Are UCFSD School Taxes Too High?

Are our property taxes high in Chester County? What about the property taxes that are paid to UCFSD? Perhaps you have wondered how our taxes compare to national, state, and county averages.   The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a non-partisan policy research group, recently published a report on Property Tax burdens in Pennsylvania.

Their key findings, as published in their press release , are:

  • Total average property taxes in Pennsylvania are 3.07% of personal income, below the national average of 3.31%.  In 33 years, PA property taxes have not exceeded the national average.
  • Pennsylvania property taxes fall in the middle of neighboring states, lower than New York and New Jersey, on par with Ohio, but higher than the smaller states, West Virginia and Maryland.
  • Twenty-nine counties (43%) have not reassessed property in more than 20 years and only one-third of counties (22) have conducted reassessments within the last 10 years.
  • In 45 of the state’s 67 counties, average property taxes – including school, county and municipal  – total less than $2,000 a year, or $167 or less a month.

Using data in the appendix, I compared our taxes to other counties and local school districts. First, in terms of median annual real estate taxes paid per residence, Chester County is at the top of the list at $4,501. This is almost twice as high as the Pennsylvania average, and even further above the US average. Of course Chester county minimum lot sizes and home sizes are also well above average, so perhaps this should not come as a surprise.Chester Cty Taxes

From an affordability standpoint, the absolute amount paid in taxes is perhaps less important than the relative share of one’s income that is paid in taxes.   Using this alternative metric, Chester County is in the top quartile, but not nearly as far above Pennsylvania and US averages as it appears when using the unscaled property tax amount.

Chester Cty Scaled taxes

Property taxes are used to fund county and local government operations as well as local public schools.  The data allows us to strip out county and local government taxes and look only at the property taxes paid to support schools.

UCFSD compares quite well when compared to our neighboring Chester County school districts. Using the affordability scale again, our school tax bills are in the bottom third of Chester County, with the average household paying 2.6% of its annual personal income in taxes. Out of 500 districts in the State, UCFSD is the 332nd most affordable on this scale.

UCFSD Taxes Scaled

How much should it cost to run our schools?   And what outcomes should our schools deliver with the amount of funding that we provide?

No doubt, our nominal tax bills are high.   That is due in part to our large homes on large properties. And these homes have high valuations.   But when scaled for our incomes, paying 2.6% for the education delivered by our public schools seems reasonable, especially when we know that our graduates are well-prepared for college and our schools consistently grade out among the very best in Pennsylvania.

When compared with our neighbors in Kennett Square, we send15% less of our income to our schools.  And we get a comparable or better product.    Of course taxes in Tredyffrin-Easttown are 16% lower (scaled by income) than ours, so there is certainly opportunity for us to do even better.

2 thoughts on “Are UCFSD School Taxes Too High?

  1. Anonymous

    The reason that TE taxes are lower is that they have a much larger industrial base from which to tax. UCFSD taxpayers get a GREAT deal here paying such comparably low taxes for such a quality education (as per information in your graphs). Please discuss the ENTIRE picture when you make opinionated statements as in your last paragraph as you are greatly misleading the public. Since 1997 teachers in the UCFSD school district have received an average of a 2% increase in salary per year. Please understand that for teachers that is an average of less than $2,000 per year and for most is closer to $1,000 per year. Since the average tax assessment in Chester County is the largest in the UCFSD school district, this school district is a bargain.

  2. Bob Sage Post author

    Thanks for your comment. I think you are right to point out that different districts have different tax bases, and in UCF, our tax base is largely residential.

    While teacher compensation is certainly on everyone’s mind due to the ongoing negotiations, it actually has nothing to do with what I was talking about in this post.

    My observation was much simpler: for every product and service that we buy every day, consumers look for the best value. We want the highest quality product at the lowest possible price. We comparison shop. We seek out value. If we can find the same product somewhere else for a lower price, we will usually shop at the lower price retail outlet.

    At UCF, we have an excellent product, and the price is good. TE also has an excellent product, and the price is even better (to the homeowner, in part, as you point out, because business taxes make up a greater share of the school operating budget.) Taxpayers have a choice of where to live, and while I love our district, the chart perhaps says that TE provides a better value than UCF.

    Part of my oath of office was to ensure we provide “a thorough and efficient education”. Our teachers do need to be paid fairly. As do our administrators, our support staff, and our vendors. That being said, I do not think our goal should be to be the highest cost district. Rather, we should strive to keep providing a great value … a thorough and efficient education.

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