Dis­trict re­ceives $1M grant

Fund­ing to cover hos­pi­tal tax short­fall

The Community Connection - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt [email protected]­tu­ry­media.com @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

POTTSTOWN » There was no gi­ant check but the news de­liv­ered to the Pottstown School Dis­trict Sept. 20 was still pretty big.

Re­act­ing to news last year that the sale of Pottstown Hos­pi­tal to Tower Health would pull the prop­erty off the tax rolls, three area leg­is­la­tors said they went to work to re­place the $970,000 the school dis­trict lost as a re­sult of the sale.

Stand­ing in the dis­trict’s newly cre­ated Beech Street Learn­ing Stu­dio in the for­mer Wash­ing­ton Ele­men­tary School, state Sen. Bob Men­sch, R-24th Dist., was joined by state Reps. Tim Hen-

nessey, R-26th Dist., and Tom Quigley, R-146th Dist., to an­nounce they had been suc­cess­ful in ob­tain­ing a $1 mil­lion grant to help plug Pottstown’s bud­get hole.

Su­per­in­ten­dent Stephen Ro­driguez, who Men­sch de­scribed as one of the more “tena­cious” school su­per­in­ten­dents he’s met, said the rev­enue loss trig­gered “a fi­nan­cial cri­sis” that brought a 3.5 per­cent tax hike, the first one in three years.

That cost the me­dian prop­erty own­ers in town a lit­tle un­der $100 more in taxes and it cost the 14 mem­bers of the dis­trict’s trans­porta­tion depart­ment their jobs, among other cost-sav­ing mea­sures.

Al­though the school dis­trict adopted its $62.7 mil­lion bud­get on June 20 and the state bud­get was signed on June 22, Men­sch said the money could not be de­liv­ered to Pottstown in time to stop that tax hike or save those jobs.

“Al­though we knew you were get­ting the $1 mil­lion, we had to go through the grant process, fill out the pa­per­work, make sure it was al­lo­cated cor­rectly,” said Men­sch. “We would have liked to have told you on June 30, but we couldn’t be­cause the Is weren’t dot­ted and the Ts weren’t crossed, which was un­for­tu­nate.”

Thanks were of­fered nev­er­the­less by Ro­driguez and school board Pres­i­dent Amy Fran­cis who said the money “will re­ally help make ends meet. I can’t tell you how many times at board meet­ings we’ve talked about things we want to do for our stu­dents, and then we talk about how we can’t af­ford it. It call comes back to the money.”

Pottstown is short more than just the $1 mil­lion lost from the hos­pi­tal sale.

In fact, ac­cord­ing to the “fair fund­ing for­mula” the leg­is­la­ture has adopted but never fully im­ple­mented, Pottstown is un­der­funded by $13.8 mil­lion, giv­ing Pottstown “the un­wel­come dis­tinc­tion of hav­ing the fifth high­est lo­cal tax ef­fort in Penn­syl­va­nia,” Ro­driguez said.

It is this as­pect of state ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing on which Ro­driguez has been most vo­cal in Har­ris­burg and which Men­sch said all three leg­is­la­tors re­al­ize is the larger is­sue fac­ing the dis­trict.

The prob­lem, Men­sch and Quigley said, is that many dis­tricts in the cen­tral and western por­tion of the state, do not face the same is­sues and so those who rep­re­sent them see lit­tle rea­son to push money into the for­mula when it means their dis­tricts would lose state fund­ing.

“Ev­ery dis­trict in In­di­ana County would lose 35to-40 per­cent of their state fund­ing” if the fair fund­ing for­mula were to be fully im­ple­mented to­day, said Quigley. Men­sch com­pared the ef­fort to con­vince leg­is­la­tors from other parts of the state to ad­dress fair fund­ing to the Greek leg­end of Sisy­phus, a king doomed to for­ever push a rock up hill, only to have it roll back as it nears the top.

So while all three said they are happy to have been able to pro­vide what Hen­nessey called “a lifeline” to the school dis­trict this year, all three said they re­al­ize the grant is a tem­po­rary fix, what Men­sch called “a BandAid,” bar­ring a ma­jor shift in the chances fair fund­ing bills they have pro­posed have of be­ing adopted.

“We’re just putting a ban­dage on a wound that’s go­ing to show up again next year,” Hen­nessey said.

Be­cause when bud­get sea­son rolls around again, that $1 mil­lion hole will still be on the dis­trict’s books.

To ad­dress that, all three leg­is­la­tors have pro­posed bills that would cre­ate a $5 mil­lion fund to which dis­tricts could ap­ply to make up for tax rev­enues lost when hos­pi­tals be­come non­profit, “so tax­pay­ers don’t have to dig deeper into their pock­ets,” said Hen­nessey.

He said in ad­di­tion to Pottstown, tax bases in Phoenixville, Coatesville and Oc­torora school dis­tricts were all af­fected by the sale of hos­pi­tals owned by the for-profit Com­mu­nity Health Sys­tem hos­pi­tals to the non-profit Tower Health.

“This is what rep­re­sen­ta­tive govern­ment is sup­posed to do,” Ro­driguez said. “See a prob­lem and work on so­lu­tions.”

With only a few days left in the cur­rent ses­sion, the three leg­is­la­tors have about six months to get ei­ther the fair fund­ing or $5 mil­lion tax loss bill passed be­fore the next bud­get dead­line in­flicts an­other $970,000 wound on the dis­trict, its tax­pay­ers and its stu­dents all over again.


Cel­e­brat­ing the an­nounce­ment of a $1 mil­lion grant for Pottstown Schools were, from left, Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Stephen Ro­driguez, state Rep. Tim Hen­nessey, stu­dent school board mem­ber Johnay Cran­ford, state Rep. Tom Quigley, state Sen. Bob Men­sch, School Board Pres­i­dent Amy Fran­cis and school board mem­ber John Ar­mato.


State Sen. Bob Men­sch, R-24th Dist., speaks at the Sept. 20 an­nounce­ment of a $1 mil­lion ed­u­ca­tion grant for Pottstown Schools. Be­hind him are state Reps. Tim Hen­nessey, R-26th Dist., and Tom Quigley, R-146th Dist.


Pottstown School Board Pres­i­dent Amy Fran­cis said the $1 mil­lion grant an­nounced Sept. 20 “will re­ally help make ends meet.”

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