In case you have not heard, the T/E School Board voted to approve the final 2011-12 budget last night . . . and yes folks; the residents of TESD will receive a 3.77% property tax increase. The vote count on the budget was 7-2; Debbie Bookstaber and Rich Brake were the dissenting votes. I guess I should have expected this outcome, but was surprised nonetheless. I left the school board meeting feeling that the decision was preordained and that no amount of discussion was going to change anything.
At the June 1 school board meeting, the school board voted to accept the TENIG (Tredyffrin Easttown non-instructional group) union’s agreement amendment for no salary increase for 2011-12. The school board decided not to out-source the custodial service; thus saving $300K in salaries and additionally $150K in overtime costs, for a total of approximately $450K savings to TESD. Many of the custodial staff are T/E residents, so the board decision saved some local jobs.
It was my understanding that at last night’s board meeting, the public would have the details about the custodian outsourcing RFP bidding process – how many custodian companies bid the job, what was the range of their bids, etc. I was disappointed that custodian outsourcing was not on the agenda, nor was there any discussion on the topic. If I want further information, I guess it would require filing a right-to-know request. I am not suggesting that the school board’s choice was incorrect; I just think that the public has a right to know the details pertaining to their decision.
Ray Clarke also attended the meeting last night and I am pleased to offer his notes from the meeting below. You will note that Ray mentions school board member Kevin Buraks comparison of school district property taxes to the cost of ‘hamburgers’. Out of context, his comparison is difficult to understand; so I have included the video clip prepared by Bob Byrne, editor of TE Patch. To understand Buraks comparison of school district property taxes to hamburgers, you will need to click here for the video.
Ray Clark’s T/E School Board Meeting, 6/13/11 Notes
The School Board approved by a 7-2 vote a 2011/12 budget that differed only marginally from the preliminary one, a result of removing the $150,000 contribution from the food service fund, thus increasing the draw from the general fund.
Only Debbie Bookstaber and Rich Brake were consistent in standing up for taxpayers. (On the other side, though, only Kevin Mahoney, Anne Crowley and Kevin Buraks spoke up for the budget – at their peril, though, see below. And, does Jim Bruce ever contribute anything to important issues?).
The increase results in a millage rate calculated to six significant figures (18.6474), in order (as was stated) to capture every last cent of permissible blood from the taxpayer stone. This despite the points below made by most of the board that spoke – regardless of which way they voted!
1. The amount of year’s tax increase does not change the structural budget problem in subsequent years.
2. There is a $29 million general fund balance, earning next-to-no interest, and which will be depleted by less than 7% under the proposed budget (with another 7% contingency for everything including the kitchen sink).
3. Since the preliminary budget, the district has received $1.2 million of union sacrifices. The taxpayer sees no benefit of those.
4. Since the preliminary budget, the state house and senate are working on bills that will likely restore the >$1 million capricious social security reimbursement cut in Corbett’s budget.
5. The district has consistently over the years held the line at the Act 1 Index increase, up until now.
6. The aggregate metropolitan area is is managing with less than two thirds of T/E’s increase.
Crowley sees the maximum increase for 2011/12 as key to maintaining the education program long term, while Buraks likened the TE educational product to hamburger, priced (tax rate? tax amount? spending per student?) just less than Great Valley’s and more substantially below Lower Merion’s. Since the product is arguably at least as good, we should be just fine with increasing the price. The very same argument that the union have used for years to ratchet up compensation and get us into today’s mess!
Let’s just continue this analogy: People chose to live here because they appreciate hamburgers, and they like the value of T/E’s. Increases beyond the competition’s remove that value. They also like that the other customers share their values and that eating with them at the stand enhances the value of the meal, and indeed they volunteer at the hamburger stand to make the product even better. Nothing whatsoever to do with the amount spent for the burgers themselves. Also remember that T/E’s product is inherently better value because it has made lower cost restaurant location choices than, say, LM, and has better scale in its operations than, say, Radnor, and has more non-consuming commercial interests that contribute to its cost.
Another disappointing item on the “Consent Agenda”: the approval of pricing for contracted services for 2011/12. The Board voted to approve 10 pages of supplier prices for mostly special education services but also many facilities contractors, “orthopedic specialist”, lawyers, “schooldude.com”, etc. etc. This information was in the online agenda, but not in the meeting hand out. Why?
But that’s not the point. From the information presented there was no way to tell how prices compared with this year’s or where the spend is likely to be concentrated. We do know that the architect hourly fees are down and the solicitor costs are flat, but what about the rest? There’s a budget strategy to get supplier costs down – how much did this list contribute to that strategy? There is no indication that the Board received any information on which to base their approval of the pricing. Even though there is no commitment to purchase, this just is not acceptable governance practice.
Also: a) A lot going on in Harrisburg; unpredictable, but tending to shift the balance of power towards districts/taxpayers and away from unions, and b) Facilities wants to move forward with a trial rental of Teamer Field on week-ends, and battle lines seem to be forming.