The subject of book banning came up late at the Council Rock School Board's May 18 meeting, with Republican board member Michael Thorwart stating emphatically that the district does not engage in such a practice.
"I was out at the polls to vote (May 16) and people were asking me why I was banning books," Thorwart said during the "New Business" part of the agenda at the tail end of the meeting. "I answered, 'We aren't banning books. We don't do that.'"
Just prior to Thorwart's comments, a resident asked during public comment whether Council Rock bans books. Thorwart, chair of the board's policy committee, said he was against it but that if a majority of the board wanted to, he could convene a policy committee meeting to discuss the possibility of banning books. No member indicated they were interested in such a meeting.
The brief discussion in Council Rock comes amid the continuing controversy in the district's neighbor to the north, the Central Bucks School District, over a policy approved in July that critics claim amounts to book banning. The policy allows parents or others to challenge books in the district's school libraries, which prompts a committee of teachers, librarians and administrators to review the challenged books and remove them from library shelves if they are deemed age inappropriate and/or contain sexualized content.
The CB committee recently ruled that "This Book is Gay" by Juno Dawson be removed from a middle school library and "Gender Queer" by Maia Kobabe be removed from a high school library. Librarians will now decide on two books on the same subject matter to replace the two removed books.
Some Democratic candidates running for a Council Rock School Board that is now 6-3 Republican have mentioned that one of the reasons they are running is to guard against policies that might lead to alleged book banning from coming into the district.
In other news from the May 18 meeting, the Council Rock board approved advertisement of a $267.96 million proposed final budget for 2023-24 that includes a 2 percent property tax increase, less than half of the maximum 4.1 percent hike allowed for next school year under the state's Act 1 Index.
The proposed final budget will be available for view on the district website, crsd.org, or at the Chancellor Center in Newtown Borough for 30 days before the board votes on making it final at a meeting sometime in June.
While going along with the proposed budget, board member Yota Palli expressed concerns that consistent tax increases of only 2 percent would in the next few years result in the district's budget fund balance, or surplus, becoming too low. She added she couldn't see herself voting in favor of a final budget with the 2 percent increase and instead favors a hike of about 2.5 or 3 percent.
Fellow board member Ed Tate shared those concerns but went along with the proposed final budget. Other members said they felt comfortable with a 2 percent increase and that the district must take care to keep the property tax burden as low as possible without sacrificing educational quality, especially for the sake of people with low and/or fixed incomes, a concern that has actually been expressed by all board members at one time or another.
Those saying they were comfortable with the 2 percent hike added that past warnings about lower tax increases leading to the district "running out of money" have not proven out.
A 2 percent increase, if that number holds in the final budget, would equate to 2.69 mills, or $102 more in taxes for a resident with a property assessed at the district average of $38,060. Current total millage is 134.4673, or $5,118 in annual real estate taxes for the owner of that average assessed property.