Pa School Districts Reserves Are $4.4 B
By Leo Knepper
The amount of money held by school districts in “reserve” has more than doubled over the last 10 years according to a new report by the Commonwealth Foundation. At the end of the 2015-2016 school year, district reserves were over $4.4 billion. According to that same report, there were 13 school districts who held more than 20 percent of their budget in reserves and requested property tax increases well above the limit established by the Department of Education. Not only did they request higher taxes, they did it between eight and ten times in a ten year period. In other words, the school districts could operate on their savings accounts for more than 20 percent of the year, but still wanted taxpayers to pad the accounts even more.
One of the names on the list, Lower Merion School District, has been sued by local taxpayers for their budget practices. A Commonwealth Judge found their budget practices so egregious that the district was ordered to roll back their 2016 tax increase. despite a $56 million reserve fund, Lower Merion is seeking a tax increase again this year that exceeds the state cap.
The worst offenders among schools seeking unnecessary tax increases are not confined geographically. Rather, it seems that there is a systemic problem among school boards. It is hard to argue against keeping a rainy day fund in reserve. At some point, the reserve fund becomes an insult to taxpayers. Although school district finances do not garner the same attention as national, or even state-level scandals, understanding how they are spending your money is vital.
To see how your local school district stacks up, take a few minutes and review the financial data collected by the Department of Education. You will probably be surprised by what you find.
PS-The Senate will begin working to advance pension reform legislation later this week. Their legislation does not include funding reform at this point. Please, take a moment and contact the General Assembly about this important issue.