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Op-Ed: Why Justin Simmons Cannot fix our Schools or Relieve our Property Taxes

An Op-Ed from Kevin Deely, Democratic candidate for the 131st legislative district.

It has become quite clear that Rep. Simmons would like the voters to forget about his vote in Harrisburg that gutted our public education system. Simmons’ recent commercials and pieces of mail would like us to believe school funding is higher now than any other time in Pennsylvania history. He even uses such an outlandish claim as a pillar of his campaign platform. However, parents, administrators, and students know this claim simply is not true. To the contrary, Simmons voted for legislation that cut funding to our public schools by nearly $1 billion and taxpayers certainly know that our legislature has made no real progress in achieving property tax relief.

Why has Justin Simmons not kept his promises? For the same reason he has not been able to summon a response to criticism about the role of special interest money in his campaign. While Rep. Simmons claims to be an advocate for students, he has received thousands of dollars from special interest groups like Students First that push for the expansion of charter, parochial, and private schools, where teachers are exempt from evaluations, which Simmons claims to be vital for teacher accountability. Rep. Simmons is also endorsed and receives funding from Fighting Chance PA and Citizens Alliance of PA (CAP PAC). CAP PAChas gone as far as to commend Simmons for being a “vocal proponent of school choice and ensuring that no child be sentenced to a failing school simply because of their ZIP Code.” These efforts to abandon our public schools are not the answer. Our legislators should be working to ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed in their local schools.

The Auditor General’s special report on school funding states that Pennsylvanians pay the most towards privately owned and operated cyber and charter schools. The current system expects taxpayers to pay more than the actual cost to educate students at charters and cybers. We spend $3,000 more to send students to brick-and-mortar charter schools and $3,500 more to send students to cyber schools. Fixing this funding formula would save taxpayers an estimated $365 million annually and should be made a top priority. Why has Rep. Simmons not been able to fix this problem? Because he is being paid not to by private industry that profits directly from taxpayer dollars.

Rep. Simmons’ campaign is crutched on my experience as a union president and recently said that I have “focused almost entirely on issues espoused by that union – issues that will cost Pennsylvania taxpayers even more.” My response to that is simple: Before we throw more taxpayer money towards a system that will continue to fail and places unnecessary financial burden on taxpayers, let’s work on a real solution. This is not a union issue; this is an issue that affects every single person living in our local community. I speak with families every day, who have expressed concern about the wasteful spending of their hard-earned income.

Simmons claims he has been focused on the priorities and that he has brought fiscal conservatism to Harrisburg. If this were true, why do our property taxes continue to skyrocket while our school funding continues to plummet? We need real property tax reform and Rep. Simmons cannot adequately fix this problem while he is receiving campaign contributions from donors that profit from excessive funding towards private charter and cyber schools. Taxpayers cannot afford to foot the bill any longer and giving up on providing all children with a quality public school education is not an option.

As your representative, I will diligently pursue fixing this ongoing and costly funding calamity. I will consider all of the Auditor General’s recommendations to reform the way we fund our charter and public schools and work tirelessly to make sure these institutions are held accountable for every penny of taxpayer money. I will also work for real solutions to our out of control property taxes and as the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, and Conservation Voters PA would attest, I am the best candidate to protect our environment. I’m not willing to wait two more years to see results and neither should you.

Mark Spengler October 21, 2012 at 12:35 PM
No secret Bob that Deely is getting money from PSEA. What is not as talked about isthe pile of money Simmons is taking from Student First who is looking to expand for profit charters that we taxpayers pay for.
Gramma24 October 21, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Funny, the only 'one trick pony' in this race is Simmons. The only thing he can do is sit on his haunches and take orders.
Andrew Wilt October 21, 2012 at 03:50 PM
There is likely nothing wrong with the property tax status quo except for the fact that Pennsylvania does not require that reassessments ever be done. That decision is left up to County Commissioners. The problem with not reassessing frequently is that over time, statistically, by virtue of how the formulas that work with the assessment data are structured, the more expensive properties tend to be assessed at a lower percentage of their fair market value than the less expensive properties. About 10 years ago I spent literally hundreds of hours copying data off the county web site - http://www.ncpub.org/Main/Home.aspx . I put that data into spreadsheets to compare the assessments of expensive properties versus inexpensive properties. One particular property included a large stone home on about 8 acres next to the Saucon Valley Country Club. It had sold prior to the 1995 county reassessment for $1,750,000 yet the county only placed a value of $217,000 on it. Many of the pricey properties in that area, and indeed throughout Lower Saucon Township, have assessments that are extremely low in comparison to their fair market value. THAT is where some considerable revenue is being lost and those property owners have the means to pay. The existing system wasn't intended to work, and cannot work, if counties reassess only twice a century or so. If the Legislature in Harrisburg would mandate that counties reassess at least every 5 years, there could be enough revenue.
Robert Sentner October 21, 2012 at 05:27 PM
There are so many states that do a much better job providing funding for there schools and they don't have the ridiculous property taxes we have. Our property taxes are only forcing older people from there homes and promoting the influx of New Jersey and New York people into our once quiet neighbor hoods. The Lehigh Valley is just turning into a suburb of Bucks county and New Jersey.
Tom Williams October 21, 2012 at 09:41 PM
Interesting discussion here, except that Simmons supporters have yet to acknowledge the fact he has been receiving campaign contributions from donors that directly profit from excessive funding towards private charter and cyber schools with taxpayer money. Please explain to me how Simmons can put an end to this excessive spending and reduce property taxes when he has to pander to special interest groups like Students First, Citizens Alliance of PA, and Fighting Chance PA??? Whomever leaves the next comment should answer this question, or just take their B.S. elsewhere.
S October 21, 2012 at 09:43 PM
States that have lower property taxes do NOT have the ridiculous number of small-town school districts that are bloated administrative bureaucracies. These little "kingdoms" are not sustainable. Same goes for town governments as well. Not a perfect example, but Maryland taxes are significantly less than ours - their public schools are run by the county. And Rob, sorry that the "NY & NJ people" are destroying your peaceful way of life. Too bad you couldn't have stopped them at the border. (That's an awfully broad brush you're painting with.)
Arthur Joel Katz October 21, 2012 at 10:03 PM
This is one of the few times that I agree with Andy Wilt. The need to reassess in Northampton County is both evident and necessary.
Mark Spengler October 21, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Another question that Simmons ducked at the last debate was about the PA unemployment rate being above the national average. Simmons response, "You really believe that don't you?" Well it is true: http://blogs.mcall.com/capitol_ideas/2012/10/pas-unemployment-surpassed-the-national-average-in-september.html Hoping Simmons will answer some questions in the next debate instead of just giving 1 line insults as a response.
Bob Thomas October 22, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Why hasn't Kevin answered questions of why he was thrown out of an EDUCATION conference for having his room filled with pot smoke? Can't wait for everyone to see how incompetent Deely is as a candidate tonight at 7:30 on WFMZ.
Bob Thomas October 22, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Lower Milford VOLUNTEER Fire Company. Deely met with them and started talking about fighting for Union Fire Fighters. When he was done talking he was told we are VOLUNTEERS (hence the name) we don't get paid and we are not part of the union. Deely's response OH. Yea this guy is qualified.
Tom Williams October 22, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Nice argument, Bob. Rather than answer the question posed, you, like most of the Simmons' supporters on this site have avoided the argument of the article and refuse to answer the question posed. Again, please explain to me how Simmons can put an end to excessive spending and reduce property taxes when he has to pander to special interest groups that profit directly from taxpayer dollars??? Can you do that without changing the subject?
Bob Thomas October 22, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Part 1 of 2 Tom talk about the groups you are saying are so evil. Students First This is their mission statement http://www.studentsfirst.org/pages/our-mission Citizens Alliance PA Their mission statement is shorter so I will post it for you. Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania (CAP) is a non-profit organization founded to raise the standard of living of all Pennsylvanians by restoring limited government, economic freedom, and personal responsibility. By empowering the Commonwealth’s employers and taxpayers to break state government’s “Iron Triangle” of career politicians, bureaucrats, and Big Government lobbyists, this restoration will occur and Pennsylvania will prosper. Looks like 2 groups that are fighting for Students and taxpayers not bloated public sector unions. Let me end with The Express Times Editorial Board who interviewed both candidates and endorsed Simmons. http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2012/10/editorial_justin_simmons_right.html
Bob Thomas October 22, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Part 2 of 2 Express Times Deely, an English teacher at Easton Area High School, has spent much of this campaign defending his former role as chief negotiator for the Easton Area School District’s teachers union. He argues that teachers were essentially handed an overly generous contract in 2007 and, as union negotiator, it wasn’t his job to protect district taxpayers. It would, however, be his job to protect taxpayers while in Harrisburg. And his argument that he could be a strong advocate for all taxpayers -- not just teachers -- isn’t very convincing. When given a chance before The Express-Times editorial board to sum up his goals if elected, Deely spoke strictly about making sure teachers are treated fairly and students are given a fair shot. Those are important goals, but residents of the 131st District deserve someone who can look at the big picture and say no to teachers unions when necessary. Deely is young, smart, energetic and likeable, but he isn’t the one who can do that. Simmons has the broader, more nuanced approach. http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2012/10/editorial_justin_simmons_right.html
Mark Spengler October 22, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Student First can write all the mission statmements they want. They should really call themselves profit first and take a look at the test scores for the for profit charters and cyber charters they fight for. If you don't believe me look at the Auditor General's Report, or the test scores off the PA Department of Ed. when held to the same standards as public schools. If CAP has a problem with lobbyists they should speak out against the Gas companies who bought so many of the Corbett yes men now sitting in the legislature.
Tanya Bryant October 22, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Nice Job Bob, The Teachers Union doesn't like Citizens Alliance because of what they did in Neshimany School District getting the teachers to stop their 15 day strike. Story is titled: How PA Group Shamed Teachers in Union Fight The article is a hoot http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/inq-phillydeals/How-PA-group-aided-board-in-teachers-union-fight.html this one too http://www.educationnews.org/k-12-schools/neshaminy-pennsylvania-strikers-earn-over-100k-in-pay-and-benefits/
Bob Thomas October 22, 2012 at 07:11 PM
Thanks Tanya, Great Post too. Nice try Mark however I was responding to Tom Williams. And I guess he is speechless. After looking at Tanya's articles it looks like the teachers are in a for profit business.
Tanya Bryant October 22, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Nice Job Bob, The Teachers Union doesn't like Citizens Alliance because of what they did in Neshimany School District getting the teachers to stop their 15 day strike. Story is titled: How PA Group Shamed Teachers in Union Fight The article is a hoot http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/inq-phillydeals/How-PA-group-aided-board-in-teachers-union-fight.html this one too http://www.educationnews.org/k-12-schools/neshaminy-pennsylvania-strikers-earn-over-100k-in-pay-and-benefits/
John Fox October 22, 2012 at 07:41 PM
Gramma I said it before and I will say it again, Deely wouldn't vote on renaming a bridge without checking with the teacher union first. From what I have seen the only thing he knows anything about is how to be a PSEA thug. Even The Express Times calls Deely a one trick pony, and that Simmons is better versed on ALL of the topics effecting the state now. Deely thinks the only issue in the state is teacher funding, as we have seen he doesn’t actually care about school funding. See Deely's comments on PBS about race to the top funding for the school district that he was Union President for: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/education/jan-june10/education_03-26.html JOHN MERROW: If Pennsylvania wins, the state stands to gain $400 million. But Easton, a district with 10,500 students, won't see a penny. Its application was disqualified. KERRI LEONARD-ELLISON: Our superintendent signed. Our president of our board also signed. And the union president wouldn't sign. KEVIN DEELY, president, Easton Area Education Association: In Easton, anyway, we disagree with the grant. We don't believe it's right for us here. JOHN MERROW: Kevin Deely is president of the Easton teachers union. KEVIN DEELY: Race to the Top would require that we talk about making changes to our contract, and that my members are opposed to that, vehemently opposed to it. So, they directed me to not sign on. If it were up to Deely: teacher union wins, everyone else looses.
John Fox October 22, 2012 at 07:55 PM
$30,000 from the teacher union is not a "Pile of money." Clearly the teacher union does not profit from taxpayer money. After all they only have 30K to throw at one state rep race. If Student First represnets schools the Lehigh Valley Charter Schhol for the Preforming Arts then I am all for them. I have never seen a school where almost all (if not all) of the students WANT to go to school and are happy to be there. From what I have seen those students are just as compitent as the students in any other school I have seen. Having kids want to go to school is clearly a bad thing and must be stopped, they should all be unhappy in the same school, unless they are rich and can afford to go to private schools.
John Fox October 22, 2012 at 08:06 PM
And just who is this evil evil students first group? Maybe we should ask one of the evil evil members of their Board of Directors: Bill Cosby http://www.studentsfirst.org/pages/bill-cosby-studentsfirst-board-of-directors
Tom Williams October 22, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Bob, I'm not saying these organizations are "evil". They are just not in the best interest of our communities and public schools. Mission statements are a poor indicator of any organization's true motives. Plain and simple; 1. these interest groups have the sole purpose to exploit a system that over-charges taxpayers. If they had it their way, we would have no public schools. Why? Because they could profit even more from privately owned and operated charter/cyber schools. 2. However, they will continue to buy legislators like Simmons to perpetuate a funding formula that reaps them the most funding so that they can spend millions on commercials and billboard space at the expense of taxpayers!! Simmons with his pro-choice money = profits before children and higher taxes for us all. Tanya, your efforts to deflect the conversation are obvious and your inability to comment on the topic at hand shows how painfully weak Simmons' record and rhetoric on education truly are. Your arguments are hardly germane to the topic being discussed here. Your conduct only further shows a resistance to have a productive conversation with Simmons' supporters about education policy.
Tanya Bryant October 22, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Oh Simple Tom. Obviously since I am a woman I should just shut up and go worry about birth control. You brought up Citizens Alliance a non-profit group fighting for taxpayers. They receive no money from taxpayers like you claim. People should know the good work they have done ending a teachers strike. (see earlier post) Which is why you don't like them. Kevin Deely only has rhetoric about education even the Express Times Editorial Board saw that. Sorry Tom this election is about more then just education. Maybe Deely should have ran for school board instead of State Rep.
Mark Spengler October 22, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Curious if any of the union hating pro-Simmons commenters feel about 2 things: 1) Auditor General Report http://www.paessp.org/publications/press-releases/41-news-and-announcements/380-auditor-general-wagner-calls-for-charter-school-reform.html 2) Fleck Bill http://www.pahousegop.com/NewsItem.aspx?NewsID=14514 Is Republican Mike Fleck a member of the teacher union? How about the Auditor Gerneral? Both the report and the Bill are being ignored by Corbett and Simmons and both make it painfully obvious how to save a ton of taxpayer money.
Mercy D October 22, 2012 at 10:07 PM
How many people on here bashing teachers and the teacher's union are actually teachers? Stop painting with one broad, ignorant brush. Teaching is a difficult position, and we really aren't given our dues. Those who rant rhetorically about ending teachers unions need to take a closer look and see just how important we are to society.
Mark Spengler October 22, 2012 at 10:30 PM
One of the latest local charter outrages here in the Lehigh Valley. How much is the taxpayer paying for this mess. Look at the 2 comments at the bottom of the article: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/bethlehem/mc-bethlehem-vitalistic-charter-1119-20121021,0,2169234.story
Robert Sentner October 22, 2012 at 11:39 PM
Mercy D I defend teachers on a daily basis if they are good teachers, the problem is that tenure, ridiculous unions, and parents that can't control there kids and expect teachers to do it for them, have ruined schools. Then we have school boards that spend money like a drunken sailor. Don't even get me going on the many ways we could save money. " teachers are extremely important... teacher unions are not". The fix real simple end tenure, fire poor performing teachers, rein in the spending on schools ( not teachers ), elect some commissioners, supervisors, and elected officials that have a plan for development without over burdening our schools, and last but not least start having parents take some responsibility in raising there kids.
John Taylor October 23, 2012 at 12:50 AM
Tom Williams is really former Rep (PSEA hack) Karen Beyer. Does this not make it obvious? http://uppersaucon.patch.com/articles/former-state-rep-karen-beyer-critical-of-corbett-budget Karen was a horrible representative of the 131st district. All she cared about was going out to Harrisburg to party and cheat on her husband. There is not one former rep that even speaks highly of her, even the person she cheated on her husband with!
Jeremy October 23, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Mark, Did a little research on Rep Fleck. Can you tell me why PSEA the state teachers union would give him $4000 this election cycle when he doesn't have an opponent? Payment for going after the Charter Schools? Just checked this election cycle will let you know how much more he has gotten since being in office. Would think you may want to look into that sort of thing before you promote a specific bill and Legislator as being impartial. Spengler gets an Unsatisfactory on his report card for facts.
Mark Spengler October 23, 2012 at 09:12 AM
So you think he wrote the entire Fleck Bill on charter reform because of a $4 thousand contribution in an election cycle where he is unopposed??? Ok how about the auditor general? How about every school baord and superintendent in our area screaming to reform the rip off for profit funding formula?
Tom Williams October 23, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Tanya, I never asked you to "shut up" and I certainly did not say anything about birth control. (Deflecting) I merely asked that you stay on topic for the sake of a coherent conversation. Sorry to burst your bubble, but your assertion regarding special interest groups receiving taxpayer money is misleading. I never said they did. Did you even read the Op-Ed before you decided to comment? Again, Students First, Citizens Alliance of PA, and Fighting Chance PA give Rep. Simmons campaign contributions. This is called lobbying. In turn, Simmons will advocate for a private industry that benefits from excessive funding to charter/cyber schools with taxpayer money! The Auditor General’s special report outlines how our state is wasting a million dollars per day of tax payer money! Not only that, but these schools are not even held accountable for teacher performance or student performance. Try to remove your extreme right-wing, rose-colored goggles and see the situation for what it is, rather than spread propaganda for which you probably do not fully understand. Jack Wagner, Auditor General Special Report. Charter and Cyber Charter Education Funding Reform Should Save Taxpayers $365 Million Annually. http://www.auditorgen.state.pa.us/Department/Press/CyberCharterSpecialReport201206.pdf

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