Clock is Ticking Down for T/E School District Final Budget — Vote on Tax Increase Monday Night!

The clock is ticking down for the school board and 2019-20 budget decisions. The school board will vote on the final budget on Monday, June 10, 7:30 PM at Conestoga High School. (Click here for the agenda).

In mid-December, the District first presented the 2019/20 budget with its proposed 6.1% tax increase — much has happened in the intervening six months.

Ongoing questions from the public about the $1.2 million accounting error have remained unanswered or denied, even in the face of legal action.

The individual Board members continue to be at odds about the proposed tax increase although the “whisper down the lane” message for months was that the tax increase would not be 6.1%.

The public is now told that the District tax increase “under consideration” is one in a pick list of 2.8%, 3.91% or 4.33%. The exact tax increase number becomes dependent on which school board member that you ask, with some keen on the lowest increase – some the highest and the others in the middle! Although the specific proposed tax increase should have been firmed up months ago, the public will have to wait for the final vote from the Board tomorrow night.

In case you are interested, below is the updated T/E School District tax increase chart for the last 15 years. Although I have no say (or sway!) my vote is for a 2.8% tax increase for the 2019-20 budget year versus one of the suggested higher increases. But to be clear, I’d like to roll back to the 2004-05 school year, the last time we saw no tax increase!

2019-20: 4.33%, 3.91% or 2.8%?
2018-19: 2.42%
2017-18: 3.2%
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

In advance of the meeting tomorrow night, I want to thank school board members Roberta Hotinski and Ed Sweeney for weighing in with comments on Community Matters regarding the budget.  (Their fellow Board members are always welcomed to do likewise).  And thank you to those in the community who have presented their thoughtful comments on the proposed budget, both here and privately in emails and phone calls — much appreciated!

And a special thank you to my friend Ray Clarke – faced with a 338-page agenda for the Board meeting tomorrow, I am grateful for his review and commentary on the agenda and final budget (see below).

TESD has published the Agenda for Monday’s meeting.  The Final Budget is to be approved, but three possible tax increases are still on the table, as are a number of “Budget Impact Strategies”, both quantified previously and also – alarmingly –  “Other items to Consider”, that includes “2019/20 Budget Assumptions”.  What a way to run a railroad – or a school district.

The main issue has been beaten to death here, of course, and remains: How can any tax increase greater than 3.91% be approved?  What are the implications of accepting that number?

A couple of other things caught my eye:

– The average of both Administration and Supervisor salary increases are more than the 2.3% Act 1 Index, and more than the contractual 1.7%.  Where is that extra money to come from – the Special Education Exception?

– On the other hand, the compensation for aides and paras (the few not outsourced) increases just 1.7%.  These folks earn less than a quarter of the average Admin.

– There is the proposed appointment of a School Safety Coordinator at a salary that with benefits would imply the originally budgeted $180K expense, yet the budget materials include a $50,000 saving.  Has that been explained or is it just another Consent Agenda item?

– Once more this year, the materials include a listing of service provider rates, with no context – such as: comparison with last year, total spend, total $ and % increase, issues if any

– 21 retirements celebrated and an unknown number of resignations during the year; what’s the budget impact of lower compensated replacements (“breakage”)?  No idea!

– More Special Education Agreements that boggle the mind: $452,000 for seven students for a year; $209,000 for one student for two years.  The accounting cover up has stolen two years from any possible effort to understand and manage this expense category.

So, as the Board considers next year’s Budget, do they have any idea at all of what’s going on?  Any frame of reference with current best estimate numbers: this year vs last year (and last three years), revenues and expenses by actionable category, backed by their underlying assumptions?  Any confidence?  Any trust?

Seems like it’s the proverbial rainy day for which that $30 million Fund Balance is needed.  As someone who has paid into it for 20 years. I’m happy to see it dwindle.  That’s only good for so long, though.

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12 Comments

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  1. – 21 retirements celebrated and an unknown number of resignations during the year; what’s the budget impact of lower compensated replacements (“breakage”)? No idea!

    People who are in control of information are in control.

    We will continue to have -no idea- until members of the Board demand that we and they receive accurate information.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Interestingly, retiring Conestoga HS social studies teacher Deb Ciamacca is running for the State Legislature in the 168th district From Delaware County.

    [Reply]

  2. While most people will be focused on the tax increase, the handling of CCIU invoices, the illegal special ed exception and the resultant proposed 6% tax increase has not been addressed. Yes, the district passed a policy requiring the signature of the superintendent for any “late” expenditure of over $200K, but that’s “closing the barn door after the horse has already left”.

    Case in point- the 8 CCIU invoices totaling $1.14M were sent to TESD on 6/30/17 which is before the close of the fiscal year and months before the books were closed. The TESD business office lost them and never found them until 11/13/17. This is what caused the problem. At this time the business manager had two choices. One, include the 8 invoices in the correct fiscal year by redoing the books. OR Two, illegally placing the invoices in the wrong fiscal year while hiding this from the board, hoping it would go unnoticed and creating the current taxation mess. He chose the latter. Has the board figured this out yet or is the administration still saying, “it’s not our fault; the books were closed and there was nothing we could do”? Has the business office changed their procedures so invoices won’t be lost again?

    If the board needs evidence I have it.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thanks Keith. Re your “closing the barn door after the horse has already left” comment — As I understand it, 7 of the 8 invoices (totally $1.14M which were paid late and then incorrectly listed in the wrong fiscal year) would not have met the $200K threshold requirement for superintendent signature. The newly approved policy change requiring the superintendent signature would not have caught and fixed this specific situation.

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    I’m not sure how the “$200K” threshold was worded and at the moment I can’t find the specific policy change. Is the threshold defined as a check, payment, purchase order or invoice? Depending on the wording the $200K threshold may not have been triggered.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Policy Meeting, May 6, 2019: Discussed amendment to Regulation 2110: Job Responsibilities for Superintendent of Schools
    Regular Board Meeting May 29: Amendments to Regulation 2110: Job Responsibilities for Superintendent of Schools, First Reading

    Here is the wording of the amendment:
    Regulation 2001, Sec. 5.5: In the event that due to the timing of payment, an invoice is accounted for in a subsequent year to the receipt of the good or service, and the amount of the good or service exceeds $200,000, the building principal, department head, or other staff member designated by the approver shall promptly inform the Superintendent. The Superintendent shall inform the Board within five business days of the said notification. (Cross Reference: Regulation 3350 Receiving and Approving Payment for Goods and Services)

  3. This is Standard Operating Procedure, (SOP) in TE.

    Create a policy to pretend like it matters and wipe their hands clean and act like that’s the end of it, and then hope citizens give up trying to make them see they still have to rectify the situation.

    That’s the nature of secrets. When they are found out, you have to deal with them.

    [Reply]

    Information is power Reply:

    It doesn’t work when the people writing the Policy are the very same people the Policy is written for.

    The Board needs to step in and hire an independent investigator. I know this has been suggested many times but it’s the only logical solution.

    As we can see, anything else is absurd.

    [Reply]

  4. Can anyone point me towards the resource/website/etc. that lists which School Board members cover which geographical areas in T/E and when they are up for re-election? It seems at this point that this mess created by Art McDonnell can only be fixed and/or prevented from happening again if there are people who are willing to hold him accountable and truly understand these financial missteps on the Board. It is mind-boggling to me that some sort-of independent investigation of McDonnell’s financials and practices (beyond an auditor) hasn’t been called for by the Board. I believe that many young parents in T/E are completely unaware that this situation is even happening. I am very appreciative of you Pattye for raising my awareness of this issue – have any media outlets picked up on this story?

    [Reply]

  5. What about the years before ’04? Was there a long string of years with no tax increases before or just that one year to break the streak?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    I started tracking in 2004 because it was a zero tax increase year.

    [Reply]

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