Articles for November 2015

Municipal Referenda in the 2015 Election

Mt LebanonThe 2015 elections in Allegheny County featured two municipal referenda: one for Bethel Park and one for Mt. Lebanon, and both concerning changes to the Home Rule Charter for each.  As a resident of Mt. Lebanon, I was embarrassed to find that I had no clue about the context of the proposed change, which was phrased as follows:

Shall Section 321. Ordinances Authorizing Indebtedness, of the Municipality of Mt. Lebanon Home Rule Charter be amended to require that one notice be published seven (7) to thirty (30) days before debt is incurred, as more fully described in Mt. Lebanon Ordinance No. 3268?

At first glance it sounded good; it is perfectly reasonable (and in fact, required by state law) to require that a notice be published a reasonable amount of time before a new municipal debt is incurred. The trouble is that I had no idea what this was being changed from, and therefore I was not informed as to the potential effect of that this change would have.  Was this a brand-new provision? (I did not know about the state’s requirements at the time I voted.) Did this make the requirement more stringent than before?  Less stringent? I did not know, and therefore cast an uninformed vote.  This, as stated before, is embarrassing to me to admit and was one of the impetuses to start this blog.

Fortunately, after researching it after the fact (I cannot emphasize how much I recommend all voters to research issues on the ballot before an election), it turns out to be almost utterly innocuous.  I could only easily find one article on the web about it, from Mt. Lebanon Magazine, which, fortunately, seems to sum it up very well. This referendum item is the result of a review of the Home Rule Charter and is intended to make the notice requirements less stringent while still complying with state law.  Previously, the charter stipulated that a debt-related notice should be posted two times, but this was seen as more effort than was necessary.  The measure passed quite comfortably, with 6,070 votes for (84.17%) and 1,142 votes against (15.83%), so it was quite uncontroversial and is enshrined in the Mt. Lebanon Home Rule Charter.  1,475 voters (16.98%)  who submitted ballots did not cast a vote on this issue, and I wonder what percentage of voters also did not know what this measure actually meant and either skipped it or voted based upon the text alone.

One thing I took away from this is that I will try to find a way to be informed of these and other municipal notices when they are published.  The obviously will (normally) not be front headline matters in the Post-Gazette or Tribune-Review.

Bethel ParkThe Municipality of Bethel Park had its own referendum (called a “Home Rule Charter Question” on the ballot), which was much, much more contentious.  The text was as follows:

Shall Article VI, Public Safety, of the Bethel Park Home Rule Charter be amended to provide that the Chief of Police of the Municipality of Bethel Park Police Department shall be directly responsible to the Municipal Manager of the Municipality of Bethel Park, rather than to the Council of the Municipality of Bethel Park?

Unlike the Mt. Lebanon referendum, this succinctly makes it clear what the Charter will be changed from and what it will be changed to.  Once again, a quick web search only turns up one article about the referendum, but The Almanac doesn’t go into much detail as to what the practical ramifications of the change might be, only that the Bethel Park council was unanimous in voting to add it to the ballot and that the original language was said to be “a mistake”.

Apparently a large number of people in the Municipality disagreed as the change barely squeaked by with a vote of 3,357 (50.69%) in favor and 3,265 (49.31%) against, with 499 (7.00%) ballots submitted leaving the question blank, a notable difference from the number of missing votes on the Mt. Lebanon referendum. I will assume that this issue was better known within Bethel Park despite the lack of obvious reportage, and therefore more voters felt comfortable in casting a vote. However, it might also just be a case of the wording making it clearer what would change in the charter versus what the charter would change to as in the Mt. Lebanon referendum. Simply reading the text makes it relatively clear what the vote is truly for, and an otherwise uninformed voter would likely feel more comfortable making a vote based solely on what was printed on the ballot.  Either way, the 28.22% of registered voters who cast a ballot on this issue were plainly more divided than the Bethel Park Council, but the matter passed regardless.

Peters Township Teachers Strike – Salary Data

PetersAs many people know, the teachers union in Peters Township is currently on strike and will remain so until November 27.   One of the major points of contention is salaries, with the union asking for $2500 annual raises and the district asking for $500 annual raises  expect for the highest step, where the annual raise would be $200.  This is certainly a large gap and it made me wonder how the salaries of the teachers of Peters Township compared with those in other districts, especially when taking family and per capita income into account.

The linked article above gives the (presumably full-time) salary range in Peters as $45,900 to $104,864, with 62% below $63,000 and an overall average of $71,540.  It is difficult to find a source for this data online despite the fact that the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Pennsylvania School Performance Profile had included such data (from 2013-14) earlier in the year.  Fortunately, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review had compiled the data and made it available on its website, which made it possible to view salaries for Peters and any other school district in Pennsylvania.

I then took the cornucopia of data estimates made available by the US Census Bureau through the 2013 ACS Survey to compile population and income data for every school district in Allegheny County plus Peters Township.  I took the Per Capita income data and recomputed it not as per capita, but per adult.  In other words, I took the total estimated income and divided it by the population aged 18 and over, thereby producing a rough per capita income for the population that is most likely to have one.  The results when comparing this with the average teacher salary (as of the 13-14 school year) are interesting.  Below are the 13 school districts in Allegheny County or the 37th Senate District that have a average family income greater than $100,000.  Note that four of the 13 school districts are wholly or partially within the 37th Senate district.

School District Population Students Pop 0-17 Family Mean Per Capita Per Adult Mean Teacher Salary Adult/Teach Diff
Pine-Richland 22,949 5,819 6,420 $166,291 $50,430 $70,018 $60,167 ($9,851)
Upper St. Clair 19,272 4,438 5,108 $156,623 $51,112 $69,544 $66,559 ($2,985)
Peters 21,417 5,509 6,119 $148,275 $46,247 $64,745 $69,070 $4,325
Quaker Valley 13,747 2,728 3,097 $162,468 $53,289 $68,785 $74,393 $5,609
Avonworth 10,478 2,004 2,512 $132,117 $43,426 $57,120 $65,911 $8,791
South Fayette 14,677 3,010 3,620 $118,780 $39,175 $52,001 $61,177 $9,176
Fox Chapel Area 28,829 5,707 6,676 $157,403 $50,978 $66,341 $77,432 $11,091
Mt Lebanon 33,072 6,762 7,948 $139,373 $45,876 $60,389 $71,511 $11,122
North Allegheny 50,687 10,696 12,174 $148,534 $47,570 $62,607 $74,183 $11,576
Hampton 18,386 3,925 4,381 $130,015 $42,236 $55,448 $68,210 $12,762
West Jefferson Hills 19,913 3,515 4,134 $103,227 $35,733 $45,094 $63,665 $18,571
West Allegheny 20,450 3,867 4,696 $104,669 $36,339 $47,171 $66,842 $19,671
Moon Area 27,243 4,477 5,311 $103,563 $34,601 $42,979 $63,621 $20,642

Other things to note: As shown here, the “per-Adult” income is lower than the average teacher salary for every district save two, Pine-Richland and Upper St. Clair, and Peters is right behind them with the lowest positive differential.  What this tells me is that, relative to other school districts with comparable income levels, the teachers in Peters are comparatively underpaid.  This can be partially explained by the fact that Peters Township has a high per-adult income level, but Fox Chapel Area and North Allegheny have a comparable income level but also have a much higher average teacher salaries.

  • The average teacher salary is always higher than the median teacher salary as a low number of highly-paid teachers skew that statistic upward.  This can be seen in the 62% figure for Peters above, i.e. a majority of teachers make less than the average salary.  This would indicate that most teachers have an even greater differential than shown in the chart.
  • Both the census data and the salary data are a couple years old, which is why the Peters-specific information is somewhat higher than shown in the chart.  However, the census and salary information are from the same year and it is safe to assume that the 2015 values are similarly comparable to each other.
  • You can view the full list of school districts wholly within Allegheny County or the 37th Senate district.
  • I’m glad I’m not a teacher in the Pine-Richland school district.

2015 Winners by Municipality

Heather Arnet won:

Pennsbury Village 67.39% 48 votes
Mt Lebanon 57.55% 1279 votes
Leetsdale 56.98% 36 votes
Rosslyn Farms 55.30% 14 votes
Emsworth 54.19% 32 votes
Glen Osborne 53.28% 9 votes
Glenfield 52.46% 3 votes
Whitehall 50.08% 5 votes

Guy Reschenthaler won:

Sewickley Heights 74.59% 89 votes
Peters 71.00% 2017 votes
Jefferson Hills 66.22% 753 votes
Haysville 62.50% 4 votes
Aleppo 61.50% 92 votes
Ben Avon Heights 60.71% 24 votes
Sewickley Hills 60.69% 37 votes
Ohio 60.02% 178 votes
Upper St. Clair 59.92% 844 votes
Edgeworth 59.62% 70 votes
Findlay 58.24% 133 votes
Pleasant Hills 57.91% 296 votes
Moon 57.17% 622 votes
Crescent 57.09% 74 votes
North Fayette 56.00% 202 votes
Bethel Park 55.93% 822 votes
Bell Acres 55.88% 36 votes
Bridgeville 55.51% 111 votes
Collier 54.46% 117 votes
Kilbuck 54.36% 17 votes
Oakdale 54.03% 24 votes
Thornburg 53.33% 11 votes
South Park 52.88% 138 votes
Leet 52.87% 20 votes
South Fayette 52.72% 188 votes
Sewickley 52.56% 41 votes
Robinson 52.12% 112 votes
McDonald 51.06% 1 vote