Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Looking for School Board Budget Details

I explored the Tredyffrin Easttown School Board website looking for current comprehensive school budget information. I found the final 2009-10 School Board budget which is marked ‘draft’ online. (I am assuming that this became the final budget). The document is actually a 6-page overview — the budget line listings are limited at best. The complete budget for the current fiscal year needs to be posted online. I would also like to see budgets from previous years linked to the school district website, for comparison.

Overwhelmingly, comments received from emails and phone calls have been in regards to teacher salaries, teacher union contracts and the process. Understanding the teacher salaries are the major component in the school district budget, I was hoping to be able to review the salary schedules, health care benefits, tuition reimbursement, union contract information, etc. Unfortunately this level of detail was not available on the district website. I did determine the combined school district salaries and benefits in the 2009-10 budget listed as $71,595,554. If my addition is correct, district salaries and benefits is equivalent to 65% of the total listed expenditures of $110,424,721. Now more than ever, with our continuing economic crisis, full disclosure and transparency is needed and would be welcomed by this taxpayer.

I suggest that the school district’s website include a section where it provides comprehensive information about, and copies of, the school district’s major contracts with employee organizations (unions) entitled to bargain collectively on behalf of teachers. The teacher contracts and benefits account for nearly 2/3 of the total districts costs and commit the school district to maintaining agreed-upon payments over many years. Unions representing teachers in Pennsylvania have the legal right to strike, so I would suggest including information on contract negotiations and proposed terms of future contracts, including:

  • Number of years the contract is proposed to remain in force
  • Salary schedules
  • Summary of health care benefits
  • Retirement incentives (bonuses, continuing health care coverage)
  • Days per year/hours per day worked
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Other personal benefits
  • Assessment of union dues for non-union members

Not being successful on the Tredyffrin Easttown School Board website, I researched beyond our school district in hopes of understanding the process. What I discovered was great variances in available information and level of transparency among the 501 public school districts in the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania spends approximately $22 billion annually on public education from all sources. About 35% of this money is appropriated by the General Assembly and allocated to local districts by formula. These formulas are partly set by programmatic factors (e.g., funds for “basic education” and “special education” are allocated separately) and by measures of a district’s potential tax base. For most Pennsylvania school districts the main source of local revenue is the property tax, followed by either an earned income tax (EIT) or personal income tax (PIT). Local districts have the legal right to levy other taxes, but many have abolished these so-called “nuisance taxes” on various grounds.

Since the passage of Act 1 of 2006, boards must announce during December of the year before a school fiscal year whether they will increase property taxes beyond a formula-determined ceiling or to request exceptions to this ceiling from the state.

All of this being said, do you think that our School Board will consider making more budget details available on the district website along with continuing updates on the 2010-11 budget process? Comments?

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