Jun 22, 2012

The William Penn School

An argument at the Allentown School Board meeting made today's paper; Board member Scott Armtrong suggested keeping the building's historical name, William Penn, for the new alternative school. The controversy surfaced when he further mentioned that perhaps because it's a school for the trouble makers, new name sakes would not be flattered. Joanne Jackson took offense, defending the educational potential of the under achievers. I know Scott and Joanne, and fully support both of them as board members. I think all taxpayers should be glad that we have a highly qualified board, willing to go toe to toe on any issue. Although Scott and Joanne both have a point, let me add my taxpayer dime. There was an element of political correctness with the Louis Ramos naming. Although I'm sure that Ramos was dedicated, being involved with the school system was part of his job at PPL. His choice appeared to be a homage to a new demographic. Similarly, naming an alternative school could conceivably offend sensibilities, creating a somewhat contrived pool of names. Considering the historical significance of William Penn, it certainly would be appropriate to keep that name. Perhaps the suggestion by board member Julie Ambrose to step back from the emotions of the evening was best.
 UPDATE: In addition to the commotion Thursday evening about naming the alternative school, Armstrong presented the following statement to the record.
  Future ASD Budgets cannot Be Balanced on the Backs of Taxpayers
 In light of the projected 300% increase in cost of the defined benefit pension plan of ASD employees this board must begin to consider how it will bridge the resulting 40 million dollar deficit gap. One thing seems clear; the burden cannot be placed solely on the backs of the taxpayer. To do so would be to ask those with less to subsidize those with more. Can this board look the taxpayers in the eye and explain to them why they should accept annually escalating school taxes to finance a pension plan that is far more generous than their own? That solution is neither fair nor reasonable. Clearly the burden must be shared equally, therefore unless relief is provided from the district’s defined benefit pension plan this board must act to control the cost by commencing staff reductions. Of course these cuts will reduce the quality of education and those who lose their positions will experience real hardships in these tough economic times. Higher taxes, reduced staffing, less opportunities, and lower outcomes will be the fruit of a refusal to work out a sustainable fixed contribution pension plan.

Armstrong also expressed this sentiment in a letter to The Morning Call which appeared on June 20th.


Anonymous said...

Lou was very much a Bethlehem person, not Allentown, other than PPL duties.

Anonymous said...

You don't get to add your taxpayer dime. You live in South Whitehall Township and do not pay ASD taxes. Keep your nose where it belongs.

michael molovinsky said...

@2:00, actually i pay ASD taxes in the course of my business. please keep your hate where it belongs.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:00 -

To paraphrase a famous quote - it's not that you're ignorant, it's just that you know so much that isn't so.

I'll let Mr . Molovinsky fill you in on the details.

Anonymous said...

Re: Lou and political correctness

lou was intensely involved w ASD through his work on the Empowerment team. His leadership is one of the reasons ASD saw success in Empowerment. additionally, he continued to advocate for the district even when he was on the state board of education.

by definition, naming an edifice is going to be political.

thoughtful column.

Anonymous said...

OK, I'll bite.

What the heck was/is the Empowerment Team and how did it help ASD?

monkey momma said...

I would be disappointed in Armstrong if he didn't ruffle a few feathers now and then. The fact is, his comment made sense. Political correctness is ruining our schools - it's time for more frank discussions at school board meetings.

Anonymous said...


Thank you. The heat was however very intense. I can take it.

Scott Armstrong

Bill said...

Scott is correct about the pension issue. I recently re4ad this article that the State pension liability is roughly 400% of our entire state budget.


It is time for action on this issue, as these commitments will swallow all other services and expenditures on all levels of government.

Anonymous said...

Why not just build an arena?
Then Tax, ticket, and nickle dime every body into submission.
Instead of a school system, and working infrastructure, we'll have what we've got.
Oh yea, and 3 or 4 much wealthier

Anonymous said...

Maybe they should name tax hikes after school board members who don't recognize the problem.

Thanks to Scott for his common sense and looking out for the taxpayers.

michael molovinsky said...

@11:29, we have a more conservative school board than we had in many years. i suppose it's a result of being a low profile, thankless job that allows cross filing. i suspect that in years to come, we will look back at this board as the gold standard.

Anonymous said...

Given the unique demographics of Allentown, I am in favor of a per unit school tax surcharge on each rental unit in the City. This makes great sense since up to 75% of ASD students live in rental housing and the rental housing they live in is assessed far to low. A typical center city 6 units pays less property tax than a single home in central Allentown. An annual $1,200 per unit educational impact fee would go a long way towards improving academics at ASD and maybe even create a possible property tax rebate!

Instead of playing politics with the NIZ and pay day loan busineses, Pat Browne and Jennifer Mann should be promoting ideas like these.

michael molovinsky said...

@12:05, being punitive against the landlords is popular, but short sighted. in my case, although i operated numerous apartments, i had no school age children as tenants. you would take 2.5 months of rent under your plan. the six unit pays only as much as a single family is another myth. although you might be able to find a low six unit appraisal, and compare it with a high single family in the west end, generally you're off base. your attitude alone, as represented by the inspection law, and the recent 700% increase in rental fees, have resulted in a much lower quality of landlord in allentown. most of the better landlords tired of being blamed for problems they never wanted or caused in the first place. nobody ever purchased rental property hoping that the city institutes policies that attract lower income, more problematic tenants to the city. btw, browne and mann are a state rep and senator, not city councilmen. and city council has nothing to do with school tax.

michael molovinsky said...

post script for @12:05. i've never seen a row house made into more than 5 units, and they were studio apartments. most row houses are two units, some are three units. occasionally, there is a four unit. the recent zoning change which encourages the conversion of former commercial buildings into apartments is where you should have exerted yourself. that change was an attempt to attract the young childless professional, but guess how many children the second tenant will have?

Anonymous said...

Retired ASD teacher here.

Michael, I like 12:05PM's idea. A couple years ago, I did a lengthy analysis of tax records for a 100 square block area surrounding Center Square. I found MANY 2-3 unit buildings paying the same, or slightly more, amount of property taxes compared to single unit buildings on the same block.

I doubt we'd find ANY examples of 2-unit conversions paying DOUBLE the amount of an original single family home next door. The reassessments, inspections, etc. do not happen often enough to keep up with what's going on in Allentown. Certainly an area that needs to be studied carefully.

Interesting in that Section 8 voucher tenants couldn't care less if their rents increase due to tax adjustments upward.

michael molovinsky said...

retired, assessment is based on the physical characteristics of the building, such as number of bathrooms, not how many people live there. the homestead exclusion addresses your concern somewhat; no income property qualifies for that exemption.

Guy Williams said...

Scotts point is well taken and should be supported by all board members.It all comes down to the overall cost increases and its affect on taxes.Why not come up with a set percentage which a teacher could take in either salary or pension/benefits.Their choice but you cant have both.We just have to be more creative and open to new solutions to this ongoing problem of school funding.