Friday, April 23, 2021

No Tax Hike in Pottstown Schools Budget, Superintendent Rodriguez Gets 5 More Years

This slide pretty much speaks for itself.

Among the good news that came out of last night's Pottstown School Board meeting (HS AND MS shows will be available online!) two things stand out.

As for the things that affect the most people, hands-down the adoption of a preliminary budget that does not raise taxes is probably at the top.

But beyond that one-year windfall was the longer-term benefit of securing of the services of Pottstown Schools Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez for another five years.

From High School Principal, to director of human resources to superintendent, Rodriguez has stuck with Pottstown for more than 15 years, arriving at the high school in 2005.

I had occasion to dig up this photo yesterday and could
not resist using it again here. Rodriguez won me over in 
2013 when he was willing to do this. I have great
respect for those willing to make fun of themselves.
From his full-throated advocacy for fair funding, to his leadership in his current post as the director of the Pennsylvania League of Urban Schools, Rodriguez has raised his profile, and that of the school district said Robert Decker, math chairman at the high school who spoke last night as the representative for the Federation of Pottstown Teachers.

"You have become the face of Pottstown and you have had a big part in improving our reputation," Decker said.

Of Rodriguez, board member John Armaro said "his leadership has been outstanding."

"I've spoken to so many school board members in the last few months, and so many of them are lamenting the loss of their superintendents, who are all retiring or resigning," said board member Laura Johnson. "And I keep thinking how fortunate Pottstown is to have you. I know a lot of people who work hard, but I don't know anyone who works as hard as you."

That hard work will come with some rewards.

As explained by School District Solicitor Stephen Kalis, who was also re-hired Thursday night, Rodriguez will earn $199,000 in the first year of his new contract, which begins July 1.

He will enjoy raises of roughly 3 percent over the next three years with a 5 percent jump in the final year, to end up at a salary of $224,000. Over the five years of his contract, it works out to a 12 percent increase in salary.

Even with that bump, Rodriguez remains one of the lower-paid superintendents in Montgomery County, particularly when you consider that unlike almost every other district, he does not enjoy the services of an assistant superintendent.

For the first time ever, Pottstown Middle School
will also stage a musical this year. As you may have
guessed from this photo, it's 'Beauty and the Beast.'
Which is not to say that Pottstown does not have its share of administrators, and they all got good news last night as well.

The school board also unanimously adopted a two-year agreement with its mid-level administrators, known in education lingo as "Act 93" employees.

Raises range from 5 percent to 7 percent depending on the position. Click this link and go to the last page to see how they shake out as there are too many to list here.

"I thank you for your confidence, not just in me, but also in so many of our staff members," Rodriguez said. "I truly believe our best days are ahead of us."

That may be true for the borough as a whole. In her headlong rush through the budget presentation, Business Manager Maureen Jampo dropped a few tidbits of good news that may presage those better days.

For the first time in about 20 years, she said there was "minimal" loss of total assessed property value last year and February even marked an increase. 

For as long as I've been covering Pottstown (23 years and counting), with the exception of the couple years that Pottstown Hospital went back on the tax rolls, the borough's property values have been dropping.

The Pottstown School Board met online
Thursday night.
The impact of that trend, helped along by a few unhelpful lawyers who helped people challenge their assessments, is to raise everyone else's taxes. 

When total value is less, more must be asked of every other property owner to get to the same amount of revenue.

That is one of any number of factors which will allow the $66 million budget for the coming school year to require no tax hike. 

In fact, as finance committee chairman Thomas Hylton pointed out, in the past seven years, Pottstown has only raised school taxes twice.

While this is certainly good news, as is the $9.7 million in federal COVID-19 aid Pottstown is slated to receive, it does not fix the structural problem with the way Pennsylvania schools are funded, Armato reminded us all.

That federal money, a one-time cash infusion, "is not a windfall, but to pay for the damage COVID-19 has done," said Armato. 

Harrisburg continues to underfund Pottstown Schools by $13 million every year, he said. That would change if the budget proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf, which would funnel all state education funding through the "fair funding formula," were adopted.

But recognizing the unlikelihood of that politically difficult reality, Jampo said the preliminary Pottstown Schools budget adopted last night assumes "flat funding" from the state.

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