Pattye Benson

Community Matters

TESD Budget 2011-12

TESD Finance Meeting Update – TESD owns 16 acres in Chesterbrook!

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.

TESD Finance Meeting Tonight . . . 2011-12 budget discussions continue

The Tredyffrin Easttown School District continues its 2011-12 budget discussion at tonight’s Finance Committee meeting, 7:30 – 9:30 PM (Click here for meeting agenda).

The meetings are open to the public and will be held in meeting room 200 of the Tredyffrin/Easttown Administration Building at 940 West Valley Road, Suite 1700 in Wayne.

Here is the link to the official recap of the Special School Board meeting as contained in the publication Action Line from the school district.

Conestoga Students Not Supportive of Possible High School Programming Changes

In today’s mail, we received an update from the T/E School Board – focused on the 2011-12 budget and the corresponding challenges facing the school district. The looming deficit facing the school district is a staggering $8.8 million. Reasons for the deficit include continuing decrease of revenue, salaries, increased teacher pension contributions and rising health care costs. These factors remain relatively unchanged from the 2010-11 school year.

The million-dollar question (or rather the nearly 9 million-dollar question) is how to solve the deficit problem. The school board will undoubtedly vote in favor of increasing property tax by 1.4% for the 2011-12 school year, which is the limit permitted by the Act I index set by the State. This move will provide the district with approximately $1.2 million in revenue . . . clearly, not close to the $8.8 million deficit. The district already has some cost cutting measures in place including the elimination of the FLES (foreign language in the elementary school program). There is also discussion of requesting an Act I exception that would provide an additional $2.4 million in revenue by increasing property taxes by an additional $2.8%. These suggestions will help decrease the deficit situation but do not eliminate the problem.

So what other cost-cutting measures can the school district take? Suggestions include (1) optimizing staffing – additional high school teachers will teach 6 periods instead of five; (2) restructure the high school program for 42 periods instead of the current 48 periods; (3) eliminate German and Latin in the middle school: and (4) continue to implement operational efficiencies.

There are some important T/E School Board meetings coming up in January. There is a special School Board meeting on January 3 at 7:30 PM to vote on using eligible Act 1 exceptions. If the Board votes to apply for exceptions, the School Board will present a preliminary budget on January 4 for public comment. The School Board will vote on the 2011-12 budget on January 24.

If you do not have children in the school district, it can be difficult to understand the impact of the cost-cutting suggestions. Conestoga High School students will be impacted if the school board members decide to restructure the high school program. I was curious if the students were surveyed (or asked) to offer their opinion on the proposed programming changes at the high school. By chance, I saw the following editorial in the recent edition of ‘The Spoke’, Conestoga’s newspaper. The opinion article speaks directly to student concerns in regards to possible programming changes.

No to proposed class cuts

Posted on 21 December 2010 by the Spoke Newsdesk
This article originally appeared on page 7 of the Dec. 21, 2010 issue of The Spoke.

The school district has proposed a plan that would cut down certain Conestoga elective courses from being six days a cycle to three days a cycle, a proposal that, The Spoke editorial believes, would have drastic repercussions in the future.

When asked what makes Conestoga unique when compared to other high schools, most students will not hesitate in answering that it is the wide variety of classes that the school offers. Elective courses offered here, ranging from AP Music Theory to Culinary Arts, allow the school to foster a sense of creativity and imagination that goes far in providing a well-rounded education.

Because of the ongoing budget crisis, however, the school district has proposed a plan that would, if passed on Jan. 3, jeopardize these elective courses. The district plans to remove some classes from the program of studies while cutting down the majority of them, including popular courses like Beginning TV and Ceramics 1, from being six days a cycle to three days a cycle. While this initially might not seem like a substantial decrease, it is sure to have repercussions in the future.

Though it is understandable that continuing some classes is economically unfeasible considering our current fiscal situation, the school should not cut down these important courses that offer students a way to creatively express themselves. Because many students at Conestoga take academically challenging courses, often filling up their schedules with Advanced Placement and Honors classes, they look at these classes as outlets that offer them both an entertaining and relaxing break. Such elective courses also allow students to branch out their interests so that they can focus on artistic or vocational skills, rather than center their high school careers on strictly academic disciplines. Most of the classes require students to gain a cumulative understanding of the topic, something that is difficult for the teacher to instill if classes only meet half of the cycle. Students are bound to forget important information and teachers will have to sacrifice valuable class minutes when classes resume next cycle. Therefore, students who eventually progress to the Advanced level classes might not be as proficient as others in past years and so the advanced matter will have to be diluted to compensate for information not taught in the limited amount of time.

By choosing to make these decisions about elective courses, the district will in essence stifle the uniqueness and creativity that thrives in our school community. In the past, students have left Conestoga knowing that they have had the opportunity in our high school to hone their artistic, technical and vocational skills.

Though The Spoke’s editorial board consists of mostly upperclassmen, we nevertheless lament the loss of the six-day elective courses, and are especially saddened by the fact that the underclassmen will not be able to capitalize on the many opportunities that we once took for granted.

We understand that Conestoga is among the elite in the country when it comes to offering students the luxury of elective courses and so we plead the district to reconsider their proposal. By limiting or eradicating some of these cherished courses, Conestoga risks its reputation as a place where creativity is fostered and originality is nurtured.

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