The Columbia Borough School Board recently looked at several options to address the district's financial woes, including the possibility of a merger with another district.
For Option 1, the board voted Thursday night to order a "white paper" outlining the requirements of a merger.
Dr. Robert Hollister
[Columbia Spy File Photo]
Superintendent Dr. Robert Hollister expressed reservations about the idea, however. "I think merging is an almost insurmountable idea. There's no question that Columbia Borough is in a delicate situation financially. The partnership with Eastern Lancaster County is helping that tremendously, at least in terms of bringing in expertise."
"What people don't understand is probably the biggest obstacle to that [a merger] is the general assembly," Hollister said. "If I'm correct, the general assembly members who represent the school districts that would take Columbia and this school district would have to sign off on that merger. There's no way that a person who wants to keep their job in the general assembly would sign off on that."
Hollister added that Hempfield is not interested in taking Columbia. "I had an informal conversation with the superintendent this summer, and he was like 'No, that's not going to happen.'"
Despite his reservations, Hollister suggested that, as Option 1, the board authorize the solicitor to create an analysis of the requirements of a merger. "I think once folks see that, it's going to be pretty obvious that a merger is not going to be the first choice solution," he said.
Option 2, according to Hollister, is a state takeover. He said that is "not a pretty situation" at all. In such a circumstance, the board's authority would be taken away on all financial matters, and the state would dictate the amount of tax increase. He said those tax increases would "shatter" anything the board has done. "They have the authority to eliminate any high salaries they so choose, highest paid salary teachers, administrators and hire lower salary. That's not a desirable outcome," he said.
Option 3 is to continue with the partnership. Hollister said that the choices are not great for the future of Columbia Borough unless the partnership can be made to work.
The board voted unanimously for a "white paper," an analysis of requirements for a merger, to be drawn up up by Solicitor Mike Grab.
A resident asked the board: If the per capita tax is not eliminated, what's being done with regard to collecting it, to make it fair to everyone?
Dr. Hollister and Business Manager Keith Ramsey weighed in on the answer, saying that many school districts in the county have eliminated the per capita tax.
Ramsey said he thinks that Columbia and Ephrata are the only districts that still have it. He acknowledged that there is an inability to collect from some residents and that it is not a fair system. He added that no one is going door-to-door to do a true census; all that's currently being done is mailing the census.
According to Ramsey, the per capita tax is bringing in about $50,000 in revenue to the school district. Eliminating this tax will be looked at this year.
3) County Reassessment:
Business Manager Ramsey said the final numbers are not in yet. "We have to re-set the tax rate lower based on the increase in assessments, so at this point it's not clear to say what's going to happen," he said. "There will be more detailed information this fall after the appeal process is finalized."
4) ELANCO Contract:
A resident asked about the shared leadership with ELANCO: "Is that going to go for another year now?"
Hollister said the issue is still undecided and is under discussion.