Mt. Lebanon school board President Elaine Cappucci was recently quoted as saying that if the school district did not raise taxes (again), the Mt. Lebanon schools would be “decimated.” Mt. Lebanon has repeatedly raised taxes on its residents over the past several years, either through millage increases or by targeting individual property owners in court for higher tax assessments. Recently, in collaboration with the township, a legal group was hired to go after 150 new residents who bought their homes in 2011 and 2012 for higher tax assessments via what amounts to a “newcomer’s tax.”
First, Ms. Cappucci’s hyperbolic comment about the state of Mt. Lebanon schools is manipulative and irresponsible. Mt. Lebanon has good teachers and kids who largely have support at home; there is no risk of imminent decimation. Having worked in schools in New York and Detroit, I have seen decimated schools. Kids come to school abused and hungry. Teachers are unsupported and ill-trained. The physical environment is not only unpleasant but dangerous. Mt. Lebanon’s schools will not be decimated if taxes are not raised. It is just that school officials will need to make choices they are not used to making (while 95 percent of school districts around the country would love to be even in their pared-down condition).
Further, Mt. Lebanon Commissioner David Brumfield wants to expand unfair taxing from buyers of homes in 2011-2012 to those who bought in 2006-2010 and 2013. At a recent meeting, he expressed happiness with the fact that such a move would raise an additional $14 million. But who authorized a budget increase of $14 million? What do they need all that money for? And do Mt. Lebanon residents ever get to say “enough is enough”?
The township’s budget already has increased from just under $40 million in 2011 to just under $50 million in 2013. The school district’s proposed budget for 2014-15 is $94 million. This is approximately $144 million to run the schools and municipality in a midsized suburban community in Western Pennsylvania — an annual budget larger than that of some entire nations.
Like an addict whose solitary goal increasingly becomes getting cash for the next fix, Mt. Lebanon has become addicted to revenue and has shown an increased willingness to achieve the intake of public dollars at all costs. But if Mt. Lebanon does not quell its appetite for the people’s cash, the one thing that will be decimated is the idea that this particular community in the South Hills is a good place to move to and live.
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