LMSD response to Wolk letter
To the Editor:
Mr. Wolk’s latest letter to the Main Line Times regarding the District’s recent facilities newsletter is yet another example of his ongoing campaign to mislead residents and attack public education in Lower Merion. The following is a line-by-line response to his piece (in quotes):
“Recently the Lower Merion School District sent to every resident, at a cost no doubt near $20,000, a plan for expanding its collection of schools by 3.”
The mailer does not discuss a plan for adding three schools to the District. It offers a variety of strategies to address unprecedented enrollment growth in the District. LMSD is currently the fastest-growing school district in Pennsylvania by total number of students. Enrollment has grown by more than 1,000 students over the past five years due to factors that include decreasing private school enrollment, a greater student draw rate from multi-family units, increasing home sales and the development of new housing throughout the community.
Additionally, we are surprised that Mr. Wolk takes issue with the District’s efforts to proactively communicate with taxpayers as this has been one of his ongoing demands. The total cost of the community mailer was less than $13K, not $20K as Mr. Wolk asserts.
“The total capacity of these three new schools will be about 3,000 students in addition to the 1400 vacant spaces already available in the existing buildings.”
This is false on multiple levels. First is the false premise that the District is constructing three new schools – as stated above, there is no plan to do so. Second, the notion that there are “1,400 vacant spaces” is extraordinarily misleading. If LMSD is to deliver its current programs and maintain appropriate class sizes without massive, student-by-student redistricting (or tactics like shifting elementary students into open seats at the high schools, for example), the math simply doesn’t work.
“By the district’s own projections school population will decrease after 2020 so by the time these buildings are completed they will be empty!”
The District’s facilities plan is based on verified enrollment data. The enrollment data have been verified by the Montgomery County Planning Commission, a governmental agency wholly independent from LMSD. The District also commissioned a second enrollment study by Sundance Associates that affirmed significant enrollment increases. For the purpose of his own arguments, Mr. Wolk continues to ignore the facts – enrollment in LMSD is increasing dramatically and the District is making every effort to plan for this growth. A simple drive down Montgomery Avenue would illustrate the challenges we are facing; new housing construction is happening in every corner of the community.
“How much will they cost? The district was silent as usual. Let me tell you. $150,000,000 dollars minimum, that’s one hundred fifty million dollars in addition to the $250,000,000 we are already in debt.”
Actually, the District has been far from silent. Projected costs were part of the mailer and have been part of every public discussion on this topic for nearly two years. The District is providing a number of scenarios for public review and discussion. Ultimately, the Board and community will need to decide how to best to address increasing enrollment while preserving the quality of our schools in the most fiscally-responsible manner.
“How will that affect your school taxes. Under new legislation being considered in Harrisburg, your State income tax will be raised to support schools but those districts in debt will still be permitted to tax.”
Perhaps as a scare tactic, Mr. Wolk continues to reference a failed school funding proposal that generated little support in Harrisburg and is currently a dead bill. There is no legislation in Pennsylvania that incentivizes districts to add debt as a means to increase taxes.
“In addition the district continues to violate an Order of the Court and raised taxes more than it needs, far more.”
This is wholly untrue. As Mr. Wolk well knows, the District is not in violation of any order and has not been at any time.
To read the District’s facilities newsletter, “Tomorrow’s Students, Today’s Challenges,” click here.
Lower Merion School District