TESD School Board Meeting . . . Senate & House Hearings re School Budgets Continue

Monday’s Public Hearing on the land development authority and decision for final authority to remain with the Planning Commission took up much of the conversation yesterday on Community Matters.  However, there was also a T/E School Board meeting on Monday night.  Ray Clarke attended the meeting and sent along his comments which are posted below.  As always, I am grateful for Ray and his coverage of school board related issues.  At the upcoming Finance Committee on Monday, March 28, we will look for serious budget talk from school board members re expenses, programming and out-sourcing options.

March T/E Board Talk – video TESD has a new T/E Board Talk video available online.  In the 9 min. video, school board member Dr. Pete Motel provides an overview of the T/E School District’s long-range facilities plan from the Facilities Committee meeting of February 14.  The Facilities Committee meetings are not generally telecast so I highly recommend that you take the time to watch the very informative video clip from the meeting.  Click here to watch the podcast.

Monday’s School Board meeting was most notable for the legislative update from Dr. Rich Brake:

  1. Senate and House Committee Budget hearings will continue through next week (the 31st, I think).  The School District has a form letter on its website that you can modify and send to your representatives. (Click here for the sample letter.)  Community Matters readers will likely want to add their own flavor to the letter.
  2. Our own Senator Dinniman and Senator Jeffrey Piccola are working with their Senate Education Committee to come up with relief from the infamous state mandates (to which the form letter, above, refers).  Apparently there will be a press release on Tuesday.  (Update:  To add to Ray’s comments here, there was a State Education Committee meeting yesterday and I will have separate remarks on that topic later today.)
  3. The Senate has a version of the furloughs-allowed-to-solve deficits bill (SB 612, I think).  There will be (Education Committee?) hearings on this in early April.

In response to my question about a reaction to the PSEA statement encouraging local discussions about salary freezes and other cost saving measures, the Board stated that they “are in continual discussions with the union”.  If the direction from the union leadership can be translated into more than a one year expense deferral (present value at today’s zero interest rates = zero), it has the potential for a significant budget impact, so hopefully there will be something to report at next week’s workshop.

Perplexingly, Kevin Buraks reported that the Policy Committee decided to retain two consultants to tell them how to take advantage of opportunities to sell advertising rights (say, at Teamer).

The County Intermediate Unit gave a rather too slick presentation about its budget for next year, and the Board asked some good questions.  Whether those can translate to any cost avoidance is maybe doubtful.

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  1. The link (above) to the T/E school district web site contains contact information for state senators Dinniman and Erickson, as well as state representatives Kampf and Milne.
    There is also a sample letter. Bear in mind that “form” letters are less effective than original letters.

    PLEASE – EVERYONE READING THIS BLOG, CONCERNED ABOUT OUR SCHOOLS – SHOULD WRITE TO OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS IN HARRISBURG!

    [Reply]

  2. I just went to the Policy Committee minutes for further insight:

    “A New Advertising Policy
    The sale of advertising for extra curricular activities and events is listed as a strategy for the 2011-2012 budget. The Committee received a report on policies and practices of districts and other organizations and discussed potential advertising revenue for the T/E School District. The Committee charged the administration with exploring the feasibility of working with a consultant who would facilitate advertising contracts on behalf of the District. The Committee will receive an update on this matter at its April 6th meeting.”

    If the district is going into the media business it needs to have a sales rep? Seems a little over the top.

    [Reply]

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    I have to admit to not paying quite enough attention at the end of the meeting. The actual words were “….to bring in several professional consultants ……to make a pitch…”, and I got hung up on the “bringing in” part. Oops.

    I am, though, going to be paying full attention to your upcoming “unburdening”.

    [Reply]

  3. Here is the press release. I think these are good improvements, but don’t think these bills, even if all are passed, will have any substantial impact on school expenses. Hint: it’s teacher salaries and benefits; not state mandates.

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    Senate Bill 612 (Folmer) – Economic Furloughs coupled with language requiring proportionate reduction of administrators and a waiver if administrative reduction is burdensome. Amendment will be offered in committee to remove seniority rights and in its place establish effectiveness criteria tied to PVAAS data and local evaluations and also to require that positions remain vacant for at least one year unless the suspended employee is reinstated. “Last in, First Out” will not apply unless in current CBAs.
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    Senate Bill 293 & 296 (Eichelberger/Brubaker) – Increases the thresholds for bidding to $25,000 plus a CPI.
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    Senate Bill 329 (Dinniman) – Suspends nonessential reports from districts to PDE in years in which state education funding declines.
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    Senate Bill 537 (Rafferty) – Requires a 2/3 vote by school boards to raise property taxes.
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    Senate Bill 802 (Piccola) – Districts may hire either school certificated nurses OR registered nurses.
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    Senate Bill 803 (Piccola) – Districts would be permitted to advertise from a menu of options including the Internet.
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    Senate Bill 814 (Corman) – Reintroduction of Senate Bill 250 of last session (as reported from the Senate Education Committee) to reauthorize the Mandate Waivers program that expired on June 30, 2010. Bidding for school construction projects would be required both ways – multi-prime and single prime.
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    Senate Bill 801 (Waugh) – Districts would be permitted to bid single prime.
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    Senate Bill 202 (Dinniman) – Alternative certification pathways for principals and teachers.
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    SB 857 (Smucker) – Section 2502.49 of the Public School Code would be repealed. Obsolete Rendell administration language that required districts to use increases in basic education funding for new programs and expansion of existing programs.
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    SB 858 (Waugh) – Districts would be permitted the option of hiring certificated superintendents OR candidates who have a graduate degree in business or finance.
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    Paid Sick Leave/Sabbaticals (Eichelberger) – Entitlement in Public School Code for 10 paid sick days per year and paid sabbatical leave will be repealed, leaving these issues up to collective bargaining between districts and teachers’ unions.
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    SB 884 (Dinniman) – Districts making AYP and/or showing adequate PVAAS growth will be waived from participating in PILS (administrator training conducted in Harrisburg).
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    Tolling of Act 48 for two years (Brubaker) – Continuing education and professional development for teachers would be suspended for two years saving educators, districts and the state significant monies.
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    Dual Enrollment Flexibility (Brubaker) – Current requirements in the School Code to establish a Concurrent Enrollment Committee and for quarterly meetings would be removed. Districts would be given the flexibility to determine their policies for participating in duel enrollment.
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    Revamping PlanCon (Planning and Construction Workbook/Brubaker) – The Secretary of Education and State Board of Education would be required to review and overhaul the Department of Education’s PlanCon process for school construction and reimbursement.
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    Busing Bill (Alloway) – Currently the school districts bordering Pennsylvania are required to provide transportation for students to attend out-of-state private schools. This bill would allow schools to discontinue this service.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Thanks for helping with this information — much appreciated!

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    Citizenone,

    Allowing school districts to use a single prime contractor would result in significant savings on future construction projects. If memory serves, the Conestoga project was done under a mandate waiver allowing a single contractor, and that did result in significant savings. That waiver was later taken away by the state, so future projects will be required to use four prime contractors.

    The mandate to pay prevailing wage is also expensive, and should be looked at. Elimination of this madate for school district construction projects would also result in significant savings for the taxpayers.

    As for the other mandates mentioned in the press release, I think you are right that they will not result in huge savings. Every bit helps, but you are correct that the big money is in personnel costs, salary and benefits.

    Regarding benefits – I think the most helpful thing the legislature could do for school districts would be to restructure the state pension system. That alone would go a long ways. I would rather see them tackle that than spend time on some of the less significant mandates.

    [Reply]

  4. Most likely the “consultant” is somebody with ties to someone on the School Board. Anybody with half a brain knows these “consultants” are simply media buyers who get a cut of any ad sales. They have money for this yet they’re cutting our kids’ programs?

    [Reply]

    Additional Perspective Reply:

    I have no information on this, but wouldn’t it make sense to ask the School District rather than speculating about it?

    I highly doubt the School Board is spending money on a consultant even as “they’re cutting our kids’ programs.” The budget strategies show that advertising is meant to be a revenue generator.

    If there is nobody within the school administration capable of selling the advertising, a consultant could make sense if paid on a performance-only basis;

    If the choice were between bringing in a consultant that made a commission on ad sales but otherwise cost the school district nothing or not getting ad sales income because there’s nobody to sell the ads, which would you prefer?

    If the school district were paying out of pocket for a consultant, I’d complain too. But let’s verify facts first. Pattye, do you have any information on this?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    There is a misunderstanding in Ray’s remarks. The School Board has not met with nor hired any consultants. Kevin Buraks reported that the Policy Committee will bring in advertising consultants with school district experience to make a pitch to the committee. My understanding that the consultants will offer various options to the committee but no dollars being spent. Hope that clarifies & sorry or the misunderstanding. This is just another way of ‘thinking outside of the box’ to help the budget. I know that Radnor School Board uses ‘naming rights’ for some of their buildings.

    [Reply]

  5. I think the “advertising” is meant to generate revenue, less a cut to the sales person. Did they approve any outside consultants for pay? That’s the secret to that.

    This is just a new look at an old opportunity — but the District knows from experience that the kinds of advertisements that are available are typically contrary to school policy (Coca Cola placement of vending machines). The policy also prohibits naming buildings etc…beyond what is already named (Teamer Field etc.)

    Several districts did this awhile back — but to sell your school’s reputation for advertising (we have countless “books” for teams, events etc. that sell advertising) is a most likely a revenue red herring…keeps the policy committee busy since few policies need changing. “Citizens Bank Park” — the Wells Fargo Center…. okay. How much?

    [Reply]

  6. Folks – Look at the comments above – everyone is going nuts over the idea that the school board might be spending money on advertising consultants, which turns out not to be the case, and in any event is not that significant in the scheme of things.

    The most important thing in the article above is that the legislators are finally looking at reducing UNFUNDED MANDATES, and the important thing is the request to WRITE TO YOUR LEGISLATORS in support of that effort.

    But instead everyone seems to be hung up on a minor point. (With the exception of Citizenone, who is the only one, other than me, who addressed the real issue – and thank you for that C-one).

    One of you even went so far as to say: “Most likely the consultant is someone with ties to somebody on the school board.”

    WTF? First of all, it is an OUTRAGE to accuse the board of such improper dealings without evidence.

    But even more to my point – the comments above are misplaced. It is fine so far as it goes, to be concerned about advertising, and the potential costs of a consultant. But we should not lose sight of the big picture.

    Again, I would ask that everyone who reads or participates in this blog to WRITE TO THE LEGISLATORS URGING THEM TO REDUCE UNFUNDED MANDATES.

    I don’t know, maybe you were planning on doing that anyway, but given the comments above I have to wonder. I have written many times in the past, and am currently composing my first letter to Warren Kampf. I intend to cc Dinniman and the others. If enough people write, we may finally get some real action.

    [Reply]

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