Monday night was the Board of Supervisors Meeting and TESD Budget meeting. I attended the BOS meeting and will offer a few thoughts in a later post. Ray Clarke attended the school district meeting and offered his opinion on the evening which I provide below.
In reviewing Ray’s notes, I was pleased that it appears the elementary and middle school music programs are safe (at least at this time) from the budget ax. Although certainly not a perfect solution, increasing class size of students by one or two students may be something that the parents (and teachers?) can live with versus some of the alternatives presented such as elimination of music programs.
However, the ‘demotion of professional staff for economic reasons’ could have potential to go in many different directions. Apparently there was discussion at the budget meeting which suggested the idea of ‘demoting’ higher paid full-time staff to part-time. Ray wonders if they are referring to PhD employees.
It may be legally possible but is it realistic to think that the school board would demote teachers with the longest service (and presumably highest salary)? If we assume that the teachers with the longest service are the highest paid, surely the TEEA would step in and fight to protect those full-time positions. At the last finance committee meeting, there was discussion that perhaps there were individuals (for personal reasons) who would like to work part-time rather than full-time and might take advantage of this opportunity. It was my understanding that the teachers union had mentioned this option to its members.
Ray’s notes reference the statement from the teachers union in regards to using the school district’s fund balance towards budget shortfall. For the full statement from TEEA, click here. An excerpt reads as follows:
The Tredyffrin Easttown School District maintains a $32 million fund balance, which equates to 26% of revenue. Most other school districts maintain a fund balance of 8% to 10%. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association recommends a fund balance no greater than 5%. We ask the question and we believe the taxpayers and parents should ask the question, ‘Why is this fund balance not being used to save programs and preserve the great, award-winning T/E School District?’ Why are District officials insisting they do not have the resources to protect these programs?
Ray Clarke’s remarks from last night’s budget meeting:
Some notes on the TESD budget meeting from my perspective …..
The TESD meeting was notable for airing out some new projections for 2012/13 (previously discussed in committees), but we are still some way from numbers that can be trusted, and even when we have them, it seems that they’ll still show a deficit.
Some highlights I noted:
– The current enrollment figures show a 3% decrease over the current year, but the expectation seems to be that the final figures will be higher, but smaller than projected back in October 2011. The net result being 3 fewer FTEs now needed in 2012/13, reducing the expense increase by $225,000. Some more detail of the assumptions on this would have helped.
– To recap on professional staff: Average years of service continues upward – now 11.7 years – and so does average salary – by year-end approx. $86,000. TTRC member Barbara Morosse tried to get the Board to own up to the fact that the approx 30% increase in average salary (my number) over the last four years is in fact a major contributor to the current budget problem, but of course we continued to get the litany (best articulated last night by Kris Graham) that lists all the issues outside the Board’s control. There was no update on contract negotiations, but Art O’Donnell read a list of corrections to a recent TEEA commentary.
– A few expense analysis comments:
a) Next year has a $1.65 million increase in teacher salaries deferred from this year, and this makes up most of the salary line increase; presumably the cost of increased FTEs are offset by a mix change due to 17 retirements.
b) It looks like the current prescription plan can be funded with no increase, rather than the 10% previously budgeted (saving $500,000).
c) It was announced that the transportation company waived their contracted 2% increase this year, but it looks like the budget assumes next year’s increase will make that up.
d) There is a $725,000 increase in interest expense next year, and apparently no opportunity to use the Fund Balance to pay down debt and save interest expense until 2015.
e) The administration has benchmarked legal and architectural rates and found them to be competitive.
– There’s an good-sounding budget strategy to replace special education services purchased from the CCIU with our own staff and save $200,000.
– Of course, strategies to address the remaining budget gap (after a projected 3.4% tax increase, let’s not forget) are now getting contentious.
Betsy Fadem came out strongly for tabling any consideration of:
a) reducing EDRs (although new hires are already paid less) (saving forgone $220,000)
b) eliminating ES and MS music lessons (savings forgone $375,000)
She [Fadem] carried the day on those. On the other hand, the Board did vote to further consider:
a) demoting higher paid staff (PhDs??) from FT to PT (saving $640,000)
b) increasing the class size by one (or maybe two??) (saving maybe $500,000, but the numbers not at all clear on this).
The first of these seems completely insane to me, but maybe they are trying to make points to the TEEA and to the community about their willingness to undertake the limited options allowed by state law. There was a very confusing discussion about the overlap of the retirements and the demotion strategy, so maybe I’m missing something. So it looks like they are still at least $1 million short of a balanced budget, and facing a TEEA that wants to get further compensation increases paid out of the Fund Balance, while it lasts. Dr Motel called for a thorough review of all non-mandated programs: art, music, kindergarten, transportation, etc.
Not a pretty picture.