Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Duquesne: connecting the dots

How did the Duquesne School District wind up in this situation? Some may be surprised to learn that Duquesne is the single poorest school district in Pennsylvania. By my calculation, the poverty rate in the Duquesne School district was 34.5% in 1999 which makes it the absolute poorest school district among all 50o+ school districts in Pennsylvania by far. Here are the 10 poorest across the entire state:

Percentage of population in poverty in 1999 (Census 2000) by School District

   District        Poverty
Compiled from data in the National Center for Education Statistics
School District Demographic System. Table P087

even the 2nd highest poverty rate for the State College School District is misleading in that it is distorted by college students who can be counted as living below the poverty level. If you look more closely at poverty rates for children (under age 18), the poverty rate in the Duquesne School District is 53% compared to just 8% for State College. Let's repeat that: FIFTY THREE PERCENT. I have to wonder if that places Duquesne up there as one of the poorest school districts in the nation. It certainly makes if one of the poorest districts in the Northeast or Midatlantic.

But again, how did this happen? I read on Tube City Online that a local elected official said this is all happening because "If those people in Duquesne would have paid their taxes, we wouldn't be here today,". Wow. Here is something to think about: When the mass reassessment happened back in 2000/1 there was a serious discussion that a lot of areas in the Mon Valley should have property values set at ZERO, which was actually a compromise because the fairest market value for many parcels was probably a negative number. The problem is that most markets don't handle negative prices very well, neither do most tax systems. Can you imagine? It would mean you buy a property in (pick your depressed community of choice) and you get a check every year. Begs the question of where the money would come from of course. So no, this isn't about delinquent taxes.

As an aside, there have been some big social experiments with negative income taxes, but it may not work for municipal property taxes except in individual cases.... like certain TIF's or incentives that are effectively low or negative property tax rates in extreme cases.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Abatements and public subsidies to entice development could both be considered psuedo forms of negative property taxes. But the bigger point is how can municipalities finance public services without municipal assets in the form of a postively valued property base?
Correctly valuing the real estate in the assessment process would be a good first step in developing better state policies in high poverty and economically distressed communities.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007 9:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you've ever actually been to Duquesne, it should not surprise you that it is one of the poorest places on the East Coast. Those of us who don't live or regularly travel to the Mon Valley save for Kennywood or The Waterfront really have no understanding of how devastated the Valley is.

But, the simple answer to your question of how we got here, Chris, is that 120,000 US Steel jobs in the Valley disappeared in about a decade--along with whatever ancillary jobs (I'm sure Chris knows the multiplier) those 120K created. So first, you lose the property tax from the value of the mill itself--probably the most valuable in town. And you lose whatever earned income tax was being collected. Then, residential values plummet because everyone is leaving town. And, you compound the problem by moving poorer lower Hill District residents into the depopulated Valley in order to "redevelop" the Civic Arena and Chatham Center sites. That's how you get here.

I follow this closely because I live in the Woodland Hills SD. There is little, if any, value to the property in most of Rankin, Braddock, North Braddock and Turtle Creek. The difference in standardized scores between students from those areas versus students from Forest Hills, Churchill, Wilkins, Edgewood, Swissvale and Braddock Hills is astounding. And the correlating factor is relative poverty. There should be some way to dis-incorporate these towns--Act 35 is a band-aid at best--and start over. But that would mean that our state legislature would actually have to care about what happens to these places.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

Maybe to nip this in the bud, we should be looking for our wealthiest school districts ... and look at breaking them up.

Call it school board gerrymandering. It'll be easy and fun!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007 4:08:00 PM  
Blogger EdHeath said...

I’m assuming you are counting the Earned Income Tax Credit as one of the big social experiments in negative income taxes. But the EITC is only a supplement, and you need to be working (and really to have at least a couple of kids) to get anything significant. I can’t see how a negative property tax would work (maybe a failure of imagination), and anyway the tide of policy seems to be still running away from redistribution.
What is the employment picture in Duquesne? I’m guessing really bad. If there is money sitting around to give away, someone should lure some jobs in.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007 11:29:00 PM  

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