TESD 2010-11 Budget

Ray Clarke Provides Notes from TESD School Board Meeting & Budget Approval Process

My friend, Ray Clarke once again has not let us down with his detailed notes and commentary from the TESD School Board meeting.  Posting the agenda from last night’s meeting, I noted its 101 pages so I have a feeling that last night was long and tedious.  Which makes me all the more grateful that Ray attended, took notes and then provides us with his thoughtful remarks.  Thanks Ray!

I was particularly interested to know that PSERS was discussed at the meeting.  The large white elephant in the room, we’d all like to hope that PSERS goes away or somehow just self-corrects but we know that’s just wishful thinking. PA House Appropriations Chair Dwight Evan’s proposed legislation addresses PSERS, but appears to be a delay tactic where the major liability to the taxpayers remains.  But I suppose one could say his bill is better than nothing . . . which is where we currently are on the subject. 

At the end of Ray’s notes he asks for State House candidates Drucker and Kampf to weigh in, but my experience says that will be doubtful.  Unfortunately, my discussions with politicians anymore seem to be laced with an ‘it’s off the record’ remark . . . but maybe these candidates will surprise us! 

Read over Ray’s comments from the meeting and please provide your thoughts. Any other readers attend the meeting, if so,  please weigh in with your comments.

The School Board passed:

  • The 2010/11 budget with a 2.9% property tax increase, as developed and communicated over the past six months
  • Issuance of $23.6 million of bonds at “record low interest rates” – but which will still cost $36.7 million to repay over the next 15 years.  Part will be used to advance refund existing bonds, which will save $170,000 next year and have a total net present value savings of $377,000 over the next dozen years.  Note that the savings are front-loaded, extra costs come in the out years (see later, re PSERS……)
  • A bid to demolish the ESC, leading to a total project cost of $450,000 – about half the working estimates, which is very good news.  The work to take place at the end of the calendar year.
  • Modifications to the K-6 class sizing practice that will save three teaching positions next year and more later, while remaining in accordance with current staffing policy.  The implementation enabled by more recent resignations than expected.
  • A bid for printing services to replace the print shop currently housed in the ESC.  Important to note that the budget strategy to save $84,000 did not explicitly articulate the $52,000 cost for the outsourced services, although apparently that cost is included in the budget.  There was an agonizing 15 minute discussion while the Board and Administration talked all around this without facing up to it.

Interesting update about PSERS: PA House Appropriations Chair Dwight Evans has introduced a bill to implement a Rendell plan to delay the increase in employer (= taxpayer) contributions to teacher and state employee pension plans.  Basically this limits the rate of increase of contributions via “collars” on the percentage of payroll that the taxpayer would have to contribute.  Here’s an analysis: 
http://www.paindependent.com/todays_news/detail/alternate-state-pension-plan-would-cost-8-billion
From some of the numbers floated, I guess this would provide TESD with at least a $5 million annual expense saving (vs the current forecast) in the problem years coming up.

But of course, the liabilities are still out there, so, to quote another website:
http://www.pennsylvaniavotes.org/forum/forums/p/149/300.aspx#300:
“An actuarial note attached to the bill by PERC (the PA Public Employee Retirement Commission) estimates that the higher costs in later year will far outweigh the contribution reductions in earlier years – to the tune of an astonishing $52 billion over 30 years. That is an additional $52 billion that taxpayers – through higher state and school property taxes – will have to fork over to pay off the pension obligations, and this assumes an 8% annual return on investment.”

This bill is being compared to refinancing a mortgage, which is not a bad analogy.  Continuing with that: the plan does of course completely fail to address the fact that the principal (the public sector pension liability) vastly exceeds the market value (= pensions valued at private sector levels).  Not a thought being given to writing down that liability!

For how long will voters put up with the union stranglehold on the legislature?  At some point the economic pain will become overwhelming.  What do our current and would-be representatives think about this?

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Adoption of Tredyffrin Easttown School District’s 2010-11 Budget Set for Tomorrow Night

Tomorrow night, Monday, June 14, the school board will deliver the 2010-11 budget for final approval.  The meeting is scheduled for 7:30 PM at Conestoga High School – here is the meeting agenda (word of warning – the agenda is 101 pages so suggest reviewing it online rather than printing!).  I don’t think that there are any anticipated surprises to the budget.  The school board has done a great job of keeping the public informed during this tedious budget process; I’m sure that there will be a collective sigh of relief from school board member after tomorrow night’s budget vote.  I have a conflict with another board meeting tomorrow, but I hope that many residents will attend, and then share their thoughts.

Knowing that tomorrow was closing a chapter on the school district budget,  I was interested in an Associated Press education article that was picked up in various newspapers this weekend.  The article is about teacher tenure reform and how the Colorado legislature has made a rather bold statement against the teacher union in their state.  Colorado is changing the way their teachers retain their jobs; using annual reviews and student performance statistics to make tenure decisions.  In case you did not see the article, an excerpt is below.

In bold move, Colorado alters teacher tenure rules

By COLLEEN SLEVIN, Associated Press Writer Colleen Slevin

DENVER – Colorado is changing the rules for how teachers earn and keep the sweeping job protections known as tenure, long considered a political sacred cow around the country. Many education reform advocates consider tenure to be one of the biggest obstacles to improving America’s schools because it makes removing mediocre or even incompetent teachers difficult. Teacher unions, meanwhile, have steadfastly defended tenure for decades.

Colorado’s legislature changed tenure rules despite opposition from the state’s largest teacher’s union, a longtime ally of majority Democrats. Gov. Bill Ritter, also a Democrat, signed the bill into law last month. After the bill survived a filibuster attempt and passed a key House vote, Democratic Rep. Nancy Todd, a 25-year teacher who opposed the measure, broke into tears. “I don’t question your motives,” an emotional Todd said to the bill’s proponents. “But I do want you to hear my heart because my heart is speaking for over 40,000 teachers in the state of Colorado who have been given the message that it is all up to them.”

While other states have tried to modify tenure, Colorado’s law was the boldest education reform in recent memory, according to Kate Walsh, the president of the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, which promotes changing the way teachers are recruited and retained, including holding tenured teachers accountable with annual reviews. The new law requires teachers to be evaluated annually, with at least half of their rating based on whether their students progressed during the school year. Beginning teachers will have to show they’ve boosted student achievement for three straight years to earn tenure.

Teachers could lose tenure if their students don’t show progress for two consecutive years. That won’t be a possibility until 2015, however, because lawmakers slowed down the process under political pressure from the teachers’ union. Teachers can appeal dismissal all the way to the state Supreme Court, and school districts have the burden of proving why they should be terminated.

Under the old system, teachers simply had to work for three years to gain tenure, the typical wait around the country.

Every state but Wisconsin has some form of tenure. The protections were intended to protect teachers from being fired because of their politics, religion or other arbitrary reasons. On average, school districts across the country dismiss 2.1 percent of teachers annually, generally for bad conduct rather than performance.

Colorado’s measure is a tribute to the tenacity of freshman Democratic state Sen. Michael Johnston, a former Teach for America teacher, principal and Obama education adviser. The 35-year-old Harvard- and Yale-trained lawyer was appointed to represent a largely minority Denver district that has seen an influx of more white residents because of redevelopment of the city’s former airport. He successfully fought changes to the bill that would have eased expectations for teachers with traditionally low performing students.

Although various states have responded to the lure of federal money by moving to tie teacher evaluations to student performance, no other state specifically changed its tenure laws as Colorado did.

Many teachers and some education experts argue that tenure reform is unnecessary. Margaret Bobb, an earth science teacher at Denver’s East High School, said bad teachers are often quietly coached out of their jobs by administrators, avoiding the protracted tenure dismissal process. She contends tenure is still needed to prevent good teachers from being dismissed for running afoul of administrators and to prevent experienced — and more expensive — teachers from being let go by cash-strapped districts.

“Education is not just you and your class. It’s not an individual activity. If you’re doing your best, it’s a system you’re a part of,” Bobb said.

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Over 150,000 Teachers Nationwide Without Jobs . . . Will this influence school district budgets and teacher contract negotiations?

Here’s an interesting article in the New York Times about the state of teaching and shortage of jobs.  School district budget cuts nationwide have created  a historic surplus of more than 150,000  teachers in the job market.  Going forward, as school districts engage in teacher contract negotiations, this may create a different situation for the teacher unions. Will the supply and demand of available teachers influence TESD decisions?

Teachers Facing Weakest Market in Years

By WINNIE HU

Published: May 19, 2010

PELHAM, NY – In the month since Pelham Memorial High School in Westchester County advertised seven teaching jobs, it has been flooded with 3,010 applications from candidates as far away as California. The Port Washington District on Long Island is sorting through 3,620 applications for eight positions — the largest pool the superintendent has seen in his 41-year career.

Even hard-to-fill specialties are no longer so hard to fill. Jericho, N.Y., has 963 people to choose from for five spots in special education, more than twice as many as in past years. In Connecticut, chemistry and physics jobs in Hartford that normally attract no more than 5 candidates have 110 and 51, respectively.

The recession seems to have penetrated a profession long seen as recession-proof. Superintendents, education professors and people seeking work say teachers are facing the worst job market since the Great Depression. Amid state and local budget cuts, cash-poor urban districts like New York City and Los Angeles, which used to hire thousands of young people every spring, have taken down the help-wanted signs.

Even upscale suburban districts are preparing for huge levels of layoffs. School officials and union leaders estimate than more than 150,000 teachers nationwide could lose their jobs next year, far more than any other time, including the last major financial crisis of the 1970s.

At the University of Pennsylvania, most of the 90 aspiring teachers who graduated last weekend are jobless. Many had counted on offers from the Philadelphia public schools but had their interviews canceled this month after the district announced a hiring freeze.

“We’re trying to encourage everyone to hold on,” said Kathy Schultz, an education professor at Penn. “But that’s very difficult because students have taken out loans and want to be assured of a job.”

If there is an upside to the shortage of teaching jobs, it is that schools now have their pick of candidates.  Teach for America, which places graduates from some of the nation’s top colleges in poor schools, has seen applications increase by nearly a third this year to 46,000 — for 4,500 slots. From Ivy League colleges alone, there are 1,688 would-be teachers.

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Proposed 2010-11 School District Budget . . . Ray Clarke’s Comments on School Board Meeting

Last night was TESD School Board meeting with discussion of the proposed 2010-11 district budget as the major agenda item.  I was attending a DuPortail House Board meeting and as always, I thank my friend Ray Clarke for attending the School Board meeting and then for sharing his notes with us.  For Ray and any other who attended – I am curious what was the resident turnout like last night?  Staff, teachers, parents in attendance?  Many comments from the audience members?

It looks like the unfunded pension program (PSERS)  problem is looming ever closer on the horizon . . . wonder if there is time before the Primary next week to have a statement from the local candidates on their proposed solution to the problem?  If not before the Primary Election, I do think that we need to have public dialogue before the November General Election and know where the candidates stand on this important economic issue facing the Commonwealth.

Update from the School Board meeting budget discussion

First, a quick appreciation for District Business Manager Art McDonnell. His presentation tonight was very clear. He always seems to be on top of the details, and the budget process has chewed through a lot of those details.

The proposed budget passed with one change: removal of the $80,000 of revenue estimate for the Activity Fee. The consensus being that there is not enough time to sort through and socialize all the details for the upcoming year, but that such a fee should be considered for 2011/12. The lost $80,000 will come from the fund balance.

Board members Brake and Bookstaber proposed amendments that would slightly lower the non-contract compensation increase (to 2%) and the property tax increase (to 2.5%), but received no other votes. I’m not sure that I buy the arguments against the former, but I can see how the $7 million deficit for 2011/12 would weigh on the decision to tax at the Act 1 index. That shows how important it was for the Board to vote not to apply for exceptions back in January, forcing the expense reductions.

The good news is that Moodys affirmed the district’s AAA rating, even considering the dire financial outlook for 2011/12 and especially beyond. Now seems to be a good time to borrow what we can to assure funding to keep the facilities going, while the District tries to figure out how to offset the remaining contracted salary increases and benefits entitlements. Beyond that, hopefully new contracts will reflect the community’s own compensation experience and ability to pay. The notion of above-inflation compounded annual salary level and tenure increases is – to use a word popularized at the meeting – unsustainable.

Those actions will not address the retirement plan problem, though – a net $6 million contribution increase in 2012/13 and another $3 million on top of that in 2013/14 – by which time the fund balance would be wiped out, even with inflation-linked tax increases.

This leads to one of the most critical questions for our prospective state representatives: what – specifically – would you propose to address the unfunded pension liability? What changes in benefits? What changes in contributions, employer and employee? What aid to school districts, and from what source? Let’s hear from them.

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Reminder: School Board to Vote on 2010-11 Proposed Final Budget on Monday, May 10

This is a reminder that the T/E School Board will be voting on the 2010-11 proposed final budget at its regular meeting this Monday, May 10 at 7:30 PM, Conestoga HS; here is the agenda. The T/E School Board Finance Committee met on May 3 to discuss the 2010-11 budget.  After discussing the tax rate and selected budget strategies, the Committee recommended a preliminary budget that included a tax increase of 2.9%, which results in $2.5 million in revenue, $5.3 million in expense reductions and $1.3 million in fund balance contribution to address the $9.25 million gap between revenues and expenditures.  This meeting is one of the few remaining opportunities for the public to weigh in on the mix of program cuts, tax increase, expense increases and reductions, user fee increases and fund balance use that are being proposed to balance the 2010-11 budget.  The proposed tax increase is 0.5 mills, and cost the homeowner an average of $128.  The final adoption of the budget will be on June 14.  

I hate to be repetitive, but much like Tredyffrin Township’s 2010 budget, the 2010-11 TESD budget will squeak by, with minimal effect to the taxpayer.  The greater, more significant  problem will occur with the township’s 2011 budget and the school district’s 2011-12 budget.   During the next 6 months, it is doubtful that the economic climate in the country will dramatically improve, so hard decisions await.

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Final Countdown to TESD’s Proposed School Year 2010-11 Budget . . . Notes from Ray Clarke

Much appreciation to Ray Clarke for attending last night’s TESD Finance Committee and also for his thoughtful and well-written notes.  I see that the EIT discussion continues . . . and also I’m glad to see that the Board is looking beyond the 2010-11 school year in their budget discussions.  Here are Ray’s notes:

The TESD Finance Committee was a smooth affair tonight.  Bottom line: the proposed 2010/11 budget to be taken to the full Board next Monday will call for a 2.9%, $2.5 million, property tax increase, $5.3 million of expense cuts/revenue programs, $1.4 million of fund balance contribution, plus a Contingency (which would if needed come from the Fund Balance) of $1.8 million.  At $29 million, the year-end fund balance will be in good shape to support this.

The full board was present, but only the Finance Committee voted on the few issues teed up for debate.  Debbie Bookstaber continued to be the greatest advocate for fiscal restraint, supporting a lower tax increase and no administration pay increases (the vote was for an increase of 2.9%), and also supporting administration proposals judged to improve the Special Education offering at lower cost – a point she won when the $300,000 cost was recommended only as an addition to the Contingency.

There was lively discussion on the pros and cons of activity fees.  Kevin Buraks was a vocal supporter, citing as a benchmark the cost of non-school travel and other sports programs.  I liked Ann Crowley’s idea of a all-student “Activity Fee”, along the lines of college activity fees.  Participation in quality extra-curriculars is important, and a small fee which is spread across the student body can generate meaningful revenue, with no debate about what activities to include and with no direct link that would discourage participation, while users of the services will bear a small part of the cost.  In the end, the administration was charged with coming up with $80,000 in fees, probably from the 1500 Middle and High Schoolers that participate in at least one sport, while perhaps the Crowley idea may be studied for future years..

I was pleased to see that there was full acknowledgment that this budget solves only the coming year’s problem.  In the following year, the gap is back up to $7 million.   Revenues will be flat – an assumed 1% assessed value increase offset by a decline in federal stimulus funds.  So cost increases go straight to the deficit.  $3 million in salaries, $2 million in benefits (net PSERS, and healthcare up 10-15%), $1 million (~5%) increases in other expenses and ~$1 million in property expense and fund balance transfers that I guess restore one time cuts from 2010/11.  And that $7 million deficit is after an assumed $400,000 increase in investment earnings but no increase in debt service (capitalized interest?).

We might expect a similar plan of attack on the $7 million next year – program cuts, fund balance and taxes.  Administration has proposed $2.7 million of program changes which are being studied under the Education Committee.  As for taxes, maybe property owners will not be the only well to draw on.  (I think I heard a comment that the Act 1 index will allow a property tax increase of only $1.7 million (2%) for 2011/12 (absent Exceptions)).  The Committee handed out a draft timeline for discussion of an EIT that could reclaim taxes already paid and going outside T/E.  On that, the first step for a July 2011 implementation would be a September 13, 2010 Finance Committee meeting.

All in all, it seems the Administration and Board are working diligently to maximize the value from the mix of cards in their hand and on the table

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Facebook Organizes Statewide Walkout of NJ Students in Protest of Proposed Budget Cuts . . . Could this happen in TESD?

Last night was the monthly TESD meeting.  Although I have heard a few comments privately, I have not received a formal update.  Did any of the readers attend the meeting?  Is there any ‘new’ news to report?  Speaking of school districts and budgets, a Community Matters reader sent me the following article — apparently today there has been an orchestrated walkout by New Jersey students to protest the planned budget cuts to the school district.  Impressive that the students throughout the state were taken a stand against Gov Christie’s budget cuts.  Organized completely with the use of Facebook — there should no longer be any doubt about the part that social media is playing with today’s events, issues, etc.  Social media methods are changing the way we receive our information and updates; it is changing our future’s history.

New Jersey Students Walkout Over Budget

Thousands of high school students are walking out of class Tuesday to oppose New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s proposed cuts to education. Fox 29’s Steve Keeley reported from Pennsauken High School outside Philadelphia, where students began filing out of the building around 8:00 AM.  There are reports of students leaving classrooms throughout the state. In all, about 16,000 students pledged on Facebook to walk out of school between 8 AM and 4 PM.

There also is a confirmed walkout at Rancocas Valley High School in Burlington County. Other schools that could be targeted are Southern Regional High School in Ocean County; Hammonton High School in Atlantic County; and Middle Township High School in Cape May County. In North Jersey, MyFoxNY was at Montclair High School , where students walked out on Tuesday. Keeley says the walkout at his location in Pennsauken is “very orderly.”

The planned protest comes one week after a majority of school budgets were rejected for the first time in 34 years. Voters in 537 districts turned down 59 percent of the budgets. Schools are facing the prospect of layoffs and program cuts. The governor says layoffs would not be needed if teachers take voluntary pay freezes and begin paying part of their health insurance premiums. The Facebook site was organized by Michelle Lauto. The 18-year-old college student went to high school in Bergen County. Lauto has relatives who will be affected by the cuts.

The state’s largest teacher’s union says students are “engaging in civil disobedience” but shouldn’t walk out of classes.

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A Perfect Storm for Chester County’s 2010-11 School District Budgets

On the eve of TESD’s important Finance Committee Meeting, I found this timely article by Mary Jean Curley, PR director for the Chester County Intermediate Unit particularly apropos.  We are focused on our District’s budget; can we take solace in knowing that we are not alone?  

In the past, readers have taken issue with my reference to the current school budget situation as a crisis, but I believe this is just the beginning.  Read Mary Jean’s article and look at the statistics . . . at a minimum, we are on the brink of a crisis. Dramatic cuts were required to balance the township budget for 2010; and I think tomorrow night we will see the school district forced to likewise make some difficult decisions on programming cuts.   Whether it is the township budget or the school district budget, as difficult as this year has been for budgets and necessary cuts, it’s going to be 2011-12 budget situation that is going to challenge all of us.  Creative suggestions and visionary ideas will be required from both the township and school boards.

Chesco schools struggling to balance budgets with needs

By Mary Jeanne Curley is public relations director for the Chester County Intermediate Unit.

From Avon Grove to West Chester and everywhere in between, Chester County school districts are struggling to balance students’ needs and state mandates with taxpayers’ pocketbooks.

“There are a number of factors that are contributing to the shortfall in school budgets across the county and, in fact, the state,” said Joseph P. Lubitsky, director of administrative services for the Chester County Intermediate Unit. “The economy is a major factor; both interest revenue and tax revenue are down as a result of the recession and the bottoming out of the housing market.”Controlling health care costs, which even in a good economy is a challenge, is exacerbated in this economy, and now we are also contending with dramatic increases in the school employee  retirement system,” he continued.

While local school districts all have unique situations, this year they share their budget woes and the cause of those woes, namely increased contributions to the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System, higher health care costs, reduced interest earnings, declines in real estate taxes and the costs of unfunded state mandates.

At the top of every district’s list is the increase to the employee retirement system contribution. The local contribution will increase 72 percent this year and continue to increase every year until 2015. According to the retirement system’s projected employer rate, Pennsylvania school districts’ contribution rates will go from 8.22 percent this year to 10.59 percent next year and to 29.55 percent in 2012. The rates will then level off at 33.6 percent in 2015 and remain above 30 percent until 2020. For the Intermediate Unit, this means going from $2.5 million this year to $4.4 million next year and to $20.5 million in 2015.

The Great Valley School District, which recently passed a resolution urging legislative action for school employee pension reform, estimates pension contributions will cost the district an additional $12 million over the next five years, beginning with a $1.3 million increase next year.

The Great Valley School Board also voted not to apply to the state for an exception to raise taxes above the 2.9 percent index allotted under state Act 1. Contributions to the employee pension fund and special education are two costs for which school districts are allowed to apply for an exception.

The Great Valley School District is not alone in voting to remain within the confines of the Act 1 index. Avon Grove, Coatesville Area, Downingtown Area, Oxford Area, Tredyffrin/Easttown and other school districts have taken similar positions. The Chester County Intermediate Unit lacks taxing powers of its own and relies on its funding from its member school districts.

Health care costs also continue to spiral out of control. For example, medical renewal costs in the Kennett Consolidated School District are expected to increase by 40 percent, in Owen J. Roberts by 39 percent and in Phoenixville Area schools by 27 percent.

In addition, while special education costs continue to rise, state and federal support for the mandated programs has steadily decreased as an overall percentage of support. Special education costs have risen at the Great Valley School District from $2.8 million in 1999 to a projected $10.1 million next year. Meanwhile, state and federal funding rose from $1.1 million in 1999 to $1.5 million for 2010-11.

State support has gone from nearly 40 percent to less than 15 percent of the district’s total budget.These costs alone would strain a district’s budget, but coupled with decreased interest and tax revenue, they have created a perfect storm for school district budgets in the 2010-11 school year.

The tax base in Chester County has steadily eroded over the past seven years, decreasing by $12 million in the past school year alone. School districts hardest hit include Avon Grove, Downingtown Area, Great Valley, Kennett, Oxford Area, Tredyffrin/Easttown, Unionville and West Chester Area. Tax revenue has decreased $654,023 for Kennett, $218,898 for Great Valley, $184,000 for Octorara and $180,442 for Oxford.

Interest earnings are down as well. The Intermediate Unit’s interest earnings are down from $1.2 million in 2007 to a projected $627,991 next year.

Similarly, Great Valley predicts interest revenue for 2010-11 will fall from $1.9 million in 2007 to only $90,000 next school year, or an annual loss of nearly $2 million in revenue. The decline has been sharp over the past three years, with last year’s interest only generating $390,169, a net loss of $640,182 from 2008-09.

All of these factors are leaving school districts with three options: cuts costs, raise taxes, or find alternative sources of revenue. With many county schools boards opting not to petition the state for exceptions that would allow them to raise taxes above the state-approved index, all districts are looking at a combination of these three options.

For example, to close a $4.9 million budget gap, the West Chester Area School District eliminated 19 staff positions and put stadium lights on hold, and it may change school bell schedules, consolidate bus routes, raise student parking fees and increase taxes 2.9 percent.Several school districts are looking at charging facility rental rates for the first time or increasing existing rates.

In the Great Valley School District for the 2009-10 school year, the school board eliminated nine full-time positions and 12 teacher extra-duty positions and reduced summer workers by 50 percent, theme readers by 50 percent and instructional aide by 3,500 hours.

For the 2010-11 budget, just to maintain the status quo, Great Valley officials will need to cut expenditures by $1,645,933 and raise taxes 2.9 percent. The Chester County Intermediate Unit has deferred hiring staff and has eliminated 18 positions. It has reduced energy and operational costs by $268,000 a year. In addition, the Intermediate Unit continues to work with the school districts to save money through joint purchasing, in which participating schools realize an annual cost reduction of $2 million by bidding for supplies jointly.

The Intermediate Unit’s self-insured medical program continues to contain health care costs, and while the Blue Cross fully insured program saw an average rate increase of 30.88 percent, the Intermediate Unit’s rate increase is projected to rise just 2 percent next year.

Although not bound by the Act 1 index, the Intermediate Unit has made a commitment to its member school districts not to raise costs above the average county index and has kept its member core contribution rate unchanged. The Intermediate Unit is also working with school districts to find alternative funding sources. It recovered $2.9 million in costs for Chester County school districts through medical reimbursements for services provided to special education students. Districts are responsible for these costs as part of the students’ educational programs.

Many school districts are requesting community input to help them through this fiscal crisis and have extensive budget information on their Web sites. To find out more about a school district’s budget process, visit the district’s individual Web site. A link to all Chester County school district Web sites can be found at www.cciu.org (click on the “Find Your School District” link).

Mary Jeanne Curley is public relations director for the Chester County Intermediate Unit.

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North Penn, Montgomery County Teachers Set to Strike Monday . . . Could this be a sign of the times?

Many of the area school districts are in their final discussions for the 2010-11 budget, include Tredyffrin Easttown School District.  As the school year is starting to wind down, there is news that the North Penn teacher’s union in Montgomery County has made the decision to strike starting at 7 AM this Monday. North Penn School District is a large sprawling district with over 13,000 students.  Are the actions of the North Penn School District’s teachers a sign of the times?

If I understand the teacher union’s case correctly, the teachers told the North Penn school board what they were willing to accept in the contract negotiations.  However, the school board voted unanimously to reject an arbitration award from the arbitration panel mediating between the district and the teachers.  

The teacher union and the school board put a spin on the proposed contract differently. The teachers union report that their proposal included a $43.4 million salary increase, 23.5% annual payroll increase over the next five years of the contract. According to the school board, the proposed teacher contract ignored the fact that the proposed teacher’s contract would increase the current district budget by over 17.3% and as a result require residents to pay an approximate 25.4% increase in property taxes over the five years of the contract.  The teacher union is disputing these tax hike numbers presented by the school board.  North Penn union president Alan Malachowski argued, “The salary increase in the first year was a 0, which our teachers overwhelmingly said was OK, and beyond that were yearly increases of 2.5, 2.5, 2.8 and 2.8 percent, very modest salary increases that they know they can afford.” 

For comparison sake, the current North Penn salary schedules for 2009-10 starts at $42,870 and ends at a maximum salary of $93,948 (the same as in the base year of 2008-09).  The proposed increase allows for a starting salary of $49,518 to maximum salary of $104,410 in 2013-14.  How do North Penn’s teachers salaries compare to T/E School District?

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From our own school district . . . the TESD Finance Committee Meeting is scheduled for this Monday, April 19, 7:30 PM at Conestoga High School auditorium.  Here is the Finance Committee Meeting agenda— interesting to note that the Earned Income Tax (EIT) is listed as an agenda item.

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Could a Merit-Pay Component be in the Future of TESD Teacher Contracts?

A Community Matters reader sent me an email about the proposed teacher contract in Washington, DC.  which some are saying could become the national model for school districts.  Here’s an article from the Washington Times with the details — an interesting model, don’t you think?  Could this merit-pay component work for future TESD teacher contract negotiations?

DC Teacher Contract Includes Merit Pay . . . Provision to be funded by foundation grants

By Deborah Simmons
Washington Times

After more than two years of talks, officials with D.C. Public Schools and the Washington Teachers Union announced Wednesday a tentative contract deal that includes a merit-pay component – an issue long pushed by conservatives and supported by the Obama administration, but considered a no-no by teachers unions.

The deal, which also breaks ground by funding its merit-pay program with private money, marks the end of the on-again, off-again negotiations between schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who was brought on in June 2007 by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to turn around the troubled school system, and the D.C. teachers union, whose members have been working without a contract since fall 2007.

New York Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who is in the midst of contract talks, told the Wall Street Journal that the merit-pay plan is a “game-changer” and said he hopes it will become a national model.

The plan still awaits ratification by the unions rank and file, as well as approval from the D.C. Council. It also could be rejected or amended by Congress, though this is not considered likely.

Mrs. Rhee, school-choice advocates and other city leaders have said for years that the career-ladder approach favored by unions hinders reform because it determines teacher pay primarily on the basis of seniority, regardless of their students academic performance. Mrs. Rhee, who has drawn national headlines since she arrived in Washington, also has drawn praise and criticism from parents, teachers and principals as she moves forward with her reform plan.

The union deal calls for school-based professional-development centers and mentoring programs, and a five-year pay package dating retroactively to October 2007, when the last contract expired, and ending in 2012.

The deal gives teachers 3 percent raises in the first, second and fifth years, 5 percent in the third year, and 4 percent in the fourth. The plan also gives Mrs. Rhee additional flexibility to lay off teachers to address budget and enrollment concerns.

The new pact “puts teachers performance with their students at the forefront of all decisions in the [school] district – including compensation and teacher assignment,” Mrs. Rhee said Wednesday.

Both enrollment and money will be at the forefront of D.C. Council members’ minds as they begin 2011 budget hearings next week. The mayor has proposed boosting the school system’s budget for next year even as enrollment steadily declines. The 2008-09 enrollment figure was 45,190, compared with the previous school year, which stood at 49,422. Ten years ago, enrollment was around 67,000, and 20 years ago, the number of pupils was at 80,000.

The agreement unveiled Wednesday calls for a voluntary pay-for-performance plan to reward teachers whose students show academic improvement on standardized tests and other academic measures.

The merit program will be financed with an estimated $65 million in private funding from four institutions that will be gathered by the D.C. Public Education Fund. The four organizations include the Laura and John Arnold Foundation ($10 million) and the Robertson Foundation ($19.5 million).

The Walton Family Foundation, which was established by Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton in 1987, made the largest pledge – $25 million. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has promised $10 million. In March of last year, Mrs. Rhee was named a board of director of the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems, which is funded by the Broad Foundation.

D.C. teachers have two weeks to vote the agreement up or down.

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