by Buz Wolfe

Each year, dozens and dozens of individuals and families relocate into the Greater Carlisle Area. Although many of these families are affiliated with the United States Army War College, just as many others are transferees who are newly employed due to the nice diversification of businesses, industries and institutions that support our strong local economy.

In many instances, folks actually select a school district before selecting a new home. Here in Southcentral Pennsylvania, we are blessed to have some of the best public schools among the 499 School Districts serving the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The Greater Carlisle Area Chamber of Commerce hosts an “Education Breakfast” each year at which the Superintendents of the four Carlisle Area Schools – – Big Spring School District, Carlisle Area School District, Cumberland Valley School District and South Middleton School District – – bring local business leaders up to date on happenings within the overall education sector as well as within their own School District. I was happy to attend that function again this year and will share some of those thoughts – – along with a few personal anecdotes.

The Big Spring School District, located in Newville, is our most rural school district. It serves the Municipalities of West Pennsboro Township, Borough of Newville, South Newton Township, North Newton Township, Lower Frankford, Upper Frankford, Cooke Township, Lower Mifflin Township, Upper Mifflin Township and Penn Township. It is the only area school district with a declining enrollment – – like approximately 2/3 of Pennsylvania’s total School Districts. With a $48 million budget and an enrollment of 2,560 students, the District largely faces an aging population and the relocation of fewer families than its peer School Districts. The Big Spring School District experiences a poverty level of approximately 44%. Despite all of these obstacles, Superintendent Dr. Richard Fry is quick to point out that the District boasts very good buildings and facilities and more than 19 Advanced Placement (AP) offerings. And, when it comes to PIAA wrestling, the Bulldogs are always a factor with which to be reckoned!

The Carlisle Area School District serves the Borough of Carlisle, Borough of Mount Holly Springs, Dickinson Township and North Middleton Townships. Carlisle sees a slightly increasing enrollment which currently stands at about 5,200 students. It tends to be the most transient of the four neighboring School Districts largely due to the existence of the United States Army War College. About 350 students per year are introduced into the Carlisle Area Schools because of the USAWC – – this representing an annual “in and out” figure of about 28%. The student body tends to be more diverse than the other area Districts and experiences about a 40% poverty level factor. Its $79 million annual budget is carefully managed – – as evidence by the continued on-going building improvements seen within the District. The Carlisle Thundering Herd has a renowned reputations in both athletics and music. Its boys basketball team won four consecutive State Championships in the 80’s and finds itself again this year competing in the State Tournament. John Friend is the latest in a long line of distinguished educators and administrators who have served as Superintendent of Schools.

The fact that Cumberland County is the fastest growing county in Pennsylvania is well evidenced by the Cumberland Valley School system. Serving a number of the “West Shore” municipalities – – Middlesex Township, Silver Spring Township, Hampden Township and Monroe Township, Cumberland Valley is the largest school district within the Greater Carlisle Area and is growing at a very rapid rate. An increase of 1,450 students is projected over the next ten years according to Superintendent Fred Withum. Their 9,000 student enrollment includes approximately 20% at poverty level, making it easily the most affluent District within our market area. The Cumberland Valley Eagles are no stranger to State Championships either – having secured several State High School Football Championships.

South Middleton Township is home to the South Middleton School District, headquartered in Boiling Springs. It is the only area District to serve one single municipality. According to Dr. Alan Moyer, current enrollment stands at approximately 2,200 student (25% poverty). The South Middleton School District is also home to many newer and upgraded buildings and facilities. The “Bubblers” are also recognized for having one of the finest high school wrestling programs in the Commonwealth.

As a homeowner in any of these Districts – – or a property owner, in general – – your property taxes are a key factor in supporting the financial operations, of each District. Total property taxes in Pennsylvania exceed $14 billion annually. While elected official continue to search for ways to replace real estate / property tax with other forms of revenue, school districts must continue to rely on this income as actual Federal dollars continue to dwindle while Federal mandates on our schools continue to increase. Your real estate taxes are based upon the assessed value of your home as established by Cumberland County in January of 2010. Later in this series, we will discuss the difference between Assessed Value and Appraised Value.

To sum it up, the Greater Carlisle Area is blessed with four excellent public school systems that boast outstanding programs, facilities and leadership. Each of the Districts have some of their own unique and special characteristics. Finding the one that best suits your children might just determine where your next house will be!