Pennsylvania Districts Challenge Mandate for School-Tax Rebates

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Pennsylvania school districts have gone to court to contest new state rules requiring them to provide school-tax rebates to taxpayers.

The tax-rebate requirement stems from a lengthy deadlock in the legislature that delayed approval of a state budget more than a month into the new fiscal year. The budget finally approved provides for major increases in state aid for schools, an additional $20 million for low-wealth school districts, and the largest tax increase in the state's history.

The budget was passed weeks after local districts already had set their spending plans for the year. Hoping to soften the political impact of their massive tax hike, lawmakers required districts to reopen their budgets and make rebates to taxpayers with any additional, unanticipated funds coming to them under the new budget.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which is spearheading the lawsuit pending in Commonwealth Court, says the new requirement is "illegal and would cause some school districts irreparable harm." In particular, the districts take issue with the state education department's guidelines for implementing the rebate plan, which they say misinterpret the law and improperly impose new rules.

"Even if districts have serious needs in other parts of their education programs, they couldn't use the money," said Thomas P. Gentzel, associate executive director of the P.S.B.A. "All of the extra money would be refunded to taxpayers."

Mr. Gentzel said the rules cause particular problems for poorer districts, whose programs have long suffered under stringent budgets.

In the Steeelten-Highspire school district near Harrisburg, for example, Superintendent David Meckley said the state rules bar him from using his district's share of the $20 million for poorer systems to reinstate a teaching position.

"If we are a needy district and the legislature saw fit to give us money, why is the state saying we have to include it in the rebate?" he said.

The guidelines permit waivers only for those districts where the added funds would not cover the administrative costs of providing the rebate.

A spokesman for the education department declined to comment on the lawsuit last week.

A hearing on the matter was held Aug. 30, and a state judge is expected to rule on it by Sept. 16--the date by which districts are required to submit their rebate plans. --D.V.

Vol. 11, Issue 02, Page 15

Published in Print: September 11, 1991, as Pennsylvania Districts Challenge Mandate for School-Tax Rebates
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