Friends for the Protection of Lower Macungie Township, an active group that promotes smart growth in the community, recently sent a number of questions to those running for the East Penn School Board for the first time. Though I am an incumbent, they asked great questions and so I thought I would answer them too:
QUESTION: By a narrow 5-4 vote East Penn supported the Hamilton Crossings TIF. If a similar issue were to come up again what would your position be?
I voted against the Hamilton Crossings TIF within the first few months of becoming a board member. The TIF takes half of the tax revenue generated by the Hamilton Crossings retail center and diverts it away from the schools in order to pay debts incurred in developing the property. I voted no because I believed that the developers would build Hamilton Crossings even without the support of the taxpayer money generated by the TIF. Hamilton Crossings now generates more than $600,000 annually in tax dollars to the school district, which is great. But I wish we could benefit from the more than $1.2 million that the district would receive annually without the TIF in place.
QUESTION: Last year, the School District ignored a formal letter from the Lower Macungie Twp. Planning Commission opposing the sale of the Lower Macungie Elementary School Property. Multiple Lower Macungie Commissioners have gone on record expressing their disappointment (Beitler, Higgins). They both claimed that if given the chance, Lower Macungie Twp. would have considered making an offer on the property to preserve it. Apparently there was a lack of communication between the township and school district administration prior to an agreement of sale. If elected how would you ensure this lack of communication is addressed moving forward?
The way this sale was handled is my single biggest regret from my four years on the school board. The district got a good deal on the property and selling it was the right thing to do (see Questions about Property Sale for details). But I was unaware at the time that the township was interested in preserving the land and might be willing to purchase it themselves. I wish we could have explored that option. The township concerns about the sale were raised only after the district had entered into a formal purchase agreement with the buyer.
I agree that there needs to be better communication between township and the school district administration, and that such communication might have led to a different outcome with the Lower Macungie Elementary School property. I now regularly ask more questions of the administration about coordination and communication with the townships and boroughs that make up the district. As a board member, I now pay greater attention to the details of township and borough business than I did in the past. Moving forward, I think two specific changes to the way of doing business would help. First, I would like to see greater transparency in school board meetings by making them available through internet streaming or local cable television. This would allow everyone in the community, including municipal officials, to be better aware of school district issues. Second, I would like to see school administration and municipal officials establish a regular schedule of meetings to discuss issues of mutual concern. Such meetings need not be lengthy nor lead to any specific cooperation. But it would increase the flow of information between these community leaders and avoid missed opportunities like this one.
QUESTION: The School District owns property off of Rt. 100. We have expressed concerns that with the proliferation of warehouses and freight traffic along Rt. 100 that this is no longer a safe or desirable location for a future school campus. Would you consider exploring other safer and more community oriented (and walkable) sites for future school construction if opportunities were to arise? Would you proactively work with municipal officials on school siting issues if additional facilities are ever needed?
My answer to this question is simple: YES! I am 100% in favor of exploring better possible sites for any future school construction that might be needed in the future. And I would happily and enthusiastically work proactively with any interested parties to do so.
Many thanks to those at "Friends LMT" for their great questions, as well as for their continued efforts to keep the community informed and involved in local affairs.