A Community Matters Reader with Specific TESD Budget Questions . . . Can We Help with Answers?

One of our Community Matters readers, ‘Full of Questions’ sent in a comment which contained specific questions that we may be able to answer for him/her.  As I often do, if there is a comment that I think needs frontpage attention, I post it here so that everyone sees it. Read through the questions and respond if you think you can help — please label your responses to match the numbered questions.

Full of Questions writes . . .

I have enjoyed reading the posts on this site.  Unfortunately I still have so many questions that are unanswered and I have no idea where to get the answers.  Maybe someone out there can help me to understand this whole situation better…

1.  Why – when we are in a budget crisis – are we buying office space and renovating new buildings?  How much have these new acquisitions cost us, the taxpayers, in the past two years?  Has this contributed to the $9 mil we now need to find somewhere?

2. Someone mentioned that administrators get a stipend to pay for the healthcare plan of their choice.  If an admin does not use this do they get to pocket this money?  I am asking since I know of at least 3 administrators that have teachers that work in the district.  Do they just get to get a free ride on their spouses plan and then still get to pocket their stipend?  In essence we would be paying them twice for their healthplan.

3.  Why have the number of administrators at the educational offices increased over the past 4 years?  It appears that there used to be ~10 admin at the ESC but now there are ~15.  Why do we need this additional staffing?  It seems that as prinicpals have been promoted new positions have been created at the educational offices for them (ie. Donavan, Dinkins, Gusick)

4.  Looking at the posted link for teacher salaries I can also see admin salaries.  Building on the previous point – the admin salaries make up ~$3.5 mil of the budget.  That number does not include whatever stipend they get for healthcare.  That number does not include the money we are paying for them to go back to school and earn their doctorates.  Again – why do we need to have this many admin each costing us well over ~100,000-$200,000/year?

5.  What are these on-line classes they are talking about offering at the high school?  I would have liked more information about this instead of reading about it in a blog…  How much are these going to cost us?  Or are they using it as a way to outsource teaching for a cheaper cost?

It has been several times that everything is out in the open – but I truly find that hard to believe when it seems something new pops up each time I read this blog or minutes to one of the committee or board meetings.   If anyone can answer any of these questions I would really appreciate it.  I am trying not to place blame, although it is hard not to given the circumstances.  I just feel that I do not have all of the facts.  Is the teachers union to blame for trying to get a good contract for their teachers?  Is the board to blame for accepting a contract that they could not support financially given the other financial obligations (ie. new buildings, admin, etc.)?  Are the administrators to blame for not giving the board all of the information they need to make an educated decision?

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5 Responses

  1. I can anwer question 1..
    TEAO ( West Valley RD) was purchased for 3 million and renovated for 3-3.5 million. They pay $5100 a month condo fee.( check the monthly Finance meeting notes)
    The IT Department could not be located there so they used the Howellville RD site and renovated it for 2.5 million. Since they demolished the maintenance building that department went to the old ESC site
    & some went to the bus garage.. During the past 4 years TESD has purchased 4 properties on Old Lanc. RD for roughly 1.3 million. Orginally they had plans for a tennis complex but 2 years ago it changed into a parking lot for TEMS…it was to be built this summer for an additional 1.2 million BUT because of the economy that project is on hold. The 4 homes on Old Lancaster & ESC are to be demolished this summer. It’s amazing to see the amount of money being spent in the Facilities committee.

  2. Interesting… as soon as the ‘blame’ shifts to someone other than the teachers no one has anything to say. I’d like to know the answers to these pretty bold questions. Anyone out there know anything? Anyone attending the board meeting on 1/25? Will there be controversy or does the board just run the whole show?

  3. There’s so much going on on this blog, it’s hard to keep track!

    My thoughts:
    1. Not sure about how the costs of the new buildings factor in. I imagine the capital cost is unrelated to the operating deficit, unless the buildings cost more to maintain. However, the district would have lost any income on the capital funds – not that that’s very much in the new world, which is part of the problem.

    2. I’m not sure it’s fair to penalize individuals because their spouse happens to work for the same employer.

    3. Very good question!

    4. Likewise, but note that the admin salaries are a single digit percentage of total salaries and seem to be increasing at a slower rate (see below).

    5. To the extent the District can use technology to improve the quality and reduce the cost of educational programs, I’d think that would be a good thing. You can now get course materials from MIT, Harvard, etc. on line for free.

    One of the items highlighted at the last Finance Committee meeting was the budgeted 4.5% non-contract employee salary increase. I imagine this might get more scrutiny as part of the $9.2 million.

    In general, this just shows that there are a lot of rocks to turn over here and something will crawl out from under most of them, and we depend on the Board to do the lifting.

    In my experience the Board meetings are highly scripted. The Committee meetings allow for more dialog.

  4. To New to TE Politics

    There is not silence on the answers — just many of the answers are not blog-worthy in that they are pretty extensive….and I don’t know the answers to all of your questions, but I’ll give some a shot:
    1. I still do not fully agree with the decisions the District made in moving the administrative offices to the place they did — and I certainly object to the agreements involved, but they are not paying appreciably different there then it was costing to run the ESC from what I can tell. I do think that the tendency to keep doing projects has been fed by transfer revenues — but I have not attended a facilities meeting since I left the board. I would recommend you go to one and ask your questions.

    2. The decision to give an administrative benefit rather than give administrators “benefits” was a strategic one and has resulted in a stable workforce and a willingness to become administrators in our district on the part of our teaching staff. I the same way you do not ask if someone is married or single when hring (though clearly benefits are cheaper for single people), it is coincidental when someone has a spouse in TESD (or in educaiton for that matter – – both get pensions from the state eventually).

    3. The increase in the number of administrators is somewhat misleading, as much of it has come from program requirements — there aer now 3 special ed supervisors (and a director of Student Services) where there used to be non-administrative positions. Special Ed is no longer just a 9-month school year position — and full time positions require a different designation. There are two administrators different from 10 years ago — one for distance and computer learning (as well as several curriculum areas) and indeed one would suppose that is a “special assignment” type of position that could ultimately reduce reliance on classroom teachers and the second is an assessment administrator. Considering the high stakes of PSSA and soon to come Keystone exams, and the overwhelming amount of paperwork and follow-up and reporting…..that administrator comes under the umbrella of unfunded state mandate. Should TE fail to keep its eye on that ball, we would all pay a price.

    4. Admin salaries are fractional cost compared to the teachers, but they are not low. I researched this last year when I too was concerned about the move to the Admin of 3 very strong student-contact individuals (Donovan and Dinkins were already admins — Gusick was an admin on special assignment). I reviewed contracts and salaries and did some research in other districts as well. To keep administrators competitive with the teachers (who work 7.5 hour contract days for 191 days a year and have a top step approaching 100K for that partial year and raises every year), there is an obvious need for additional incentive compensation (since they work a 12 month contract year, have many night meetings, and we would like to attract and RETAIN the best.)

    As to tuition — I don’t know that requires much of an answer. We reimburse our teaching staff for courses that are approved as well. We are about eductaion and to have our administrators willing to take advanced level courses while interacting with other educators across the country, I think it is an investment in our own programs. They do have the obligation to repay some tuition if they leave. They do not get reimbursed if they do not pass the course and receive course credit.

    5. The distance learning/educational technology is as Ray said — presumably we are looking to the future as e examine alternatives. 21st Century Cyber Charter School came into being about 10 years ago — with no overhead, they are able to do unusual things. TE has never been hesitant to research and evaluate alternative forms of instruction and learning. As the cost of teaching goes up and up, there are certainly benefits to identifying alternative ways of delivering content. And if we do find that we can provide curricular oportunities through online programs, it would certainly take some oversight before a course could be approved and authorized for graduation requirements or even PSSA content .

    Hope this helps. I’ve been off the board for 10 years but believe very strongly in the excellence of our district. I do not want to see it dismantled, but I also want to see it operate efficiently. Good questions!

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