The T/E School Board held a special meeting last night. Because I was at the Board of Supervisors meeting, I once again turn to my friend Ray Clarke to offer his notes from the meeting. It is interesting to note that the school board members are seemingly divided in their approach going forward (read Ray’s comments below). Under the category of school director approaches to the budget, it’s interesting to note the differences among the directors as to how to approach the deficit. Apparently there was standing room only at the meeting, so I encourage others to weigh in and add to Ray’s comments.
Notes from Ray Clarke:
The School Board did a nice job publicizing Monday’s Special Meeting, so the room was packed – although I understand many had to be first redirected from the Tredyffrin township building! Only one meaningful item on the Agenda, of course: whether to publish a preliminary budget that includes a 4.2% property tax increase, of which 2.8% would come from “Exceptions” that the State has to approve.
The motion to publish such a budget and to authorize the administration to take the necessary steps to apply for the Exceptions was approved 5:4.
The financials presented were those from the December Finance Committee. Notable observations:
- The absence of the much maligned Federal stimulus will cost the district $1 million next year.
- The budget deficit with the 4.2% tax increase would be $5.2 million, before any further expense control strategies.
- There was NOTHING useful from bond counsel to assess the optimum fund balance level. How much money has he made off T/E.
- The T/E average tax bill is right in the midst of Chester County comparables.
There was much public commentary before the Board discussion, breaking down along predictable lines that we have seen on CM. Maintain quality at all costs versus no tax increase at all costs. My attention was caught by the wife of a local doctor who spoke vividly about the economic conditions of her husband’s patients. And, although his income is down, he makes the sacrifices necessary to maintain quality. Not all TESD constituencies are at that point.
Others who spend a lot of time in the schools commended the school programs and wanted no reductions (although that was not the issue on the table); perhaps a large reason that the quality is high is that many parents spend a lot of time in the schools. There was much talk that it was OK to raise property taxes because they are not as high as Radnor and Lower Merion, but perhaps when taxes rise to those levels there will be less for mortgage payments.
It was interesting that Tom Colman resurfaced, citing his history of work with both TESD and TT that resulted in one year tax freezes. He would now go along with higher taxes, but he did not report on the survey in his BAWG report that favored income taxes over increased property taxes by a factor of 2:1.
So, it came to the board vote. There were four camps:
- Keep the options open: Cruickshank, Fadem, Buraks. No discussion of why it’s OK to keep the property tax increase open, but not the income tax voted down with no analysis just a couple of months ago. One good point from Buraks (who would not necessarily accept any exceptions if they turn out to be available): the expense side of the budget is still very fluid.
- Only tax beyond the Index if approved by referendum: Brake, Bookstaber The latter relying heavily on the Colman perspective. Dr Brake highlighted the property tax increase water torture (my term): an average increase of $191 next year (just 50 cents a day!) seems small – but that’s a cumulative total of $938/year over the last 6 years.
- Tax at the Index, control what expenses we can this year, draw down the Fund Balance: Mahoney. That forces attention on the unsustainable long-term structure next year, when the next contract will be negotiated, expense options studied further and other revenue options analyzed.
- Unexplained: Bruce (No exceptions), Motel, Crowley (Apply for Exceptions).
Hopefully others at the meeting can supplement my perspective. So, onward with an estimated 13 meetings before final budget and tax approval. Many opportunities to make your voice heard, starting with the January 10th Finance Committee.