Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Agenda and Fact Sheet for January 25 TESD Meeting

Here is the Agenda for tonight’s TESD School Board Meeting. I warn you that it is 74 pages but it might be useful for your review before tonight’s meeting. Several residents have called or emailed to say that they will attend; I hope that many of you will take meeting notes to share on Community Matters. Continuing this important dialogue tomorrow will be important.

I put together some basic information for myself about the budget that I thought I would share. I am not quite sure about the difference in #2 and #3 approach, should the School Board decide tonight to apply for an Act 1 exception. Perhaps one of our resident experts could explain. If any of this information below is incorrect, also please let me know.

Fact Sheet for January 25 TESD Meeting:

Proposed Budget Revenues: $101.9 million
Proposed Budget Expenses: $111.5 million
Proposed Budget Deficit: $9.2 million

Major contributing factor to $9.2 million budget deficit: $5 million increase in employee fringe benefits (example, Blue Cross health care benefits increased by 28%)

Additional contributing factors to budget deficit: decrease in real estate transfer tax, decrease of interest income

Preliminary budget will be discussed and voted on at January 25 TESD Board Meeting; final budget and tax rate will be voted on at June TESD Board Meeting

At January 25 TESD Board Meeting, School Board must vote to take one of these 3 options:
(1) Pass a resolution certifying tax rate will be at or below Act 1 index of 2.9%
(2) Apply for exceptions to Act 1 index (would allow district to raise taxes above the 2.9% without voter referendum)
(3) Authorize the administration to start process to seek voter referendum in May to increase taxes above the 2.9% Act 1 index

TESD tax increase with Act 1 exception can be has great as 6.7%.

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  1. Wow! We armchair pundits got that one wrong! My quick summary:

    6-3 vote to limit the tax increase to no more than the Act 1 2.9%. A complete turnabout from the Finance Committee – the long arm of the new Senator from Massachusetts? Lessons from Great Valley? I had thought that the gap was too large, but the Board has evidently seen a first pass at $10 million of expense reductions, and clearly has concluded that much of it is doable. The three “Yes” votes came from Buraks, Motel, Cruickshank, on the basis that it doesn’t hurt to keep the options open (but we know where that would end).

    A very impressive performance from new member Dr Brake, I thought. He gave well-reasoned arguments for his vote not to apply for exceptions, drawing on unemployment and income data to conclude that all stakeholders should share responsibility for balancing educational excellence with fiscal responsibility. He even corrected the Edmund Burke misquote, actually most likely adapted from: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one…..”

    The big issue for me was all about communication. We had discussed here how scripted these meetings are, with public comments spread around the real discussion and vote. And so it was. NO-ONE spoke up at the first comment period, then the Board had their discussion revealing the complete reversal from the Finance Committee, then they voted, and we were on to the Middle School program. The room was completely packed, and no-one said a word before the vote………

    And to a discussion of policies – which included a policy about the Board meeting format. Which is to be basically unchanged, but with an option to rearrange (under unspecified circumstances). Usually policies get two separate “readings”, but this one about communication (of all things (!)), got both readings on one day and was approved, with no public comment!!

    When we were allowed to speak, four or five of us in the audience highlighted this process issue. We got rather short shrift from the Board President, but support from Dr Brake and Debbie Bookstaber. Debbie’s Public Information Committee (9.30am Feb 11th) would be a good place to get improvements discussed.

    Back to the budget – much Board commentary about using the Fund Balance. In my book that’s certainly OK in the short term when the balance is so large, but if there isn’t a long range plan to control expenses, the tax problem will eventually be even more over-whelming.

    So, still high expectations of the Feb 8th Finance Committee. There was a great suggestion from the audience to move the meeting to the High School, in expectation of another large audience.

    I ask others to highlight issues from the other important topics, particularly the Middle School program – some thorny trade-offs there that typify what will be necessary across the board, I think.

    1. I just returned to an email from TESD correcting the date of the Public Information Committee meeting that was published with the Agenda last night.

      The correct date is February 2, 2010 at 9:30 am in the TEAO.

  2. Thanks for the write up Ray. Actually nothing surprising to me at this point. We knew what the board wanted to do, but the TEEA email sort of backed them into a corner where either they “acceded” to union pressure or they stood firm. No surprise at the 3 who voted the way they did – they have children in elementary /middle school. They are significant consumers of the educational program, not simply stewards of our resources.
    Accepting the act 1 limit means they will now have to decide what to cut, not IF to cut — which takes pressure off them. It also finally tells the teachers that this is serious — not theater.
    I’m proud of them in a way — but not so sure that the thinking behind the original thought to not commit to Act 1 wasn’t more thorough than this response to pressure is. But regardless, it’s the right decision because it focuses effort where it needs to be.

  3. The reason the board voted to stick with the Act 1 limit is the union president’s email. She taunted them to ask for exceptions. That was what they planned to do all along. And they planned to do it because they knew there were still SO MANY uncertainties.
    If Obama wasn’t so pro-union, maybe his 3-year freeze proposal would include union contracts….but since he already caved on letting unions avoid the excise tax on lucrative benefits, I don’t think that will happen.
    The board voted for the 2.9 limit to lessen the pressure on them. Careful consideration would not result in having an answer before you have a solution. I don’t think it’s wrong — but it’s expedient. Expediency is what got the state pension system in such trouble…fixed costs looming cannot be furloughed away.

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