Between the raging pandemic and the horror witnessed in our nation’s capital last week, focus on other matters is hard to come by these days.
The long, dark year of 2020 may have ended but January continues to bring new challenges. Since the T/E School Board meeting of January 4, I have received numerous communications from residents regarding the District’s 2021-22 preliminary budget. The school board voted 5-4 to approve a resolution certifying that the tax increase for the 2021-22 budget will be 3% or lower. The school board will vote on the final budget in June. Should the District’s final budget include any tax increase, it would mark the 17th straight year of tax increase to its residents.
It was stated that the District is facing a $9.3 million deficit for the 2021-22 budget and therefore requires the increase in property taxes. Think about it – for seventeen straight years, we have received an increase in our taxes. We receive our annual tax increase, yet the District seems to magically have a budget surplus. And to be honest, I have never understood what happens to those surplus dollars – where exactly does that “found money” go?
In June 2020, the community outcry over the tax increase fell on deaf ears. At the board meeting, it took the District solicitor 1-1/2 hours to read into public record all the resident’s comments and far less time for the school board to ignore! In the midst of Covid-19 when other school districts put a freeze on tax increases (including Unionville Chadds Ford School District) our school board approved the 2020-21 budget which included a 2.6% tax increase, the elimination of ERB testing and gave salary increases and bonuses for administration, supervisory and confidential employees.
So, what exactly has changed in 2021? The Covid-19 crisis rages, and we all continue to suffer. Residents have lost their jobs, and every segment of our economy, including local small businesses continue to feel the effects of the pandemic.
Will the proposed 2021-22 budget include a transparent review of all expenditures and impact strategies? As an example – at the Education committee meeting last week, we learned that the District had chosen a new K-8 math curriculum program for the next six years at a cost of $703K. What I find troubling is no whether the District “needs” the math curriculum but rather where was the public comment regarding its selection? With the District’s stated $9.3 million deficit in the 2021-22 budget, the decision-making process regarding the $700K expenditure is deserving of an explanation.
In 2021, many of us are in worse financial shape than we were pre-Covid. We are learning that various school boards in Pennsylvania have decided to hold the line and not increase property taxes. Other PA school districts are utilizing a variety of savings solutions such as freezing wages for its employees and scaling back or putting projects on hold in their 2021-22 budget development process.
It appears that 2021 will mark seventeenth straight year our taxes will go up in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District.
The 2021-22 budget will be discussed at tonight’s January 11 Finance Committee meeting at 7 PM. The meeting will be held virtually, and a link will be available on the District website, www.tesd.net by 6 PM. To view the Finance Committee meeting agenda, click here.