Everett talks education, taxes at Jersey Shore town hall

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, presented the fourth of his five town hall meetings at the Jersey Shore Independent Hose Co. Monday night.

JERSEY SHORE — Issues related to public education were foremost on the minds of the small gathering of people who turned out Monday night for the fourth of five town hall meetings held in recent weeks by state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy.

Once again, the lawmaker spent the first part of his session using pie charts to reveal how the state spends money and raises revenues.

He noted that education makes up about 38 percent of all spending, with much of the rest going toward human services, criminal justice and other needs including state police, agriculture and other services.

This year’s $32.7 billion budget reflects a slight spend-

ing increase with projections calling for a surplus of revenues going into next year’s spending plan.

Everett, seeking re-election to the 84th state House seat, noted that the state continues to face a more than $80 billion debt toward paying off pension plans covering state employees.

The state and school districts are faced with increasing expenditures to settle that debt.

“It doesn’t matter who you blame for it,” he said. “We have this debt.”

Everett was asked how the state’s public school systems fare academically with respect to the rest of the nation.

He said Pennsylvania is neither near the top nor bottom academically.

“We are in the middle of how our students do,” he said.

At one point, Everett was asked why local school districts continue to want more money.

He responded that it was hoped that the Act 1 Index for preventing local tax increases beyond a certain amount would address that problem.

Unfortunately, school boards can still go ahead and raise taxes above the index under certain exceptions that require approval by the state Department of Education.

He said he’d like to see such decisions be decided by voter referendums.

Everett said while it’s an approach taxpayers likely would support, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which represents teachers, would surely come out against it.

He said charter schools present yet another spending issue for public schools.

The Jersey Shore Area School District, for example, is charged with funding the education of any student living in the district that chooses to attend the Sugar Valley Charter School.

“We are working on a charter reform bill,” Everett said.

John Shireman, a former Jersey Shore Area School Board member, told Everett that school districts cannot continue to hand out annual raises of 2.5 percent for school employees.

Everett was also asked about funding a project connected to Lawshee Run to mitigate flooding in Jersey Shore.

“It’s definitely on our radar,” he said.

County commissioners and the state Department of Environmental Protection appear to be on board with the project.

Charles Hall, an aide to Everett, added that the project requires federal funding with matching dollars from local sources.

Everett said a few years ago lawmakers were unaware of the depth of the opioid problem.

However, public meetings held by lawmakers across the state revealed to him and others just how serious and wide-ranging it is.

He said lawmakers are continuing to work toward solutions to fighting the problem of addiction.