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Carlisle Area School District

Pictured is the entrance to Carlisle High School.

A Carlisle Area School Board member had a pop quiz for the former sheet metal worker.

“I asked this gentleman, ‘What is the No. 1 issue from your perspective at the state and local level?’” Rick Coplen said Thursday. “He didn’t even bat an eye when he mentioned property taxes.”

The budget and finance committee was weighing the merits of limiting the board’s authority to increase the millage for 2020-21 to no more than the Act 1 Index adjusted rate of 3.1 to 3.3 percent.

Coplen spoke against the idea of seeking Act 1 exception that account for year-to-year increases in special education costs and the local contribution the district makes to the Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System. Coplen cited the conversation he had with a constituent earlier in the week.

The man and his wife were retired and lived on a fixed income, Coplen said. “I told him ‘We are the people who raise your taxes, but here is the reason why we do it: To maintain a high quality public education in the face of inadequate state funding.

“He looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Everybody knows that. ... Everybody knows the state doesn’t pay its fair share,’” Coplen said. “He represents a lot of folks who recognize it as a challenge.”

Thursday was not the first time Coplen vented his frustration at state lawmakers and their record on funding public education. As always, he pushed local residents to lobby for change.

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“Most people know what is going on,” committee chairman Gerald Eby said. “If only they would act and be more vocal with our friends in Harrisburg.”

Every year since 2006, the Carlisle school board has passed a resolution limiting its authority to increase taxes to no more than an annual calculation for inflation and poverty that is issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Business Operations Manager Owen Snyder said Thursday that the base index for Carlisle School District has been set at 2.6 percent for 2020-21. He said the adjusted rate for poverty has yet to be finalized but he estimated it could increase the range to 3.1 to 3.3 percent.

A board decision to seek exceptions would require the district to move up its schedule in the annual budget cycle by at least three months. Superintendent Christina Spielbauer said the stepped-up timeline would be tough for the administration to accomplish given that it is busy trying to identify potential efficiencies to save money.

“I don’t believe we are there just yet,” Spielbauer said after the meeting. “In the future, the board can take it into consideration as budgets get tighter and tighter. It’s something the board should have conversations on a yearly basis.”

Though no vote was taken Thursday, the consensus among board members was to not seek Act 1 exceptions. Even if it did, there is no guarantee Carlisle would be deemed eligible for an exception on special education or pension costs. Also, the state determines what the increase would be on the millage rate.

Chances are the school board could vote in October or November on a resolution limiting the board’s taxing authority for 2020-21 to just the adjusted rate.

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Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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