As we know, it is impossible to be 2 places at once . . . and last night was one of those nights. I attended the Board of Supervisors meeting but I knew that I had coverage at the Finance Committee meeting with my friend Ray Clarke. The Clarke family was busy last night, Ray at the Finance meeting and his wife Carol attended the Board of Supervisors meeting! I thank Ray for providing his notes from the meeting and would encourage other readers to add their comments.
The TESD Finance Committee played to a packed house in the CHS auditorium last night. We got through about 15 of the potential deficit-closing strategies, with the next session slated for March 8th, where the plan is to complete a pass through all of them. My take-aways:
– There was great passion from parents and students who had benefited from, or who would be impacted by, the programs slated for change. Hopefully, understanding the concerns will be helpful in finalizing the new program designs. Although the majority spoke against change, particularly in the Middle School programs, there were some with experience (for example, of the proposed Advisory period) that spoke to the benefits experienced in neighboring districts.
– The Board expressed confidence in the Administration and, based on their performance, that seems to be well placed. In particular I thought that Rich Gusick, Director of Curriculum and much else, was knowledgeable and made reasonable arguments.
– The Administration believes that the programs in the first “reference code” (those for the most part previously discussed, although you would not have thought so!) will result in the reduction of 19.3 FTEs, and that reduction could likely be met through retirements (7 known so far) and resignations rather than lay-offs – but this will depend on certifications needed and available.
– The drama came with a prepared speech from TEEA President Ciamacca. She was very concerned that the possible increase in High School teaching periods from 5 to 6 would leave little time for the many functions performed outside the classroom. (Note that we were progressing systematically through the strategies from #1 on, and had not reached that – #47 – yet). She did, though, state that the TEEA wanted to be part of the solution and outlined an offer to work the last three days of 2010/11 for no pay (claimed impact $600,000) and also an early retirement offer (claimed impact $1,000,000). She handed a letter to Board President Fadem, which I took to contain those offers (and from comments made, I was led to believe that this was the first official communication from the TEEA, and that written offers had been requested before). Finance Chair Mahoney responded for the Board, welcoming the TEEA as a stakeholder, but sternly chastising the “grandstanding and unfair” tactic of presenting an offer for the TV audience rather than “sitting down across the table as in the past”.
The devil is always in the details. Is there in fact a mechanism for forgoing 3 days of pay? For 2010/11, or for 2011/12 also? How much would the district have to pay to save the $1 million from early retirement and thus, what’s the present value of that proposal? Things that do need to be analyzed in a dispassionate way. There’s clearly a communication problem, and from my perspective, since the TEEA is the only beneficiary of the situation here (compare the salary matrix for 2011/12!), they need to step up to the bigger role that I have advocated to them since last year. If the objective is to increase compensation to a certain parity level, perhaps it might just be OK to get there in 5 years rather than 2?
– The 15 or so strategies reviewed so far have very real impacts – fewer middle school specials, fewer aides, fewer low enrollment CHS classes, reduced admin position, reduced contribution to clubs, etc. – but it seemed to me that for the most part the impacted areas are spread around, and plans are in place to mitigate the adverse effects. (But still only the savings, not the costs, of closing the print shop are listed!).
A big issue for me is that many of the big strategies impact only next year: the $1.2 million supply/materials cost deferral, the $0.3 million food service fund transfer (but maybe make food service a profit center?), the $125,000 mothballing of the ESC (why one time?), the $0.3 million from issuing debt for capital items (next month’s meeting will start with an explanation of that (accounting wrinkle?)), and so on. So the expenses will pop right back up, on top of the next round of contracted compensation increases, and we’ll be right back in the CHS auditorium, but with fewer options. One commentator mentioned a likely 2% Act 1 cap next year. (And remember, the country is a whisker away from a foreclosure crisis, and school taxes are over two months’ typical mortgage payments…..). The one time programs account for $2.6 million of the $8.3 million on the table (excluding programs not recommended).
The event seemed to me a good way to get the community engaged and to indicate the amount of thought behind the ideas (although there can always be more!). We heard, too, about the 800 member Facebook group for students engaged in the dialog. There could be a lot to learn from, and demonstrate to, that constituency.