have provided this community in recent years.
As the graph below shows, our school district tax rate is among the lowest in the county. Only Southern Lehigh and Parkland enjoy lower school taxes:
If you look at how much money is spent per child in the district, East Penn has one of the lowest per pupil expenditures in Lehigh County too. And we are below the overall state average in this measure:
What about administrative costs? We are also below the state average on this measure. According to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, East Penn employed only one administrator ("manager") per 211 students, compared to the state average of 163 students per administrator.
Tax increases? There will not be any school tax increase this year for East Penn taxpayers. Moreover, in the decade between 2001 and 2011, the overall increase in taxes was only 1% higher than the level of inflation (a compound annual rate of 3.4% compared to 2.4%).
None of this information should leave us sitting on our laurels. There are certainly many ways we can make the district more efficient and cut unnecessary costs. But I believe the discussion of how to do so will be most productive if we start with a clear-eyed understanding of the fiscal record of the district in the recent past.
It is also possible to cut too much; we should take a practical, rather than ideological, approach to taxes. Our schools deserve the support they need to continue to improve the quality of education. The crisis in the Allentown school system is a sober reminder of what can happen when public education lacks adequate funding.