Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Update on TE School District’s Finance Meeting

school-financeMy friend Ray Clarke attended the TESD Finance Meeting last night and kindly provides us with the following notes. Thanks Ray! Others in the community attended the meeting; I encourage you to offer your comments.
Some brief and arbitrary personal notes from last night’s TESD Finance Committee. There was fair community attendance and engagement, so hopefully others can supplement.
The attendance may have been encouraged by the prospect of “drilling down” into the expense Budget that requires the 4.3% tax increase, but once again we were left flat on our backs as Lucy pulled the football away. For example, we learned that Special Education purchased services are slated to increase by $0.9 million, but have no idea why, beyond “unfunded mandates”. Maybe someone can point out any new mandates, and indeed offer a quantitative analysis of how the $20+ million a year Special Education enterprise spends that money, where the increase is going next year, and why exactly the projection model has the expense increasing at 10% a year for the full five year length of the model. Committee Chair Lastner again held out the prospect of sharing more with the public in future meetings.

The community is also struggling to understand the trajectory of health care costs. Since the district went to the current self-funding model, experience has fluctuated considerably, $1 million or more ahead or less than budget. Analysis of this is left to the insurance broker/administrator, so we have not seen the thinking that supports next year’s budget projection of a 5% increase and subsequent 8% annual increases. If taxpayers are to be comfortable accepting perpetual tax increases to cover this benefit for our employees, it would be nice to see some “drilling down” here, too. Let’s look at the five year trend, understand what’s driving that trend, including any change in the demographics of the covered population and the employee contribution, budget to that long term trend and use the $5 or $6 million of taxpayer money tucked away in the Fund Balance to systematically smooth out the inevitable fluctuations.

A comparison of budget to actual for the last three years was notable for one factor: in every year, actual employee compensation costs have been better than budget by at least $1 million and in 2013/14 more than $2 million to the good – because the impact of retirements and unpaid leaves of absence (both of which bring replacement with lower cost staff). And a similar outcome is projected for the current year. But we were told that this over-budgeting – which leads every year to a higher than needed tax increase – can not be budgeted for because the district only officially learns of retirements after the budget is completed. Somehow we can estimate cost increases (eg: healthcare), but can not manage to deal with decreases?

More information to come re the laptop plan (hardware choice, roll-out timing, cost-sharing, etc.). I gather the Education Committee approved the educational rationale, so maybe a good start for communicating that rationale to those of us who bought their own log tables and slide rules would be to provide a white paper documenting how educational outcomes will be improved.

Since the passage of the District’s preliminary budget last month which contains a 4.3% tax increase, it is not good news to read that there’s been no movement in the direction to decrease. At the time the preliminary budget was passed, I recall that the Finance Committee Chair Virginia Lastner told the public that this only to “keep the options open”. Lastner stated that all expenses would be reviewed ‘line by line’. Maybe that discussion will happen at the budget workshops.

On Thursday, February 18. the Facilities Committee (with Virginia Lastner, chair) will return to the discussion of the fencing project at Valley Forge Middle School and the consultant’s report. Interestingly, a review of the meeting agenda indicates a strict time schedule — public comment is from 5 PM – 5:05 PM. Five total minutes for public comment — what is that about?

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  1. Ray is right.

    Deficits are projected year after year followed by huge tax increases to close the alleged gap, resulting in surpluses every single time.

    They claim they don’t know until after the tax increase that we didn’t need the tax increase. And they repeat the same cycle every year.

    Ex Board Member Liz Mercogliano was in attendance. Thanks Liz, I love seeing you there. She asked if the outsourcing of the aides and paras produced a gain, a loss or a wash. Art answered that it was a wash. My jaw dropped and I said, “After all that,and it was a wash?” To which Art, who received a $22,000 raise at the same time, said, we didn’t outsoruce to save money, we outsourced to mitigate PSER’s obligations. Seems to me, PSERS’s obligations grew anyway. With all the raises and bonuses that were handed out to those who make the most in pay, I wonder if it was a wash.

    I attended the finance committee meeting in December. I spoke up about sp. ed. after the Sp. ed. chart was projected on the screen so I thought it was O.K. to talk about Sp. ed. A committee member admonished me stating that we would talk about line item expenses in Feb. and I could talk about it all I want then. When that sp. ed. chart appeared on the screen again on Tuesday night, I talked about sp. ed. for maybe 45 seconds, when Virginia said they talked about sp. ed last October and she wished I would have been there, and then she went on.

  2. A few Comments:
    Special Ed
    TE is a target district for families with special education needs because TE has a good special ed program. UCF’s trend line shows costs increasing at a 5% per year rate. That fits right in with TE’s projection.
    UCF has self funded healthcare like TE. Year to year costs will increase or decrease based on actual claims. If the employees have a bad heath year it’s quite common to see a jump in costs. Medical care for cancer treatment can run $100K per year. Transplants are more. Joint replacements are $40K. A few expensive procedures occurring in one year can make the costs jump. I’m guessing that TE has stop loss insurance to protect against a huge spike. The standard inflation rate for healthcare is 8% per year.
    Inability to Budget for Retirements
    That’s complete BS. Just take the average savings due to retirements over the past 5 years and use the average. At UCF it’s about 1% of aggregate teacher salaries.

  3. I’m diverting my attention to the Diversity Committee. After attending the Finance Committee Meeting, I was told that I dominated the meeting because I spoke out without raising my hand and my comments were off topic.

    When Virginia asked me to raise my hand, I stated clearly,I will raise my hand and I did. I made a comment about the $2M initial lump sum payout (not including never ending future costs to support it) for the 1 to 1 computer initiative after someone else brought it up.

    If I spoke for 2 to 3 minutes the entire meeting, I would be very surprised. It’s very clear we’re headed for a 4.3% tax increase. There was zero discussion about how to lower taxes. It was all about justifying the proposed increase. And when you have a Chair who said that she’s from the state of CT and if you want to see high taxes then go there, that this is nothing, well then I think that says it all.

    The Diversity Committee meeting on Wed., night was amazing. I walked in and was stunned at how many citizens were there. The chairs are set up in the same formation as the ISC meetings. Tables are arranged in a square shape with citizens and many students (yay!) sitting around it. There were so many in attendance (I stopped counting at 40) the overflow into the audience seats were almost filled. I had to sit in the back row.

    Since it’s not recognized as a Board committee, there is no Board Chair. I raised my hand when I spoke, and I hope I didn’t speak too much or say something the wrong way or speak out of turn.

    I’ll be reporting on this committee and attending these meetings from now on.

    1. SL: Thank you for following the Diversity Committee. I got the sense that, during her time on the Board, Mrs Mercogliano really invigorated that important forum, and I wish I could make the time to support it. I look forward to hearing more about it.

  4. can someone please inform this luddite what the purpose of the Diversity Committee is? It is very difficult for me to attend most meetings so I would appreciate knowing exactly what the charge is for this committee thanks

  5. The Diversity committee is listed in the drop box under “Community” on the District website:

    This is what it says:

    Diversity Committee

    The Diversity (formerly MultiCultural) Committee includes parents, teachers, administrators, students, School Board, and community members dedicated to the fulfillment of District policies designed to make our school community a place of increasing respect and support for all. The committee is especially interested in new parent support services; a rich, equitable, and inclusive curriculum for students; and the maintenance of an appropriately diverse professional staff.

    Interested community members are invited to attend the Diversity Committee meetings which are held in the T/E School District Administration Offices, West Valley Business Center, 940 West Valley Road, Suite 1700, Wayne, from 7:00 to 8:30 P.M. Please check the TESD calendar for meeting dates.

    Schedule of Diversity Committee meetings:

    October 21, 2015 – Promoting student well-being by fostering a culture of acceptance and respect
    November 18, 2015 – Report from clubs on issues of diversity
    February 17, 2016 – Diversity and the curriculum
    April 20, 2016 – Discussion of demographics and hiring

    Even though it is labeled a committee, it is not listed in the drop box under School Board on the District Website and there are 4 meetings dates throughout the school year as opposed to monthly meetings for all other School Board Committees:

    The Communications Specialist explained that:

    Since the Diversity Committee is not a Board Committee, it isn’t listed under Board Committee on the website.

    There is a Board Ambassador, and TESD Facilitator, but no Board Chair or other official representation from Board Members.

    Pat Gately and Matt Sterenczak are two of three new Curriculum Supervisors who gave slide show presentations to the group.
    Patrick Gately, Curriculum Supervisor, (610) 240-1923
    Language Arts, staff development, kindergarten, media centers, summer reading camps

    1. During 2015, TE School Board member Liz Mercogliano was tje school board member who chaired the Diversity Committee and, if memory serves me correctly, it was a monthly meeting. During liaison committee reports of the regular TE School Board meetings, Liz would present a report/update to the community on the Diversity Committee. She didn’t seek reelection, so which school board member is serving as the committee liaison? Who is going to present the official update at school board meetings? In 2016, diversity and discussion is more important than ever.

      1. Yes, this is very strange. If what you are saying is true, which I have no reason to believe it is not true, the status of the Diversity Committee has been downgraded where it meets 4 times a year, in a time when one would think it’s status would be elevated and positioned for the spotlight.

        Liz, can you offer any information that would explain the change. Thanks

  6. I’m not suggesting that she didn’t Chair the Committee, but are you sure Liz Chaired the Committee?

    The Communications Specialist e-mailed me that Michele Burger is the Board Ambassador for the Diversity Committee. I saw Michele at the Diversity Committee meeting. She sat at the tables pushed together to form the shape of a big square along with other citizens, but she played no role in the meeting and listened to what the Curriculum Supervisors presented just like everyone else. Oscar Torres is the Committee’s Facilitator and, just like ISC, he asked that citizens not speak or ask questions until the Curriculum Supervisors finished speaking. Just like ISC, they spoke for a long time, leaving little time or space for citizens to comment.

    I believe tax paying citizens should be able to speak and ask questions and make comments anytime they want to. This institutional control and domination of committee time where citizens are given a lecture on what will happen and how things are makes it impossible for citizen comments, ideas, suggestions and counter opinions to be considered.

    The meeting time was set for 7 to 8:30, and by the time the two Supervisors are finished speaking along with teachers and others they have added to the agenda, folks are tired, ready to go home and may have forgotten points they wanted to make 90 minutes before.

    I encourage all citizens to come out and join in on the April meeting.

    I thought it was great that newly elected School Board Director Ed Sweeney also attended the meeting. He didn’t have to, and the fact that he did, shows his commitment and dedication to learning the job.

  7. Thinking about it further,

    School Board Director Roberta Hotinkski was also in attendance. She sat in the back, right in front of me and left early but she was there and listened intently.

    There were 50+ citizens, committee members, students and Administrators in attendance, so easy for me to miss other Board Members. Please excuse me if I left anyone else out.

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