By Jon Delano

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — When school boards raise taxes to give teachers a pay raise or modernize or build new schools, taxpayers often feel they can do little more than protest.

But last Thursday night, besides his budget, Gov. Corbett signed another bill that will limit the power of local school boards to raise property taxes without a public referendum.

“In most cases, they will not be able to raise enough revenue to run the way that they have in the past,” says Patrick Sable.

Sable has served as chief financial officer for three school districts, and he says school boards will now need voter approval for most tax increases above the indexed inflation rate.

The only exceptions are tax increases for special education, existing debt payments and pensions.

“I think there will be referendum, and I think the ability to pass referendum will be just as difficult as it has been in the past.”

Only one of 14 referendums to raise taxes has been approved since 2006.

That means school boards will turn to Harrisburg for state funding just when legislators cut funding.

At one time, the state supplied nearly 50 percent of school district funding, but no more.

“We’re down to the range of between 35 and 40 percent of funding, which is on the lower end of what most states are funding public education at,” notes Sable.

That has pushed some school boards like Steel Valley to raise taxes just as the new law ties the hands of school directors even more while giving taxpayers the final say.

There’s no doubt that this new law shifts power from school boards to local taxpayers. But with Harrisburg cutting state support for education, that means that local taxpayers will have to decide how much more in taxes they want to pay for a quality education for their children.

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