TE School District: Budget and Elementary School Enrollment Discussions

It is noted that the T/E School Board recently established an “Ad Hoc Committee for Elementary Enrollment” for the purpose of analyzing enrollment and facilities information and making a recommendation to ensure building capacity and educational programming needs in the District’s elementary schools.

Serving on the committee are school board members Virginia Lastner, Roberta Hotinski, Todd Kantorczyk and Kate Murphy.

The first meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee is tonight, March 22 at 6:300 PM at the TE Administration offices, 940 West Valley Road.  According to the agenda notice, the Committee “will review the elementary school enrollment history, past decisions and the impact that rising student enrollment is having on the delivery of the District’s elementary school program.”

The creation of this Ad Hoc Committee has me wondering if this the first step in what has long been rumored … an announcement that the school district is building a new elementary school? And with the building of the facilities building with a price tag of $4 million, one can only wonder the cost of a new elementary school. For the sake of the District’s taxpayers, I hope that responsible due diligence is performed in advance of any construction decision. I hope we can expect a long-range demographic analysis and student enrollment projection to justify any proposed capital projects.

A reminder of the TE School District tax increases.

  • 2016-17: 3.6%
  • 2015-16: 3.81%
  • 2014-15: 3.4%
  • 2013-14: 1.7%
  • 2012-13: 3.3%
  • 2011-12: 3.77%
  • 2010-11: 2.9%
  • 2009-10: 2.95%
  • 2008-09: 4.37%
  • 2007-08: 3.37%
  • 2006-07: 3.90%
  • 2005-06: 1.40%
  • 2004-05: Zero Tax Increase

Fiscal responsibility and accountability are often used as campaign platforms, particularly by those seeking to serve on the school board. It is important that they deliver on those promises.

Last week, the TE School Board held a 2017/18 budget workshop.  Although I was not at the meeting, Ray Clarke attended and provides his notes below.

The 2017/18 Budget Workshop focused on the revenue and staffing side, which was as humdrum as usual. Just a couple of interesting items:

– Current real estate revenue projected to be up 5.8% vs this year’s Budget and Projection, although the max rate increase is 3.4%. The difference ascribed to an increase in the assessed base, which at 2.4% which seems to be really high notwithstanding the current development boom. Maybe this year’s projection is low??? Not the first time.

– Talking of low ball budgeting: the administration acknowledged that the budgeted 0.05% rate of return on the taxpayer millions that the school district is sitting on is “conservative”. Yes indeed, when the Fed Funds rate is going up 0.25% every few months. (I can’t make the math work with the 0.05% assumption, though).

– Enrollment spiked by a surprising 178 (2.7%) in the current year and more growth is projected next year, which will require more teachers even though some grades are decreasing. Important to note here, that development can go some way to paying for increased students through the increased tax base – the key being the balance of commercial/senior living/apartment to residential family. Of course, property turnover favoring families is another driver of enrollment.

– And one factor influencing that turnover is the tax rate and the news on that front raises an alarm: somehow the early predictions for the Act 1 index are 3.0% next year and 3.3% for the three years thereafter. That’s 50% over the current inflation rate and consequent cost of living increases. The Board has to stay vigilant against a default assumption that perpetual routine tax increases of “Index plus Exceptions” is acceptable.

(And a minor irritation: that $4 million maintenance and storage building generated the need for an additional Supervisor to manage supplies. You’d have thought – and we were told, I think, that centralized storage would be more efficient, not less….,)

8 Comments

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  1. I just reviewed the document entitled – Elementary Enrollment Update Feb. 2017.

    http://www.tesd.net/cms/lib/PA01001259/Centricity/Domain/57/Enrollment_Feb8EdCom.pdf

    I am confused as to why anyone is thinking about building a new school when the total number of students are:

    2016 – actual 2432
    2021 – projected 2334

    This shows a DECREASE of 98 total students.

    Also — they indicate that a simple re-districting will take 18 months. 18 months to draw new lines???

    Is this not yet another example of a school board that has no corporate experience in running a business and an Administration group that sits around on West Valley Road commiserating — theorizing — having meetings to justify their outrageous salaries?

    A very simple solution seems to me to involve having one or two buses now serving Devon simply drive to Beaumont for a year or two — and no increase in costs. But then what would we do with a facilities account balance — put air in elementary schools??

    [Reply]

  2. The District has veered away from new construction, thank goodness, and seems to be leaning towards redistricting, focused, I imagine, on reducing the disparity between Devon (~600 students) and Beaumont (~400). The 18 month timeframe comes from the fact that you can’t do it in six months and the next school year is 18 months away. A fair amount of work involved with changes to programs, transportation, teaching and classroom assignments, policies for existing students, etc. and perhaps most critically of all, the communication plan. I would like to see more data on trends in housing turnover and the impact of new development. This could validate or improve demographer assumptions and provide better data for enrollment projections.

    At the same time, our Townships should be looking at existing policies that encourage high density residential development and decide if that is what residents really want.

    And back to the School District, as enrollment pressures mount, it should be all the more critical to be vigilant on spending. On Monday, the Board approved an agreement for a speaker for a professional staff in-service day to talk about “creativity, passion, steal like an artist – to be narrowed prior to event”. The cost of this (which was to be approved in the Consent Agenda without discussion) is $20,000 plus first class air fare, plus hotel, plus meals, plus ground transportation, plus $45 wire transfer fee.

    Even after this was raised, there was no full discussion of the benefits of the program and it was still approved en bloc with all the other items. Instead we were told: a) it’s good value when divided by 500 staff members; b) the proposal was higher; and c) we’re saving the Uber cost by picking the speaker up from the airport. Who knows where that First Class airfare is from? Not specified in the contract – could be Australia! “Steal like an artist” indeed!

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thanks for the clarification — redistricting vs new construction, a far more fiscal approach to the elementary school enrollment situation! However — because the District is saving millions of dollars in construction expenses, is a $20K expenditure (+ expenses) for “creativity, passion, steal like an artist” for a teacher in-service day OK? Unless you are upper, upper management (or flying from the other side of the world!) no one is reimbursing for First Class travel! I travel and often out-of-the-country and typically greater than half the first class seats are available — reason?? the huge expense! Don’t any of the school board members travel for business — and how many travel first class? Using Uber from the airport is peanuts in comparison to the airline travel and for one-day. wow! BTW, did you catch the name of the speaker — was it Austin Kleon? He’s 33 from Austin, TX and wrote a NY Times best-selling book, “Steal Like an Artist” and is a paid speaker (he’ll be in Turin, Italy for the day on 3/31). Just curious.

    [Reply]

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    Yes, that’s the name, Pattye, and that was only provided in the Consent Agenda details. There was no public discussion of who this fellow is and the value to the District of that one day. Also, the cost in the Agenda Resolution authorizing the agreement was listed as $20,000, with no direct mention of the unconstrained additional costs in that agreement.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thanks Ray.

    “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon offers “Nothing is completely original, and all creative work builds on what came before”. According to his speaker description, Kleon “will teach you how to embrace influence, establish a creative lineage, and think of yourself as a mashup of what you let into you life”
    The following is a slide from a presentation by Mr. Kleon.
    1. Steal like an artist.
    2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.
    3. Write the book you want to read.
    4. Use your hands.
    5. Side projects and hobbies are important.
    6. The secret: do good work and share it with people.
    7. Geography is no longer our master.
    8. Be nice. (The world is a small town.)
    9. Be boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.)
    10. Creativity is subtraction

    Kleon is a 33 yr. old artist and writer from Austin, TX with a New Age approach — $20K plus expenses for a November in-service day for teachers.

  3. I wonder if there would be better value to the district if each teacher got a $40 gift certificate to their favorite restaurant enclosed in a card listing the 10 incredibly insightful action items from Captain Obvious.
    .
    It would be interesting to know who dreamt up this boondoggle.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thanks for the comment Keith — couldn’t agree more! It appears that Mr. Kleon has had a number of book signings and that his speaking engagements are primarily audiences of high school or college students who are looking to explore and “find themselves” creatively.

    I would think that most of our TESD teachers are creatively teaching — so it will be curious how effectively Kleon tailors his talk to warrant a $20K speaking fee (plus expenses!).

    [Reply]

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