In today’s Main Line Suburban Life newspaper, writer Blair Meadowcroft gives an update on Tredyffrin Easttown School District’s severe economic situation. There have been a number of postings and ongoing comments on this blog about the school district budget, but I think we need to bring the commentary back to the front page.
I know that the TESD budget is not a simple problem nor is there a simple fix but I want to pose a question to some of you who regularly comment on school district matters. If you could only offer one suggestion as to how to make a major impact on the budget, what would it be? I know that there is not much chance of re-opening the union contracts for the teachers but if that were possible would that be your solution? Would cost-cutting measures include teacher/staff layoffs? Would you suggest cuts in specific programs (if so, where — foreign language, sports, theater?) Decrease costs with increase in class size? Additional or increase in student activities fees (sports, after-school programs, parking charges) OK, it’s a perfect world and anything is possible (including re-negotiating of teacher contracts). What is your suggestion to the $9.2 million deficit in the TESD budget?
As we have all agreed, there seems far greater resident participation in the township government process than we have noticed with the school district — so I’m suggesting that we get TESD back on the front page of Community Matters. Some of our regulars — Ray, Andrea, Mike of Berwyn, Kate, Sarah . . . I invite your personal suggestions, help the community understand what this deficit means in real dollars to the taxpayers.
Taxing times are ahead for T/E board
By Blair Meadowcroft
The Tredyffrin/Easttown School District is facing a potential $9.2-million deficit for the 2010-2011 school year.
The shortfall comes from the fact that the proposed budget for the upcoming academic year, effective July 1, has expected revenues of $101.9 million and the projected expenditures are $9.2 million more at $111.5 million. According to district business manager Art McDonnell the $5-million increase in employee fringe benefits was the major factor increasing the deficit but there were others.
“The loss of revenue, the loss of transfer taxes due to the loss of sales, commercial mostly, the loss of interest income,” he said. “That’s been ongoing; we’re experiencing that now. And the increase in benefits costs comes from health-insurance coverage, and some from retirement and salaries.”
Increases in health care are to be expected, explained McDonnell, but on average the rates have increased 10 to 15 percent in the past, and this year the increase to the premium rate was 28 percent from Blue Cross.
“We did not expect that much of an increase,” said McDonnell. “This was the first time in a couple of years that the increase was way above what we were planning on. We were also expecting an increase to the retirement rate but not to the extent that it went up.”
The preliminary budget will be discussed again and voted on by the school board Jan. 25. The board however will not be voting on a final tax rate. According to McDonnell, by law the tax rate needs to be set by June 30 and will be voted on in June when the final budget is passed.
But at the Jan. 25 meeting, the board will vote to take one of three actions on the tax rate, according to McDonnell.“Pass a resolution to certify that the 2010-2011 tax rate will be at or below the Act 1 index of 2.9 percent; apply for exceptions to the Act 1 index, which will allow the district to raise taxes above the index without voter referendum; or authorize the administration to begin the process of seeking a voter referendum in May to increase taxes above the 2.9-percent state index,” said McDonnell.
If the board votes to tax higher than the limit set by the Act 1 index, there is the potential for $3 million more in revenue. That would come from an additional 3.73 percent.
However, in an effort to try to not raise taxes, Kevin Mahoney, chair of the finance committee, has asked the administration to come up with different ideas for reducing costs or increasing revenue, and any proposed strategies will be discussed at the Feb. 8 finance-committee meeting as well as at upcoming education-committee meetings.
So far a potential reduction of $2.35 million in expenses has been identified but nothing has been voted on or put into the budget yet.“We have some recommended strategies for the committee to look over and we are going to put together a presentation to show at the Feb. 8 meeting,” said McDonnell. “Hopefully we’ll find a way to combat the $9.2-million deficit.”
Whether or not the board decides to increase taxes, the potential for a deficit of some kind exists for the 2010-2011 academic year. The preliminary budget will again be discussed Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the school-board meeting and Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the finance-committee meeting. The June school-board meeting to vote on the budget is scheduled for June 14. All meetings are to be held at the Tredyffrin/Easttown Administration Offices at 940 W. Valley Road, Suite 1700, in Wayne.
“Public input will absolutely be considered and is encouraged,” said McDonnell. “We always have public-comment times at various points during and at the end of the meetings.”