EXETER TWP., Pa. – The Exeter Township School Board voted 7-1 Tuesday to adopt a final 2021-22 budget which will raise taxes 1.754%.
Board member Ann M. Hearing voted against the plan and the tax increase and Michele Stratton was absent.
The $80.18 million spending plan will raise the tax rate to 34.19 mills from the current 33.6073 mills.
That means property owners will now pay $34.19 for each $1,000 of assessed property value, or $3,419 for a property assessed at $100,000.
Prior to the vote, the board heard a plea from Devon Drive resident Edward Gallagher asking the board to not raise taxes.
"In my opinion, there are necessities and wish lists, and wish lists are not necessities,: Gallagher said. "Do not supersede the primary purpose of the school district, which is to educate the children. This is where the budget should be focused."
Being on a fixed income of social security, Gallagher said he will be forced to sell his house if there is a tax increase.
"Does the board care about the hundreds of senior citizens who can't afford a tax increase?" Gallagher asked. "I am asking for a three-year moratorium on tax increases and calling on the board to get input from all the stakeholders."
Board Vice President Hunter Ahrens said he understands and empathizes with residents who are in Gallagher's situation.
"But we cannot look to erode the district's institution because it really does represent the core of our entire community," Ahrens said. "I would identify this as a value proposition for the community."
Board member John T. Fidler said he had to think about the 30 high school seniors who did not qualify to graduate this year.
"If we agree that our purpose is the education of our students, then we need to recognize that and follow the words of John Adams who said if we are going to have a public school system, then the public must help pay for it," Fidler said.
Hearing said that after the district has raised taxes for many years, she has not seen any evidence of an increase in the value of an Exeter education.
"Maybe we need a different approach," she said. "The pandemic has hurt our community financially and I don't mean to insult them further by supporting even the slightest increase."
The board heard from township resident and retired teacher Christine Winslow who had concerns about what is known as critical race theory.
Winslow said she had questions she wanted the board to answer, including whether there are any tenants of critical race theory present with the district's curriculum.
In another matter, several parents and community members once again asked the board to lift the mask mandate for students. Gov. Tom Wolf's mask mandate is set to expire June 28 for the entire state.
Superintendent Kimberly Minor said the board will be asked to approve a health and safety plan for the new school year at its meeting on July 20.
Minor said the administration has not yet drafted a plan because it is waiting to see if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comes out with new guidelines for schools next month.
As a requirement of the American Rescue Plan Act, school districts must submit a new health and safety plan to the Pennsylvania Department of Education by July 30 to be eligible to receive the federal emergency relief funds.
The American Rescue Plan Act is the latest round of federal COVID-19 relief funding, which has allocated $80 million to Berks County school districts.