Voters in the North Penn School District rejected a referendum to spend more than $400 million on a high school renovation. The vote, in a special election held Tuesday, would have permitted the school board to tax residents beyond what’s allowed by Act 1.
The district requested the spending for an expansion so ninth graders could be added — at a cost of $403,699,836.
A less expensive renovation will now go forward. Under Act 1, the district can spend up to $306,381,460. The state legislature passed Act 1 in 2006 in an effort to rein in local school district spending and protect taxpayers.
In Montgomery County, 7,844 voters voted yes, while 10,790 voted no. In Bucks County, 14 voted yes, while 11 voted no. The vote tally is not official.
“While the ‘no’ vote may have been a small victory for the North Penn taxpayer, the real losers are the educators, children, and parents–like me–who wanted the 9th grade moved into the High School,” said resident Vince Altieri. “At the end of the day, the North Penn Board of Directors and its superintendent selfishly put their agenda for ‘open spaces’ and their desire to raise the legal limit of the Act 1 Index before everything else. This group of leaders had six years to get this right, and this is exactly why political monopolies are bad for North Penn. I am hopeful that the BODs are mindful of what message this vote has sent them and that they accept responsibility for their mistakes that will impact generations to come.”
Shannon Main, with North Penn United PAC, a community group that opposed raising taxes beyond the Act 1 limit, was pleased with the result.
“It was a grassroots effort,” she said. “We’re in support of renovations. We know renovations are needed.” North Penn United also supports Republican school board candidates. Currently, all nine school directors are Democrats.
All of the school board members were also part of a PAC, We Imagine ‘Yes,’ which funded yard signs, advertisements, and door hangers on behalf of the spending hike.
Resident Jason Lanier noted that a 2019 proposal to renovate the high school would have cost $250,000 and believes the most recent proposal was too expensive.
It would have funded a giant open space area within the school with an atrium and “learning staircases.”
The board and superintendent “could not come up with a good explanation of why this was needed,” he said. Main noted the plans also included a deluxe new cafeteria and several more sports fields, including artificial turf fields.
Taxes will already be allowed to increase under the Act 1 index by 18.1 percent in the next four years. Lanier said the proposed new borrowing would have increased taxes by 23.7 percent in the same period, so an average home assessed at $150,000 would see a $1,100 tax hike.
“Enough is enough,” he said. And many homeowners are on fixed incomes, so it would cut into their budgets, Lanier added.
School Board President Tina Stoll offered this statement on behalf of the board: “While we are disappointed in the outcome of yesterday’s referendum election results, we remain confident in our decision to put this incredibly impactful decision about the future of our NPHS to the community for a vote. We have said from the beginning that this is true democracy and we would honor the community’s decision either way.
“We would like to thank all those involved in this process, especially our incredible administration, who spent countless hours compiling information, holding informational meetings, reaching out to community members and engaging with stakeholders. We thank all those community members who took the time to get informed and to help spread the word about this referendum. And we’d like to thank the election and poll workers who volunteered their time yesterday, to ensure the NPSD community was able to make their voices heard.
“Today we will continue the process of the NPHS renovation, albeit without the 9th grade moving up to the campus. We will continue to engage stakeholders along the way and to hear their input. I know we can all agree on one thing and that is that NP students deserve the best that we have to offer them.”
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