Governor Rendell’s Proposed Budget Includes $354 Million in Increased School Funding

Governor Ed Rendell released his 2010-11 budget proposal yesterday. His budget proposes over $11 billion of taxpayer funding for educational services, which includes an increase of $354 million for school funding. Several reasons were cited for the funding increase including advances in achievement scores. In Governor Rendell’s proposed budget, education support services would receive $31.8 million in funding; basic education spending would receive $9.5 billion, for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade; and $1.8 billion for higher education with nearly $424 million of that allotted for financial assistance for students. State-aided private schools – including Drexel University and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia – would lose all their funding under the proposal. The exception is the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak offered that Pennsylvania was leading the nation in achievement improvements. Mr. Zaharchak emphasized a focus on increasing enrollment at a pre-kindergarten level. He feels that that there is an adequacy gap between where students should be performing and where they are currently performing which needs to be corrected. Mr. Zaharchak is suggesting that the gap would need to be filled by taxpayer funded state-subsidies. Accordingly, more than 300 Pennsylvania school districts would require more than $2,000 of taxpayer funding per student from the state to close this gap.

The pressures faced by school districts will result in local property tax hikes unless the state continues its commitment to close the adequacy gap, the Governor said. “On average, it would take a 40-percent increase in local property taxes to generate the same investment as the state will contribute over the course of our multi-year funding formula,” the Governor said. “When the state pays its fair share, school districts can keep property tax increases to a bare minimum.”

Here is Pennsylvania Department of Education 2010-11 Budget if you would like to read the details.

In case you are interested, here is Governor Rendell’s Executive Budget 2010-11 if you would like to see the entire proposed budget.

Will Governor Rendell’s proposed state budget have an impact on TESD’s 2010-11 budget?  Comments Anyone?

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Should TESD Follow Downingtown School Board ‘s Lead and Urge Teacher Pension Reform?

One of our neighbors, the Downingtown School Board recently approved a resolution that calls for the state to change Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS). Driving their decision is the predicted dramatic increase in PSERS contribution from school districts. Looking ahead to the upcoming years, the teacher’s pension increase will greatly affect the school district’s budget and then the taxpayers.

According to one of the Downingtown School Board members, their PSERS contribution is going from a little over 4% to about 31% in 2012! School Board member Robert Yorcyk, who introduced the resolution to the other board members explained, “Considering that salary and benefits make up about 70 percent of the budget, the increase to 31 percent would represent about 15 percent of the budget or half of what we have left to support education.”  The Downingtown School District pays about $4 million in teacher pension contributions – that number will rise to $7 million in 2011 and by 2014-15 retirement contributions are expected to hit $36 million! The school district estimates that in just 5 years, PSERS contributions will increase nine-fold.

If I understand the PSERS plan correctly, employees and employers alike contribute and that money is then invested, . . . the pension payout is guaranteed (regardless of the market economics). The real problem is that due to the volatility of the market, school districts are being forced to pay larger pension contributions because the pension investments have not kept pace with what is guaranteed in the payouts of the pensions.

The state House of Representatives is reviewing changes in the PSER bill. The new plan would actually put a cap on the school district contributions. If the pension payout required additional funds, the bill would require the state to be responsible for the difference. The Downingtown School Board signed their recent resolution to urge the state to lessen the burden on taxpayers and the school district (understanding that the teacher benefits will remain the same).

Should the Tredyffrin Easttown School District take a similar stand? Should our school board members be encouraged to follow Downingtown’s lead?

Is the Teachers Union Aiding in the Fact vs. Fiction Component of the TESD Budget Crisis

Reading comments from teachers, school board members and taxpayers, it would seem that the teachers union, Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) is adding to the element of confusion and misunderstanding.  I am struggling to figure out if the misinformation is ‘by design’ from the PSEA to confuse the teachers (and therefore confuse the taxpayers).  It is well understood that this school district like so many in this country is facing a financial crisis.  It would appear that this is the time for all of us to work together instead of against each other.  As a good first step, I would propose that the information disseminated be supported.  Unfortunately when situations reach a crisis level within an organization (whether it is the school district, local government, corporations, etc) rumor mills explode and before you know it, things are out of control. 

I certainly do not claim to be an expert on the school district or its budget by any stretch.  Our daughter was not in the public school system so I admit to not being as involved as I should have been as a taxpayer.  So I am coming at this subject at a distinct disadvantage with minimal background of experience.  However, I am beginning to think that the teachers union is coloring the picture to its membership slightly different from reality.  Or am I just reading the situation wrong?  What is your opinion of the teacher unions . . . are they helping the case for the teachers or are they a contributing factor to the current budget crisis (and unrest) in the community?  Is it unthinkable that teachers unions may re-open their teacher contracts for additional negotiations in light of the economic crisis?  Or is that simply pie in the sky thinking?