Change Needed: LM School Tax Bills Up As Rankings Fail to Reflect Dollars Spent

By Christina Fink, Candidate for Lower Merion School Board
Published by The Mainline Times on July 20, 2015.

Have you opened the new higher school tax bill that arrived in your mailbox recently? 

In a letter accompanying that bill, School Board President Robin Vann Lynch wrote that the board has very little power to make budget changes that impact your tax bill.  The board is simply stuck raising taxes - as 88 percent of the budget represents salaries, pensions, benefits and debt service that cannot be changed.

To me, this is unacceptable. I propose we tackle these spending challenges - and that's one reason why I am running for School Board.

As you may know, the Lower Merion School District spends the most money in Pennsylvania (roughly $30,000) per child per year. Most of this $246 million, or 87 percent, comes from our taxpayers.  And, unfortunately, the dollars we are spending do not correspond with the state and national rankings we are receiving when compared to those of our counterparts.

Governor Tom Wolf's proposed budget is not likely to help Lower Merion taxpayers either as we are unlikely to get a boost in state funding, which accounts now for just 12 percent of Lower Merion School District spending. If Lower Merion keeps the status quo in all areas of personnel, facilities, bussing, athletics, music, arts, real estate, litigation, etc., our tax burden will only continue to increase.

As a business woman and parent with children in our schools, I am a strong supporter of  the "specials" our students experience like music, art, physical education and foreign language.  I am also pleased that a portion of our budget ensures that we can pay our teachers approximately $8,000-$10,000 more per position than other school districts.  

However, when it comes to compensation for our superintendent (up to $240,000 plus $6K car allowance from his previous salary of $180,000 and up from our previous superintendent McGinley's salary of $218,000), over-budget building projects, haphazard enrollment and facilities planning , and bus parking issues, among others, I believe new voices and business skills are needed.

Additionally, many special education parents do not feel that tax dollars are being spent  wisely to serve their children. We also have large settlements and litigation costs for events that I believe a team of leaders with different experience could have prevented.

Currently, the Lower Merion School Board of Directors is a group of 9 Democrats. Among them are 4 educators, 1 minister, 1 scientist, 1 energy lobbyist, 1 CPA, and 1 patent lawyer. I would argue our current board does not have the business and management skills necessary to make the best decisions for our school district.

My husband is a Democrat, and I have many friends who are Democrats.  I respect and enjoy the points of view they bring to the table. The question is - do you want a group of homogenous, like-minded individuals with little business and management skills running your $246 million dollar business?

Also troubling, as I mentioned above, is our school rankings when you consider that we are tops in terms of spending. The 2015 US News and World Report on high schools ranked Harriton High School #16 in Pennsylvania this year and #852 nationally, while Lower Merion High School was ranked #18 in Pennsylvania and #899 nationally. At the same time, neighboring Radnor High School and Great Valley High School ranked higher, while spending much less per student.

We don't have to spend the most money per student per year to have a great school district. Further, with 9 board members all of the same party, there is not enough challenging of thoughts or ideas to force better decision-making, and in turn, drive better spending and management.

If we want a superior school district at a sustainable price, it starts with the right leadership.  We need a diverse set of people with a well-rounded set of necessary skills who can pool their experiences to keep Lower Merion a world-class school district. 

Please think of me, Christina Fink, as part of the solution when you grumble at your school tax bill this summer - and consider a vote for me when you go to the polls this November.

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