Act I Exceptions…Shared Knowledge

I knew it would happen.  I’ve left some information out of my previous discussion on Act I.  Specifically, there are exceptions to the rule (or why else would it be a rule, right?).

Here’s what I believe I know.  (And please don’t shoot me if I’m still wrong on some of this.  I’m learning and the legislative language can be rather dense.  Helpers are welcome to comment.)

First, start here at the PSBA website.  This site was written before the passage of Act I, so ignore the link to PDE and head to the “new” PDE website on Act I Exceptions.  Don’t bother searching for our base index value, it’s 2.9% in 2010-2011.  (For succeeding years, look here.)

Based on my own read, districts may apply for exceptions to Act I (and thus do not have to seek a referendum) when expenses rise significantly for the following purposes:

1. Debt service related to school construction
2. Special education
3. School improvement programs related to the Federal No Child Left Behind program
4. Fast growing student populations
5. Failure of the sum of certain local and state revenues to keep pace with the base index
6. Health care expenses for contracts in place when Act I was adopted (no longer applies)
7. Retirement expenses (e.g., gigantic PSERS rate increases that are already starting to come)

Districts are NOT required to utilize all of the value of the approved exceptions so please don’t be shocked by news reports that say taxes ARE going up by some huge amount — they may not be and I will certainly work hard to avoid it.  Provided a district fills out their paperwork correctly, I would expect approval of the exception requests since the criteria are pretty straight forward.  The application forms are even online at the PDE site above.

One gotcha…If a district requests exceptions and also requires a referendum, and then that referendum is turned down at the May primary, the district loses the exceptions AND must stay within the base index.  Thus, it should be obvious that a district will stay within its approved exceptions and avoid a referendum at the very least, unless there are truly dire circumstances. 

Again, districts do not have to use all of the value of their exceptions, so the work of boards is not done simply by applying for exceptions.  Because budgets are rarely finalized when the exception applications are due, districts are derelict if they don’t at least apply for valid exceptions, even if they don’t ultimately use them.

So, I just wanted to make sure I was doing my best to share my learning, to be open about having left out a point, and to make this an opportunity for others to comment if they believe they have a better handle on this complicated mess than I do.

One other thing I’ve learned…to LISTEN carefully to our district business manager.  They know this stuff really well and will guide us.  On this, you will just need to trust me.