Catholic School closings

Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors – ‘Team Players’ and TESD Budget Discussions Get Underway

As is often the case, Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors meeting conflicted with the TESD Board meeting last night.  I attended the BOS meeting and Ray Clarke attended the TESD meeting and graciously offered his comments from the meeting.

The Board of Supervisors meeting saw the swearing-in of four supervisors —  Paul Olson and JD DiBuonaventuro returning for new 4-year terms, Mike Heaberg starting his first full-term and newly elected Kristen Mayock joining them.  Although rumored over the past few weeks, it was probably still a surprise to some that Michelle Kichline was named ‘Chair’ and JD as ‘Vice Chair’ of the Board of Supervisors.  The board members themselves nominate and vote on these positions and traditionally, these positions go to the longer serving members of the Board of Supervisors.  However, in this case, Michelle received the unanimous support of her fellow board members for the chair position after serving only 2 years as a supervisor and neither as a vice chair. Congratulations to her and to JD as Vice Chair.

It was obvious from the moment that Michelle was named chair that there is going to be a distinctly different tone to the Board of Supervisors – starting with gifts for freshmen supervisor Kristen Mayock and for Tom Hogan, Tredyffrin Township’s former solicitor and newly elected Chester County District Attorney.

Michelle made a special point in describing the qualifications and strengths of  each of her fellow supervisors and described the Board of Supervisors as members of the ‘team’ and here to serve all the people.  This team approach and sense of community could provide a winning combination for moving the township forward in 2012.  There have been some missteps by Board members in the past and we know the Board is faced with some unfinished business from 2011, so here’s hoping this upward movement and spirit of cooperation continues.

As I said, Ray Clarke attended the TESD meeting last night and provides us with some interesting notes below.  He mentions the Catholic Schoolclosings and the possible effect this could have on T/E school district.  I was surprised to learn that T/E has 600 students who attend Catholic Schools.  My guess is that the Catholic school closings may not affect many of these students as it is unlikely that schools which typically draw TESD students like Villa Maria, St. Monica’s, Devon Prep, Malvern Prep and Archbishop Carroll would be on the ‘closing school list’.  Nevertheless, this is another dynamic to consider in the school district budget discussions.

TESD Notes from Ray Clarke:

A fair turnout (~50?) for the TESD Board meeting on Monday. They voted 7-2 to apply for Exceptions that allow a property tax increase of 1.6% on top of the 1.7% increase allowed by the Act 1 Index. Much lip service paid to the fact that this was not a vote to actually increase taxes by that amount, although we do know how that works. Brake and Mercogliano were the two dissenters, with the former articulating the danger of the incremental policy-making that will just give us over the next ten years the 50% tax increase we had over the last ten. He wants to give taxpayers a break. He was also the only one to give a realistic assessment ofHarrisburg’s view of PSERS: the options are to increase taxes or reduce benefits – and neither is going to get any political traction in the near future.

Let’s think about PSERS for a minute, because no one seems to be being objective here.

The state allows school districts to increase taxes to fund the increase in contribution to PSERS. Next year that tax increase is $0.94 million, the net PSERS expense increase about $1.1 million – pretty much one for one. That tax increase is about 1%. All the other cost increases ($4 to $5 million in 2012/13) are for things other than PSERS, yet all the school board could do was blame Harrisburg. The PSERS increases for the next two years are a little more (about $1.3 million a year), and then fall $0.7 million in 2015/16, then little changed for a decade or so, before tapering off. We can deal with a $4.4 million net increase in PSERS costs with a 5% tax increase over 4 years, and if we use the $15 million of fund balance set aside for that purpose, we can spread out that tax increase over twice the number of years.

No one wants to think objectively and long term likes this, because that would force attention on the issues within the District’s control:

  • Pay salaries and benefits that the taxpayers can afford
  • Get really rigorous with suppliers of all purchased supplies and services
  • Manage the cost of in-house services (like janitorial, maybe maintenance?) to market levels
  • Accelerate the hard look at nice-to-have things like the extra paid in-service days

Much commentary that about the cuts in FTEs, programs and costs in recent years, but none about where all the money saved has actually gone: employee compensation (and not yet PSERS, either).

It’s time to stop passing the buck!

One factor outside the district’s control, and which could have a major impact on costs: which Catholic schools will the closed, and what will that mean for TE enrollment? There are currently about 600 students living in TE that attend Catholic schools. It was stated that there is to be an announcement of the school closings on Friday.

Another observation: new Board member Kris Graham was a consistent pro-teacher advocate, and tried to invoke the hoary old chestnut that the homestead exemption offsets the property tax increase! Not recognizing that the exemption actually makes the property tax even more regressive. Because the exemption is a fixed amount, unchanged for many years now, the lower the assessed value the greater the effect of a given millage increase. The 3.3% tax increase is actually 3.5% for a home assessed at $150,000 that claims the homestead exemption.

And finally: it was notable that Mike Broadhurst showed his hand, advocating for keeping the janitorial out-sourcing option on the table, not “going too far” with tax increases so that “Harrisburg’s hand will be forced again”, questioning many of the projection model assumptions, and drawing attention to the hardly-new-news that the employee benefit cost is $1,040 per year for a family (but not completing the calculation to show that this is merely 1.2% of the median $85,000 teacher salary).

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