Oxford Area School District honors J. Marshall Thompson, a longtime administrator and teacher
By Steven Hoffman
The Oxford School Board adopted a resolution at its Feb. 21 meeting honoring J. Marshall Thompson, who served the school district for 34 years—from 1927 to 1961.
Thompson was recognized for his work as a school administrator and teacher. The resolution lauded him for “his patience, loyalty, and empathy toward his coworkers” that served as an example for others to emulate. He was also commended for his strong moral character and high ethical standards, as well as for his commitment to the school district. In addition to his duties as a principal and teacher, Thompson also coached soccer, baseball and basketball. He was inducted as a member of the Oxford Area High School Sports Wall of Fame in 2007.
School board president Richard Orpneck said that district employees came across a portrait of Thompson in a storage area of one of the school buildings. Cindy Thompson, the granddaughter of J. Marshall Thompson was on hand to accept the portrait so that it can remain in the family's possession from now on.
In other business at the meeting, the school board approved a calendar for the 2017-2018 school year. The school year is set to begin on Aug. 28. The district will have a break for students and teachers from March 26 to March 29, followed by the official holiday from March 30 to April 2. The last student day would be tentatively set for June 8, 2018, according to the calendar that was approved.
Superintendent David Woods talked about some of the property tax reform ideas that have been discussed by lawmakers in the state capital. One such idea is Senate Bill 76, which would replace each dollar of funding for schools raised through property taxes with money raised through an increase in the income tax rate and an increase in the sales tax rate. Specifically, Senate Bill 76 would increase the earned income tax rate from 3.07 percent to 4.95 percent, and the sales tax would increase from 6 percent to 7 percent. The sales tax would also expand to include more items.
Many Pennsylvanians believe that relying on property taxes to fund public schools is an unfair system that is particularly hurtful to senior citizens or people on fixed incomes. Many of those same people have argued that shifting to an income tax or a sales tax would be more equitable because the burden would fall on those who have a better ability to pay. If you earn more money, you will pay more in taxes toward the funding of public schools. State lawmakers have discussed the need for property tax reform for a long time, but a consensus on a plan to shift the tax burden has never been reached.
Woods explained that district officials posted a letter to district residents on the website explaining their views on eliminating the property tax. The letter explains that while the Oxford Area Board of School Directors is by and large supportive of property tax reductions, there are still concerns about Senate Bill 76.
“Between income tax, earned income tax, sales tax, and property tax, many residents—especially those on fixed incomes—are left searching for relief,” the letter states.
The letter goes on to point out that the superintendent and other leaders of the district have a responsibility to make the community aware of the implications of anything that could put the school district at risk. The letter explains that Chester County school districts, on average, received 22.1 percent of their budgets from the state. That would increase to 82 percent if Senate Bill 76 were approved as is. With Pennsylvania's ongoing budget issues—the state's revenues are lagging far behind projections, the pension systems remain underfunded, and actually balancing the budget is a year-to-year challenge—there are reasons for concern if public schools were so reliant on the state for funding. It would significantly shift control of schools away from local residents and move it to the state.
“We are troubled by Senate Bill 76,” the letter stated. “There is no doubt that tax reform is badly needed....Chester County, in particular, has a reputation for strong public schools. We take great pride in our education and in the success of our students.”
Woods urged district residents to research the implications of Senate Bill 76, if it gets reintroduced, or any other legislation that would potentially shift the tax burden. He said that residents should share their opinions on the legislation with the state lawmakers who represent them in Harrisburg.
School board member Robert Tenga offered a report about the Chester County School Boards Legislative Council. He explained that the proposed state budget was recently unveiled, and it includes an overall increase for funding for public schools. Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed budget increases basic education funding by $100 million, or 1.7 percent. There is also a $25 million increase in proposed funding for special education, and $250 million in Ready To Learn block grants, which is the same amount that is in the current fiscal year budget.
In his report about the Intermediate Unit and Technical College High School, board member Howard Robinson informed his colleagues that the Chester County Intermediate Unit is working on finalizing its budget for the next fiscal year. The Intermediate Unit is not increasing the costs that school districts pay for the core budget, the occupational education, or marketplace education services on a per-pupil basis for the next school year.
Robinson explained that Oxford will likely be sending a few more students to the Intermediate Unit next year, so the overall amount of funding that Oxford sends to the Intermediate Unit will increase slightly. He estimated that Oxford spends about $2 million annually on the variety of programs and services that the Intermediate Unit provides to its students.
The school board will meet again on Tuesday, March 14 for the monthly work session. The next regular meeting is slated for Tuesday, March 21. Both of those meetings will take place at 7 p.m. In the Administration Building.