Petition Requests No Act 1 Exemption for Upper St. Clair

Despite the petition's request, the department of education's press secretary said the district will be granted the exemption if it meets the requirements of law.

An online petition from residents addressed to Pennsylvania's Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis has been circulating online since Feb. 14.

The petition asks Tomalis not to grant the tax exemptions the .

The Pennsylvania law called Act 1 allows the school board to raise taxes by a maximum of .41 mills for their 2012-13 budget. However, the district applied for an exemption that could allow for a maximum of a 1.647 mills increase.

Upper St. Clair Patch contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Education to find out if they got the petition and received an email back from Timothy Eller, the department's press secretary.

"When a school district applies for an Act 1 exception, as long as it meets the requirements of the law, the exception will be granted," Eller wrote.

The district is scheduled to find out if it received the exemption on Feb. 29.

William Sulkowski, the first person who signed the online petition, told Upper St. Clair Patch the petition was organized by the USC Informer. According to its website, the USC Informer is "a group of Upper St. Clair residents who are dedicated to providing important information regarding our township and school district to our neighbors." Every post written on the website is done so anonymously. Almost all of the postings are against the International Baccalaureate program.

The USC Informer sent the petition link to 1,500 email addresses, according to Sulkowski. As of Friday morning, the petition had 550 signatures. Of the 550 signatures, 111 were signed anonymously or with a fake name.

Sulkowski said when the petition is sent to the government officials, the names will appear, the information is just not able to be viewed publicly on the website.

According to the petition website's privacy policy, "it is up to the discretion of the petition host as to what information he or she may submit to the petition's intended recipient. Petition hosts may choose to submit emails and names (as well as other information) as such information is likely to enhance the credibility of a petition."

Sulkowski spent eight years on previous school boards.

"This group is irresponsibly spending taxpayer money," he said. "We projected the district's budget problem years ago."

Sulkowski said he and other board members knew the district was going to have a hard time fulfilling its future PSERS obligations, which is the pension system for school retirees. The increasing cost for PSERS is one of the main reasons the district is facing a budget shortfall next year and years beyond.

Sulkowski also thinks the board spent too much money on the school renovation projects. He thinks the board should have privatized transportation and asked the union to have the teachers make greater contributions to their health benefits. In addition, Sulkowski is very much against the IB program and against .

Rebecca Stern, president of the school board, said she was aware of the petition.

"It's perfectly in everyone's right to petition. Doing it anonymously makes it less credible," she said. "I do have a problem with people signing the petition anonymous. Anyone could keep submitting. I'm not questioning the validity of what they're saying.

"The whole PSERS issue has been superimposed on us from the state and it's very frustrating. It's taking away money from education.

"I hope that most people recognize that the nine of us on this board really are trying to do right by the students. Our hearts are in the right place and we are trying to protect public education and the quality of education in Upper St. Clair."

The meeting location of the next school board meeting has been changed. The board will meet at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 27 in the LGI room. Stern said the budget will be discussed and that the board is scheduled to vote on whether will become an all-IB school or not.

What is your view on the Upper St. Clair School District's projected budget shortfall? Should the board raise taxes? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Another Teacher February 25, 2012 at 12:32 PM
To Becky Stern: I am not surprised that finally the public seems to have aroused itself from its great slumber to protest the school board spending habits. The petition that has been circulated speaks loudly and clearly of the public disagreement with the tax increase as well as the expansion the IB program. It is shortsighted of you to brush it off as you did in your comments to PATCH: "Doing it anonymously makes it less credible". Many people in the district are afraid to put their names on a petition that is publicly posted on the internet. This is because it is a small community that has been seriously divided over school issues in the past. The IB issue has been especially virulent . Opponents to this program have been blackballed, snubbed, and their children have suffered in the schools as a result. The PATCH article made it clear that the signatures are all visible to the Governor and to the Secretary of Education. Instead of saying that the petition is less credible, you should be saying that you are sorry people feel the need to remain anonymous.
Another Teacher February 25, 2012 at 12:33 PM
In addition--Ms Stern: Your remarks regarding PSERS are dishonest. Ms. Frosina has accurately predicted PSERS contributions for the last five years. The charts on the petition are the very ones presented to the School Board 5 years ago by Ms. Frosina. They include projections for this problem. You may recall that these charts were used in Dr. Sulkowski's campaign against Kunselman and Kerber. He told the public that they were looking at a 20% increase in taxes if spending was not curbed. So here we are. I don't know how this will turn out, but here's what I do know. You made this problem, not the state. If you are smart, you will show respect to the petitioners by acknowledging the strength and validity of their petition and you will immediately direct the Administration to put together a real plan to get your fiscal house in order.
Patricia Sulkowski February 25, 2012 at 01:46 PM
This current board has made it clear that they are not answerable to the community taxpayers by Mrs. Stern's flippant response to this petition. This community has historically provided a top public education without this profligate spending or the IB Programme. This Board has lost sight of the fact that they are charged with administering a Public School System while being responsible stewards of the taxpayers' money. This Board has failed spectacularly on both aspects of their mission. They have excessively spent beyond reasonable limts on construction items which have little to do with the quality of education (i.e. LEED Certified ball fields on which students now have to pay to play). Now they are asking the residents of USC to fund a Private School for the IB Programme in Geneva, Switzerland, by giving them Streams Elementary School and $300,000 annually. It is laughable that Mrs. Stern is blaming the budget shortfall on the PSERs.
Maureen February 26, 2012 at 11:29 AM
I agree with may of the comments by Ms. Sulkowski and Mr. Trombetta. The superintendent and school board leadership inner circle have made some head scratching budget, curriculum and personnel decisions in the past year that has created a lack of confidence in their ability to lead. These thoughts are confirmed by many residents and district employees , who unfortunately indicate to me that they are not able or willing to publicaly state their concerns and proposed solutions. I am hopeful that the two new school board members will create positive change and build better consensus with a divided and deeply concerned community.
Becky Brindle March 02, 2012 at 03:38 PM
According to the Upper St. Clair School District's business manager, Pennsylvania's Department of Education reported that a letter indicating if and what the tax exemption would be was sent out on Wednesday or Thursday of this week. When the district receives the letter, they will first share it with the school board members at the next public meeting on Monday, March 12. Upper St. Clair Patch will be there.


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