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How to Close $1.5 Million Budget Gap is TESD’s $1.5 Million Question!

With channel 6 ABC news cameras rolling and with a standing room crowd, Tredyffrin-Eastttown School Board held its monthly school board meeting last night.

Passion, commitment, support, devotion … adjectives that describe the steady stream of District students who spoke on behalf of their teachers at last night’s school board meeting.  Waiting for hours for the opportunity to show their opposition to demotion of District staff, they ranged from the 13-yr. old young girl who read her college sister’s plea to save the arts and music programs to a current Harvard student who spoke about passionately about his Conestoga physics teacher who gave his life meaning and direction.  There was a young man who delivered an emotional appeal in German, than translated and re-delivered the words in English, on behalf of his special German teacher.  One after another, the students would explain the sacrifices of their families to move to this area, all because of the quality of the school district.  Interestingly, more than one of the students suggested that the School Board let go of the technology purchases, the Smart boards, the computers, etc. and save the teacher’s jobs instead.

Least someone suggest that the teachers union somehow orchestrated this show of solidarity by the students (and parents) for the District’s teachers; I don’t think that would be possible. Anyone who has raised a teenager knows they have to ‘believe’ in the cause, their passion cannot be supplanted and forced by someone else.  No, what was clear last night was these kids believe in this school district and believe in the teachers who are making a difference in their lives.  It was quite stunning to witness.

Of course, the looming budget deficit remains.  After $10 million worth of cuts over the last 3 years, the decreasing local revenue, increased contributions to the state pension fund and diminished state and federal revenue, the District is continues to face a financial crisis.  School boards across the state are faced with the same difficult challenges as TESD … how to balance the budget amidst these challenges.

The projected TESD 2012-13 budget deficit is $5.9 million. With the Act 1 allowable 1.7% tax increase plus exceptions, the District can reduce the deficit to approximately $1.5 million.  That includes the $50 sports and activities fee, approved last night for all middle and high school students who participate in one or more activities.  But how to close the $1.5 million budget gap is the $1.5 million question.

School board members spoke of their support for the teachers, many explaining that they have children in the District.  They suggested that their ‘hands were tied’ and that very few options remain on the table to close the budget deficit and again suggested that students and parents send letters to the state legislature demanding relief.  With few options remaining, the school board is being forced to look at the possibility of increasing class size and demotion of senior members of the staff.

Some have suggested that the school board should have pushed for a taxpayer referendum for an earned income tax on the ballot.  Although too late for November’s election, it was reiterated that these types of tax increase referendums historically have not passed in Pennsylvania.  In addition, the results from the tax study group indicated that there was no support for an EIT in TESD.  Hindsight being 20/20, I would have to ask what was the downside for the school board to take the question to the voters.  We have to remember that only 20 percent of the taxpayers in TESD also have children in the District.  So, it’s complete speculation if there would have been enough interest to get the EIT passed.

Unfortunately, for TEEA, it looks like it is going to be up to the teachers to help save the school district through their contract negotiations.  How much are they willing to sacrifice?  How much of their benefit package and salary increase are they willing to forego?  I don’t think any of us (and that includes the School Board) wants to see the quality of the education diminished through increased class size and he demotion of some of the District’s best teachers.  We know that the District cannot afford the teachers’ health care plan at its current level, but is a benefits change enough to make up the $1.5 million District deficit?  I have no answers.

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