I thank Ray Clarke for attending last night’s TESD Finance Committee Meeting. In discussion of the 2011/12 budget, the school district is trying to balance the preservation of the quality of education vs. the need to reduce costs and the challenge that struggle presents.
In reading Ray’s notes, I was surprised to learn that the school district owns 16 acres in Chesterbrook! This is interesting news to me because I thought there was only one remaining building lot in Chesterbrook and that is property owned by Pitcarin. Perhaps the acreage owned by TESD is directly adjacent to the Valley Forge Middle School and was purchased should the need arise for expansion to the middle school? If the property is not located directly adjacent to the middle school, than I am not sure it can be used for building.
Any readers with more information on these 16 acres? How did the school district come to own it . . . and why. Ray wonders if the property is deeded open space. If this is protected property, I guess I am naive because I didn’t know that TESD owned this type of property. Qyestion — is selling the Chesterbrook property an option? Don’t know if that is a viable solution (given the current economic situation) but one does have to wonder the value of the property.
Ray Clarke’s notes from 1/10/11 TESD Finance Committee Meeting:
After a great BCS game (which will have pleased Rich Brake!), a few of my takeaways from the meeting. It was taped, so readers will be able to judge for themselves. The focus was on current year performance, the details of the financial projection model and a quick run-through of the “Level 1” budget strategies.
1. The usually solid financial administration stumbled quite a bit in its attempt to explain the details and to reconcile the different looks at the financials and assumptions. It was really hard to follow, and I’m sure the next iteration will be better. It’s important that it is!
2. The current year continues to track better than budget, towards a very small fund balance contribution, depending on unpredictable (really?) movement across the salary matrix. There seems to be an interesting no-cost opportunity for Kevin Buraks’ law firm to ratchet up delinquent collections. Nice to see a budget strategy show up in increased rental income.
3. There’s room to tweak the assumptions in the projection model and its associated $7.6 million gap in 2011/12. Perhaps the base for medical benefits may end up being too high if current experience carries through (but it’s not clear why costs for fully covered T/E employees would have the same experience as the population at large). Also there was a very important discussion about purchased services, often required for special education amongst other things. The message is clear: even if quantity has to increase to meet needs, the only direction for price has to be down. The administration was unable to provide the P/Q split for the projected 5% increase
4. Dr Waters introduced the budget strategy discussion with a statement to which I won’t do justice here, but essentially noted that what worked in the past may not do so in the future and so not all change is bad, that not everything the district does is mandated or essential to educational quality and that the community can choose the level and timeliness of services it is willing to support. Many of the $1.3 million in Level 1 strategies look realistic and even already in place (although a good number are one time), but others need debate and union cooperation. Perhaps $1 million to take to the bank.
5. We didn’t get to Strategy Levels 2 and 3 (need more video game practice?!), but I encourage everyone to find a copy before the next meeting. There are many that look like good ideas, but also many for which I myself would pay more taxes if I were convinced there were no alternative options. And, who knew, there are 16 acres of idle district property right in the middle of Chesterbrook! Not sure if it’s deeded open space or if it’s developable.
6. Some discussion of the next TEEA contract, making it clear to all, as has been pointed out here, that the current matrix will be done on June 30, 2012. After that the district position needs to be: what combination of salary, benefits and deferred compensation comes to a level that the community can afford? Of course, as opposed to that, being frozen on the matrix with no new contract may be a reasonable union strategy (viz: Neshaminy).
Finally, a “Must See” event for the Valentine’s Day Finance Committee – our “Strategic Debt Counselor” will be on hand to prevaricate about the relationship between bond rating and fund balance.