Pattye Benson

Community Matters

increase class size

$1.5 Million Budget Deficit … Will T/E Use Fund Balance in Lieu of Demotion or Increasing Class Size?

Click here to see the draft on the 2012-13 final budget of TESD to be presented at tonight’s school board meeting – 7:30 PM, TESD administration office, 940 West Valley Road, Suite 1700, Wayne. Click here for the agenda. Thanks to Community Matters reader Roberta Hotinski for providing the updated information and link from the District.

The draft budget reflects a proposed tax increase of 3.3% … 1.7% from Act 1 Index ($1.5 million) and 1.6% from Act 1 Exceptions ($1,498,916). Based on an average residential assessment of $252,601, the average tax increase proposed by the budget is $155 to the taxpayer.

Applying the previously accepted strategies, the District’s budget deficit for 2012-13 is $1,547,888. Now here is the curious part … you will note on page 3 of the proposed final budget (see below) that next to the $1.5 million+ deficit are the words “Satisfied with Fund Balance Contribution”. At both the last school board meeting and the finance committee meeting, when various residents asked school board members about using some of the $32 million fund balance for the budget shortfall, that option was quickly dismissed (with little discussion). School board members were unwilling to discuss using the fund balance to bridge the budget gap but rather focused attention on the remaining strategies of (1) soliciting tax exempt property owners in lieu of taxes, (2) increasing class size and (3) demotion of professional staff for economic reasons.

For the record, page 7 of the proposed final budget continues to list strategies, N-14, Solicit Tax Exempt Property Owners in Lieu of Taxes, N-16, Demotion/Attrition of Professional Staff for Economic Reasons – $640,328 and N-19, Increase Class Size by One at Each Level – $607,500. However, based on the proposed fund balance transfer listed on page 3 of the budget, it would appear that the school board might have changed their mind in regards to demotion and increased class size as budget strategies.

If I am interpreting the District budget proposal correctly in regards to the fund transfer, this could be good news for those supporting the District teachers most in risk of demotion. Additionally, maybe this new information will begin to move the teacher contract negotiations forward towards a peaceful resolution. Here’s hoping!


Teachers Union Files Grievance against T/E over Additional Teaching Period

Have you ever attended a meeting where you left shaking your head in confusion and wondering exactly what was decided? Last night’s Finance Committee meeting of the school district was that kind of meeting for me. I would think it was just me, except that following up with Ray Clarke, who also attended the meeting; I took solace that some of what was said too confused him.

Unfortunately, if Ray and I were a tad confused, I fear that the standing-room only crowd in attendance may be likewise. Here are some of the highlights; if you attended the meeting, and find that, I misunderstood the information, please jump in.

The remaining 2012-13 budget deficit is $1.5 million. There are 3 budget strategies under review to bridge the gap:

  1. Strategy N-14: Solicitation of tax-exempt property owners for payment in lieu of taxes. A letter from the District would go to these property owners requesting a payment in lieu of taxes equal to 10% of the total amount if their property was not tax-exempt. The District will do the research and insert the actual dollar amount of what they would pay (if not tax-exempt) along with the requested 10 percent amount. There is a potential of $5 million from the 308 tax-exempt property owners. This is a 2-prong approach – the District will be quantifying to see if any property owners have lost their non-profit status and there should be paying taxes, and to ask for donations from non-profit property owners. Interesting to note that 2 of the largest non-profit property owners are Tredyffrin Township and Tredyffrin Easttown School District.
  2. Strategy N-19: Increase class size by one student. Grades K & 1 would go from 22 to 23 students, Grade 2 from 23 to 24 students, Grades 3 & 4 from 25 to 26 students and Grades 5 & 6 from 27 to 28 students. Estimated savings: $607K
  3. Strategy N-16: Demotion of professional staff for economic reasons. Estimated savings: $640K TESD solicitor Kenneth Roos attended the Finance Committee meeting and gave his legalize during the meeting, as needed. He explained that the District could not demote on merit because it is subjective. Demotion cannot be “arbitrary or capricious”. Dr. Waters offered that by demoting those with the highest salaries, the impact would be lessened with fewer teachers affected. The solicitor confirmed that the TEEA contract is silent on the subject of demotion.

Last year, budget strategies numbered 31-35 combined are listed as a cost savings of $1.125 million — these strategies were ultimately approved in the 2011-12 budget. Strategy 31 requires high school teachers to teach 6 periods per day, Strategy 32 maintains the 8 periods per day at Conestoga and limit students to 42 periods per cycle. Strategy 33 requires science lab teachers at Conestoga to teach 5 classes, Strategy 34 eliminates German and Latin in the middle school and final Strategy 35 curtails applied tech, FC and Tech Ed in Grades 5 and 6.

Because of increased teaching periods that started this school year, an announcement by school board member Betsy Fadem last night that was surprising. It is my understanding from Fadem and the solicitor that the teachers union has filed a grievance against the District in regards to the additional teaching period in the high school — Conestoga teachers are teaching 6 periods per day versus 5 periods.

The TEEA grievance topic was the number one most confusing, and least explained item of last night. Between Ray Clarke and me, we have tried to figure out what was said but there was little to go on. There is a potential $1 million price tag associated with this grievance, should the District lose. There is an additional problem (which could be costly in time and money) that’s the rescheduling required if TEEA prevails and the number of teaching periods returns to where it was before this budget strategy was imposed.

The statement from Roos on TEEA grievance was confusing. I absolutely do not understand the scope of the grievance, the timeline for appeal, associated costs, etc.; the public is owed a much more comprehensive explanation than was offered last night. We all left the meeting shaking our heads and not understanding this grievance issue. I couldn’t help but wonder is this a ‘balance of the scales’ contract strategy from TEEA against the ‘demotion talk’ from the school district? Please school board, can the taxpayers have transparency and explanation on this important issue. If there are any teachers who can shed light on the complaint, please help us understand.

The only other item I will mention from last night had to do with creating a way for residents to donate to the school district to help the budget. Many residents have spoken out that they would like to contribute with donations to the District, some suggesting that they were willing to see their taxes increased to ensure the quality of the T/E education. There was discussion about having a ‘button’ on the District’s website for contributions and setting up a foundation to collect donations (as a Great Valley organization recently did). In addition, FLITE is willing to have contributions go through their organization that would be earmarked for the District. A number of students and parents spoke out in support of voluntary contributions to the District.

PA School District’s Financial Problems … Taxpayers Draw the Short Straw

Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) the state teachers union recently released a study, Sounding the Alarm, which looks at the financial crisis in school districts across the states. The paper examines how districts are being forced to cut educational programming to meet the demands of school budgets because of the public schools financial crisis.

The PSEA report identifies the following five key problems that have combined to create a financial crisis in the public schools.

1. State Budget Cuts. Unprecedented state funding cuts and the elimination of key funding programs have compounded underlying, systemic problems, particularly for lower-wealth districts.

2. Charter School Payments. Charter and cyber charter school laws result in a net increase in costs to school districts.

3. Declining Tax Bases and Rate Limits. Declining local property values and caps on property tax increases have eroded school districts’ tax bases and curtailed their ability to raise much-needed revenues.

4. Underlying Fiscal Weakness. School districts showing the greatest underlying financial weakness had fund balances averaging 1.27 percent of total expenditures. These districts tend to be relatively small, rely heavily on a single source of revenue, have a small amount of buffer within their budgets, and carry a heavy debt load. They range in type from urban school districts, to small districts in the coal regions and Monongahela Valley, to rural districts in the central and western parts of the state.

5. Pension Cost Increases. A decade-long “holiday” that allowed employers to avoid paying their share of retirement contributions, coupled with investment losses from 2008 and 2009, forced the current increase in employer payments.

In the Education section of today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, we learn that Philadelphia schools may not be opening in September due to a budget gap for 2012-13 of $218 million! The school district officials are hoping that the five unions operating in the Philadelphia public school system will ‘giveback’ $156 million to help next year’s budget. There is discussion of privatizing the custodial services; officials think they can raise another $50 million from maintenance, transportation and custodial cutbacks. Even if this wishful thinking translates into a reality for Philadelphia public schools, they figure they will still end up short by $94 million.

In the meantime, Mayor Nutter is trying to collect $90 million in taxes for the school district next year by shifting to AVI (Actual Value Initiative) system for property taxes. Nutter claims that the new system will more accurately indicate the increase in market value of properties in the city but includes two tax hikes to Philadelphia’s properties owners.

Whether it’s PSEA or Mayor Nutter in the city, why is it that the solutions have one thing in common – the burden falls to the taxpayer with increased property taxes. I’m really struggling to understand how taxpayers are going to survive the increases in the tax bills. We all want the quality of the school districts like T/E maintained, we get that our property values are tied directly to the desirability of the educational program but … if the residents can no longer afford to live in these communities, than what difference does it make?

Layer the state funding cuts with the teacher’s pension and health care benefit cuts and add in the community’s demand for excellence in the schools and you are left wondering how are the school districts supposed to balance their budgets? Answer seems simple … either decrease spending or increase revenue. Problem is that the school boards are finding themselves left with few options short of jeopardizing the quality of education, as they discuss options to increase revenue. One of the more unfavorable budget strategies left on the table is demotion of professional staff for economic reasons and increasing class size. Of course, there was another revenue source but that option was not taken to the voters — the Earned Income Tax. It was decided that it would not pass a voter referendum. While that is probably correct and an EIT would not have passed, I wonder how the community is going to feel about increasing property taxes and possible decreasing property values.

Like many people in this community, I too feel the frustration as we sit on the sidelines of the District’s budget discussions and watch for updates from the teacher negotiation talks. I have asked for transparency in the negotiation process but apparently, that is not to be … interesting to note however that in some parts of the country, teacher contract negotiations are held in the public. For instance, in Idaho the state law allows public attendance at all labor discussions.

Below is a comment for Community Matters from a resident that shares his/her frustration:

Comment from ‘Damage Control’

T/E Budget Crisis Solved!

Move to Haiti. Yes, you’re reading this correctly— move to Haiti. Students, teachers, administrators, board and taxpayers – move to Haiti! … where they use rags as soccer balls, bicycle rims for basketball nets, parking not an issue. Teachers get paid $5,000 per school year, administrators reap $7,000 and yes, like all the other districts, the superintendent makes $10 worth of stogies (not stoga’s). Best of all, UNICEF and the Salvation Army “underwrites” the entire school system!

School board, what nerve you have in asking non-profit organizations to help with a bailout. I am not a teacher nor do I have children in attendance. I’m just an old taxpayer who sees the “writing on the wall” with this school board and this particular cost savings “strategy” is one of the reasons that prompted me to write this piece.

How dare you! How dare you ask non-profits for a handout when you have $30 million in reserve! You say this reserve money is set aside for rainy day issues, sick day payments, retirement, etc.—Total BS and I don’t mean in a masters or PhD degree sense! How dare you ask these non-profits when your net worth far exceeds any amount these local non-profits could attain even if they all pull together!

Aretha Franklin sang about RESPECT, Rodney Dangerfield got more. You, the board, gave NO respect to Ms. Whittaker, the TEEA president at the last school board meeting. Granted, you announced and stressed at the meeting that only TE residents could speak—a.k.a.—allowed to be heard. Excuse me? Is Dr. Waters a resident? He speaks at school board meetings and he commutes from a different time zone!!! And, by the way, who pays for his gas—TE resident tax payers do! A TE resident voiced that the TEEA president be heard—you board, denied that request. By denying Ms. Whittaker the 1st amendment right of every American, you fired the “first shot” deep into the bowels of the TEEA ship.

Am I just blowing smoke? Don’t think so. Threats of cutting family coverage without ability to purchase such coverage, demoting top educated and experienced teachers, over-crowded classrooms, etc. will only bring together teachers, students, parents and the many news cameras and media to every school in this top-notch and one of the richest school districts in America come this September. Lines drawn, let the battle begin—what a shame! There will be no winners.

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