I attended the Special School Board meeting last night and when the Board was 20 min. late coming from their executive session, that should have been a clue as to what was to come. The agenda did not include the regular opportunity for questions or comments from community members at the start of the meeting but instead the Board went directly to the discussion of the Vanguard assessment appeal resolution. As background, Vanguard filed appeals challenging the assessments for its main corporate campus on Cedar Hollow Road and several of the buildings that surround the main campus for the tax year 2012-13. Vanguard and the District also both appealed the decision by the Board of Assessment for a building leased by Vanguard.
The Vanguard discussion was confusing because the agenda published on the District website differed from the agenda available at the meeting. Ray Clarke attended the meeting, questioned the inconsistencies between the two agendas and provided the following personal observations:
The TESD voted to approve a proposed settlement of the “Vanguard appeal” that appears to be a significant improvement over the worst case scenarios for which we have been prepared. Good news all around, although the $1.3 million “windfall” did not appear to affect the Board majority’s willingness to accept any remaining minimal risk on the aide/para issue.
Once again, the audience had to listen carefully to the financials, which as reported by the Solicitor were significantly different from the numbers published with the original meeting Agenda. It appears that the bottom line is:
1. A repayment to Vanguard of $150,000 in respect of 2012/13 tax year. We had been bracing for a repayment of $830,000. By my calculation this will contribute to expected 2012/13 revenues of $111 million and an expected surplus of $3.6 million. (The actual accounting may perhaps depend on the fiscal years in which the settlement can be recognized?).
2. A repayment to Vanguard of $153,000 (or a new tax bill revised by that amount) in respect of 2013/14 tax year. It appears that we had budgeted for revenue $800,000 less than the original tax bill, since Art McDonnell reported that revenue will now be $650,000 higher than the budget. It looks to me as though this should bring the budget into balance (before the one-time $1.16 million TEEA bonus – and before the $300,000 of expense savings for the current year that may well recur).
3. There was no impact on 2011/12 tax year, contrary to the first version of the agenda materials.[According to the Solicitor there was an error and the assessment did not include the 2011/12 tax year as previously stated.]
Perhaps some credit should go – in addition to TESD’s negotiating team – to whichever Court of Common Pleas Judge urged the settlement discussions.
My only comments to add to Ray’s remarks are that the settlement of the Vanguard appeal requires the approval from the other taxing authorities (township and county) and the Board of Assessment. From a timeline standpoint, the Solicitor expected the additional approvals by the end of the month. Further, the settlement comes with the agreement that Vanguard will not file any assessment appeals for 3 years.
Immediately following the Vanguard discussion, under Recommended Other Action on the agenda, Board president Kevin Buraks launched into a very long motion that in essence was to reverse the June 17 Board decision and return the hours of all aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals to their 2012-13 school year level. Buraks referenced the Treasury Department’s announcement of the one-year delay in the Affordable Care Act compliance requirement as the basis for his motion.
What is the saying about ‘no do-overs in life’ – apparently, what the many aides/paras and other audience members viewed as a simple task to re-instate the employee hours proved anything but simple for the TE School Board! Betsy Fadem immediately launched into commentary on all the unknowns of the ACA information and the what-if scenarios, convincing Buraks that his motion could not be open-ended — the District does not have enough information on the ACA delay and therefore too risky at this point. Buraks called upon the District personnel director Sue Tiede for a status report on the aides/pars and expectation of their return in September. According to Tiede, 135 aides/paras have said that they intend to return, two said they would not and there has been no response from 29. Buraks asked Tiede how much time was needed to fill any vacancies before the start of school. Her response was one month, or August 1.
Much to the chagrin of two Board members (Anne Crowley and Liz Mercogliano), the intial motion was quickly re-written to include August 1 deadline. According to Buraks revised motion, the Board must have further verification on the Affordable Care Act to make certain that the District will not be liable should they re-instate the hours of the aides and paras. It will then be up to the District solicitor to determine if the necessary ACA information (guarantee?) is received by August 1. If the solicitor does not receive any further ACA information by August 1, the affected employees remain reduced at 27.5 hours or below. Also included in the motion is that any new Ditrict aides, paraeducators or paraprofessionals hired will not exceed 27.5 hr. workweek.
To their credit, Anne Crowley and Liz Mercogliano fought passionately to have the August 1 deadline removed from the motion. At one point, Crowley offered an official change to the initial motion to exclude the August 1 date, but it failed 7-2. When Mercogliano lamented that the District should offer all employees healthcare benefits, Betsy Fadem, who told her the Board was not going to revisit the discussion of June 17, quickly cut her off. Only Crowley and Mercogliano defended the current employees and the need to preserve their hours, particularly in view of last week’s Treasury Department announcement.
Unfortunately, Crowley and Mercogliano held a minority viewpoint in the discussion. After 30 minutes of the Board going around and around with each other and back and forth with the solicitor, it was increasingly obvious that the majority of this Board was not going to give the hours back to the affected employees or … at least not easily. Why should doing what’s right (and practical) be so difficult! In the end, the motion to return the hours to the aides/paras (with the inclusion of the August 1 date caveat) was approved 8-1. Fadem voted no to the motion, she clearly wants no do-over to the June 17 vote.
I have no idea what magic answers Buraks and the other Board members (except Crowley and Mercogliano) expect to have from Washington in the next 3 weeks. It is as if he and the others expect some kind of personal guarantee from the Federal government that the terms of the ACA will pose no liability issue for the TE School District. I read the press release from the Treasury Department and it seemed clear to me that businesses with 50 or more employees were given a one-year reprieve for compliance (without any penalty). The Affordable Care Act is complex and the additional year was intended to give employers (school districts) an opportunity to more fully understand the implementation requirements. In addition, we know that the requirements and compliance issues are in a state of flux and who knows what will happen over the next year. However, here in the TE School District, the Board has decided they need more answers from Washington – and those answers need to be in by August 1.
Bottom line about last night’s school board meeting – I entered the meeting very hopeful that the Board would do the right thing and reinstate the hours of the aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals to their 2012-13 school year level. However, my hoping, wishing, wanting was not to be last night. I suppose there’s a small sliver of possibility that if more ACA information becomes available by August 1 and if the District solicitor determines the information is sufficient, then maybe the aides and the paras will see the return of their hours. Is it likely to happen … that is anyone’s guess!
For the record, the regular District solictor Ken Roos did not attend the meeting – there was another attorney from the Wisler Pearstine law firm in his absence. Also, Rich Brake and Karen Cruickshank attended the meeting remotely, by phone.