Have you ever attended a meeting where you left shaking your head in confusion and wondering exactly what was decided? Last night’s Finance Committee meeting of the school district was that kind of meeting for me. I would think it was just me, except that following up with Ray Clarke, who also attended the meeting; I took solace that some of what was said too confused him.
Unfortunately, if Ray and I were a tad confused, I fear that the standing-room only crowd in attendance may be likewise. Here are some of the highlights; if you attended the meeting, and find that, I misunderstood the information, please jump in.
The remaining 2012-13 budget deficit is $1.5 million. There are 3 budget strategies under review to bridge the gap:
- Strategy N-14: Solicitation of tax-exempt property owners for payment in lieu of taxes. A letter from the District would go to these property owners requesting a payment in lieu of taxes equal to 10% of the total amount if their property was not tax-exempt. The District will do the research and insert the actual dollar amount of what they would pay (if not tax-exempt) along with the requested 10 percent amount. There is a potential of $5 million from the 308 tax-exempt property owners. This is a 2-prong approach – the District will be quantifying to see if any property owners have lost their non-profit status and there should be paying taxes, and to ask for donations from non-profit property owners. Interesting to note that 2 of the largest non-profit property owners are Tredyffrin Township and Tredyffrin Easttown School District.
- Strategy N-19: Increase class size by one student. Grades K & 1 would go from 22 to 23 students, Grade 2 from 23 to 24 students, Grades 3 & 4 from 25 to 26 students and Grades 5 & 6 from 27 to 28 students. Estimated savings: $607K
- Strategy N-16: Demotion of professional staff for economic reasons. Estimated savings: $640K TESD solicitor Kenneth Roos attended the Finance Committee meeting and gave his legalize during the meeting, as needed. He explained that the District could not demote on merit because it is subjective. Demotion cannot be “arbitrary or capricious”. Dr. Waters offered that by demoting those with the highest salaries, the impact would be lessened with fewer teachers affected. The solicitor confirmed that the TEEA contract is silent on the subject of demotion.
Last year, budget strategies numbered 31-35 combined are listed as a cost savings of $1.125 million — these strategies were ultimately approved in the 2011-12 budget. Strategy 31 requires high school teachers to teach 6 periods per day, Strategy 32 maintains the 8 periods per day at Conestoga and limit students to 42 periods per cycle. Strategy 33 requires science lab teachers at Conestoga to teach 5 classes, Strategy 34 eliminates German and Latin in the middle school and final Strategy 35 curtails applied tech, FC and Tech Ed in Grades 5 and 6.
Because of increased teaching periods that started this school year, an announcement by school board member Betsy Fadem last night that was surprising. It is my understanding from Fadem and the solicitor that the teachers union has filed a grievance against the District in regards to the additional teaching period in the high school — Conestoga teachers are teaching 6 periods per day versus 5 periods.
The TEEA grievance topic was the number one most confusing, and least explained item of last night. Between Ray Clarke and me, we have tried to figure out what was said but there was little to go on. There is a potential $1 million price tag associated with this grievance, should the District lose. There is an additional problem (which could be costly in time and money) that’s the rescheduling required if TEEA prevails and the number of teaching periods returns to where it was before this budget strategy was imposed.
The statement from Roos on TEEA grievance was confusing. I absolutely do not understand the scope of the grievance, the timeline for appeal, associated costs, etc.; the public is owed a much more comprehensive explanation than was offered last night. We all left the meeting shaking our heads and not understanding this grievance issue. I couldn’t help but wonder is this a ‘balance of the scales’ contract strategy from TEEA against the ‘demotion talk’ from the school district? Please school board, can the taxpayers have transparency and explanation on this important issue. If there are any teachers who can shed light on the complaint, please help us understand.
The only other item I will mention from last night had to do with creating a way for residents to donate to the school district to help the budget. Many residents have spoken out that they would like to contribute with donations to the District, some suggesting that they were willing to see their taxes increased to ensure the quality of the T/E education. There was discussion about having a ‘button’ on the District’s website for contributions and setting up a foundation to collect donations (as a Great Valley organization recently did). In addition, FLITE is willing to have contributions go through their organization that would be earmarked for the District. A number of students and parents spoke out in support of voluntary contributions to the District.