Agenda and Fact Sheet for January 25 TESD Meeting

Here is the Agenda for tonight’s TESD School Board Meeting. I warn you that it is 74 pages but it might be useful for your review before tonight’s meeting. Several residents have called or emailed to say that they will attend;  I hope that many of you will take meeting notes to share on Community Matters.  Continuing this important dialogue tomorrow will be important. 

I put together some basic information for myself about the budget that I thought I would share.  I am not quite sure about the difference in #2 and #3 approach, should the School Board decide tonight to apply for an Act 1 exception.  Perhaps one of our resident experts could explain.  If any of this information below is incorrect, also please let me know.

Fact Sheet for January 25 TESD Meeting:

Proposed Budget Revenues: $101.9 million
Proposed Budget Expenses: $111.5 million
Proposed Budget Deficit:           $9.2 million

Major contributing factor to $9.2 million budget deficit: $5 million increase in employee fringe benefits (example, Blue Cross health care benefits increased by 28%)

Additional contributing factors to budget deficit: decrease in real estate transfer tax, decrease of interest income

Preliminary budget will be discussed and voted on at January 25 TESD Board Meeting; final budget and tax rate will be voted on at June TESD Board Meeting

At January 25 TESD Board Meeting, School Board must vote to take one of these 3 options:
(1) Pass a resolution certifying tax rate will be at or below Act 1 index of 2.9%
(2) Apply for exceptions to Act 1 index (would allow district to raise taxes above the 2.9% without voter referendum)
(3) Authorize the administration to start process to seek voter referendum in May to increase taxes above the 2.9% Act 1 index

TESD tax increase with Act 1 exception can be has great as 6.7%.

TESD Student now Parent Offers His Perspective

This is an interesting perspective from a TESD parent who was also once a student in the district.  I don’t know that anyone has commented from this particular angle. 

TE Dad speaks directly to the quality of teachers in the district.  He makes a point of how the system will protect those teachers of seniority, and perhaps that may be viewed as the flaw by some.  On one hand, younger teachers with their enthusiasm (but lack of experience) could be the ones that are best able to engage and excite the students whereas the older, more senior teacher may not be able to reach those same students.  On the other hand, a seasoned teacher can offer experience and advice for students (as well as parents) that can be invaluable. 

Maybe we can get confirmation from TEEA members on this one . . . how will teacher seniority affect the process?  Will teacher seniority make any difference if there are program cuts? What about TE Dad’s suggestion of performance reviews for teachers? Comments anyone?

From TE Dad . . .

What a terrible email from Ms. Ciamacca . . . both of them. She isn’t helping ANYONE. It certainly doesn’t help the teacher’s position. Wow, potentially alienating the parents who are the teacher advocates . . . dumb plan. Maybe the 70 – 80% of TESD taxpayers who don’t have kids in the district will fight for higher taxes in order to save TESD teacher jobs? I hope her tone is much different tonight otherwise she will deepen the division she has already aggravated.

In my experience, as a TE student many years ago, and as a TE parent now, there are many, many, excellent teachers in the district. Some of these terrific teachers also lack meaningful seniority. In fact some teachers are truly a bargain with what they deliver to the kids daily and what they are paid relative to their more senior coworkers.

Conversely, there are teachers in the district now, some with significant seniority who are poor performers, some were poor performers from day 1. Not a lot of them, but not an insignificant number either. The other teachers know who these teachers are, most of the parents probably know them too, especially if they taught your children at any time… These are the teachers most protected and are the ones who most benefit from the misrepresentation of the union.

The union, by protecting poor performing teachers from performance review and reduction isn’t representing the interests of the many, many good teachers very well, and certainly isn’t representing the interests of a junior, high performing teacher AT ALL. Frankly, the union is more concerned with protecting the jobs of senior teachers than the quality of the educational program, and that is by design.

Which teachers out there reading this blog and worried about their jobs would not be willing to be subject to performance review if reductions become necessity?? The likely answer: the poor performers with seniority . . . they are hurting us all . . .

TESD School Budget Marks a Milestone For Community Matters

I started Community Matters approximately 2 months ago in hopes of presenting important local issues that would engage the community. It was always my goal to deliver information in as balanced and honest a manner as possible, all the while understanding that some topics had the potential of creating a firestorm of debate.

As more and more people have found Community Matters, the daily average of visitors has continued to rise. Since late November, total visitors have now reached 25,000 people. Yesterday marked a milestone for viewership, I am reporting 1,350 visitors, the highest one-day total to date. The Tredyffrin Easttown School District (TESD) 2010-11 budget was the major ‘topic of interest’ with nearly 60 comments left by community visitors.

Reading the online comments, whether from concerned residents, school district teachers, T/E parents, you realize a collective theme; the severe economic downturn is affecting many in this community. Delivered with passion and commitment, visitors provided personal insight; many stakeholders feeling they cannot afford a  6-7% tax increase and suggesting the administration must come up with significant spending cuts. Teachers passionately responded that they fear the quality of the education in the district is in jeopardy unless the standard of programming is maintained. Some residents suggested that their personal financial issues should not be construed as caring less for the teachers, but rather they simply cannot afford aadditional taxes. Overwhelmingly this community supports their teachers and the school district, but there is no escaping the economic realities and the financial struggles facing many in this community.

Attend the School Board meeting tonight (Conestoga High School, 7:30 PM) – help to make a difference in the outcome by participating in the process.

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?

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?

Governor Candidates Meet with Teachers Union . . . Show Support for Education Funding & Teacher Pensions

In light of all the discussion yesterday with the TESD budget, I thought it would be appropriate to offer an update on Pennsylvania’s governor hopefuls and their meeting over the weekend. In Harrisburg, 6 governor candidates met with the state’s major teachers union, Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA).  These governor candidates all support more state funds for public education and support the state’s commitment for teacher pensions, however only two offered specific ways to raise the billions of dollars that will be needed.

Joe Hoeffel (D) from Montgomery County thinks that the state should move to a graduated income tax, where wealthier people pay at a higher rate, while the middle and lower income residents pay at a lesser rate.  The state currently uses a flat, 3.07% income tax rate for all taxpayers. Hoeffel said that 34 states now have a graduated income tax, which focuses a steep tax rate on the top 1% of the taxpayers.  Hoeffel believes that this is fairer than the current flat income tax.  As a Tredyffrin Easttown School District taxpayer, what do you think of Hoeffel’s proposal of a graduated income tax?

Tom Knox (D) Philadelphia businessman offered a severance tax on natural gas; taxing cigar and smokeless tobacco sales; and ending the loophole which allows companies to shield income by setting up offices in Delaware.  I think some of these ideas have been bantered about by Governor Rendell.  I don’t know about the other ideas but I sure think we should be taxing cigar and smokeless tobacco sales — why not?  We tax cigarettes, why not cigars? I’m not sure why it’s not already being done.

Candidates Dan Onorato (D) from Allegheny County; Jack Wagner (D) state auditor general; and Chris Doherty (D) mayor of Scranton also attended the teacher’s union meeting along with Republican candidate Tom Corbett, state attorney general.

All 6 candidates agreed that school districts around the state need more options for raising money locally than just property tax (however, no one offered an specifics).  Hoeffel did offer that nationally, states provide 47% of school funding vs. Pennsylvania only receiving 37% from the state.  All candidates agreed that (1) state funding needed to increase beyond 37%; (2) increase funding for early childhood education programs; and (3) help find the $5 billion that starting in mid-2012 will be needed to fund teacher pensions. They all praised the teachers for the recent gains in student scores on standardized tests, saying Pennsylvania was the only state with uniform improvements regardless of grade level.

With all the TESD budget discussion on this site from residents, teachers and school board members, it is beginning to seem that the teacher union is coloring the picture to its members slightly different than 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?  Anyone wish to weight in on the teacher unions?

View from Someone who is Both Taxpayer and Teacher in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District

There have been 2 comments that I have been aware of from Tredyffrin Easttown School District teachers – however, there was no indication whether they were also local taxpayers.  However, I just received the following comment from an individual who is both teacher and taxpayer in our district.  I thank him (or her) for weighing in from the perspective of both teacher and taxpayer.  I thought the comment deserved front page attention.  Do you agree/disagree with the teacher/taxpayer assessment of TESD’s current economic situation?

T/E Teacher and T/E Taxpayer:

As both a teacher and taxpayer in T/E, I am very concerned with the future of the quality of our school district and hence, the values of our property. We enjoy one of the finest school districts in the country which makes the values of our homes exponentially more than neighboring districts. We must remember, we enjoy the 2nd lowest school tax rate in the state. NO district is making the agressive cuts that are proposed. Internally, we have heard from the union that 30-35 teaching jobs in addition to all of the teachers hired this year as long term subs will be gone!!! Why??? The reality is that neighbor districts DO PAY THEIR teachers more, offer retirement healthcare and bonus, have much more technology, newer facilities (schools) and personal laptops for each student and teacher!!!

UNDERSTAND PLEASE…I am not complaining as a teacher! This past contract closed the gap between T/E teacher’s pay and other districts. For example, before this contract, Upper Darby teachers were making more than me as a T/E teacher. We do pay into our benefits which is also forgotten. This whole debate and situation raises the question of why is our district in so much trouble and laying off teachers when other districts have more and are not??? The answer is that we as taxpayers have been undertaxed in comparison to the districts around us (yes, I said it and mean it) and therefore, the district relied to heavily on transfer taxes. Now no transfer tax, we are sitting hear screaming about taxes!!!

As a T/E taxpayer, I want to know why we are not tapping our reserves-the piggy bank of nearly $30 million???? The proposed budget is adding another 1million into the piggy bank, why??? Why does no one hear ask about the reserves? What about the 2.9% tax and then tap the reserve?

Tredyffrin Township 2010 Budget Could be in Jeopardy – as well as the School District Budget

The Philadelphia Business Journal is reporting that there are plans underway in the next couple of weeks for the introduction of the Property Tax Emergency Relief Act. Pennsylvania State Rep Steve Santarsiero intends to introduce this legislation that would provide a one-year break for property tax to anyone who has been unemployed for three months or long.

Santarsiero emphasized that the legislation would not forgive the taxes that are due, but would instead provide a one-year grace period. Under the Property Tax Emergency Relief Act, anyone unemployed for a minimum of 3 months could request a temporary exemption from paying property taxes for one year. The taxes would then be repaid, without penalty or interest, in quarterly installments over the following four years. Should the Act pass, the legislation would be in effect through the end of 2011.

Santarsiero was quoted as saying, “I don’t believe that anyone should lose their home because they cannot afford their tax obligation as a result of unemployment in this difficult economy, which we all hope will begin to pick up in the coming months.”

While I support the effort of the state to help give the unemployed a break with their property taxes, the Property Tax Emergency Relief Act certainly has the potential to play havoc with the approved 2010 township budget and the potential to increase the $9.3 million deficit in the 2010-11 school district budget.

How Can the Residents of Great Valley School District be so Different from the Residents of Tredyffrin Easttown School District?

How many residents typically attend our school board meetings vs. how many residents attend township meetings? There is quite an imbalance in attendees; does low school board attendance equate to apathy, lack of interest, . . . ? The school district is facing a $9.3 million deficit and what undoubtedly could be the highest tax increase to the residents in years. I just do not understand.

OK, now I hear that Great Valley School District held their budget meeting tonight and unlike TESD meetings of late, there was not a free seat in the house. Great Valley is facing a $3.2 million deficit in their 2010-11 budget of $78.8 million budget. Three main options discussed – (1) 2.9% in accordance with the Act 1 index, (2) 4.7% increase if the district gets two exceptions and (3) no tax increase. If the GVSD board applies for an exception, 4.7% is the maximum for a tax increase. However, if they take that route the preliminary budget must be approved by February 16. Last year, GVSD imposed a 1.7% tax increase. The current property tax rate in the district is 18.22 mills and the owner of a house assessed at $234,900 now pays school taxes of $4,279.

It would seem to me that neighboring Great Valley and Tredyffrin Easttown school districts are of similar quality, teacher and staff qualifications, economics of taxpayers, etc. so why is there is such a disparity in the interest of between both sets taxpayers? Why don’t we have standing room only at school board budget meetings? Keene Hall at the Township Building was full to overflowing for the township budget meeting yet only a handful of residents are at the school board meetings? And our school tax increase is going to be enormous! What am I missing here?

Tredyffrin Easttown School District Facing $9.2 Million Deficit . . . What’s This Mean for Taxpayers?

In today’s Main Line Suburban Life newspaper, writer Blair Meadowcroft gives an update on Tredyffrin Easttown School District’s severe economic situation.  There have been a number of postings and ongoing comments on this blog about the school district budget, but I think we need to bring the commentary back to the front page. 

I know that the TESD budget is not a simple problem nor is there a simple fix but I want to pose a question to some of you who regularly comment on school district matters.  If you could only offer one suggestion as to how to make a major impact on the budget, what would it be?  I know that there is not much chance of re-opening the union contracts for the teachers but if that were possible would that be your solution?  Would cost-cutting measures include teacher/staff layoffs?  Would you suggest cuts in specific programs (if so, where — foreign language, sports, theater?)  Decrease costs with increase in class size?  Additional or increase in student activities fees (sports, after-school programs, parking charges) OK, it’s a perfect world and anything is possible (including re-negotiating of teacher contracts).  What is your suggestion to the $9.2 million deficit in the TESD budget? 

As we have all agreed, there seems far greater resident participation in the township government process than we have noticed with the school district — so I’m suggesting that we get TESD back on the front page of Community Matters. Some of our regulars — Ray, Andrea, Mike of Berwyn, Kate, Sarah . . . I invite your personal suggestions, help the community understand what this deficit means in real dollars to the taxpayers.

    Taxing times are ahead for T/E board

By Blair Meadowcroft

The Tredyffrin/Easttown School District is facing a potential $9.2-million deficit for the 2010-2011 school year.

The shortfall comes from the fact that the proposed budget for the upcoming academic year, effective July 1, has expected revenues of $101.9 million and the projected expenditures are $9.2 million more at $111.5 million. According to district business manager Art McDonnell the $5-million increase in employee fringe benefits was the major factor increasing the deficit but there were others.

“The loss of revenue, the loss of transfer taxes due to the loss of sales, commercial mostly, the loss of interest income,” he said. “That’s been ongoing; we’re experiencing that now. And the increase in benefits costs comes from health-insurance coverage, and some from retirement and salaries.”

Increases in health care are to be expected, explained McDonnell, but on average the rates have increased 10 to 15 percent in the past, and this year the increase to the premium rate was 28 percent from Blue Cross.

“We did not expect that much of an increase,” said McDonnell. “This was the first time in a couple of years that the increase was way above what we were planning on. We were also expecting an increase to the retirement rate but not to the extent that it went up.”

The preliminary budget will be discussed again and voted on by the school board Jan. 25. The board however will not be voting on a final tax rate. According to McDonnell, by law the tax rate needs to be set by June 30 and will be voted on in June when the final budget is passed.

But at the Jan. 25 meeting, the board will vote to take one of three actions on the tax rate, according to McDonnell.“Pass a resolution to certify that the 2010-2011 tax rate will be at or below the Act 1 index of 2.9 percent; apply for exceptions to the Act 1 index, which will allow the district to raise taxes above the index without voter referendum; or authorize the administration to begin the process of seeking a voter referendum in May to increase taxes above the 2.9-percent state index,” said McDonnell.

If the board votes to tax higher than the limit set by the Act 1 index, there is the potential for $3 million more in revenue. That would come from an additional 3.73 percent.

However, in an effort to try to not raise taxes, Kevin Mahoney, chair of the finance committee, has asked the administration to come up with different ideas for reducing costs or increasing revenue, and any proposed strategies will be discussed at the Feb. 8 finance-committee meeting as well as at upcoming education-committee meetings.

So far a potential reduction of $2.35 million in expenses has been identified but nothing has been voted on or put into the budget yet.“We have some recommended strategies for the committee to look over and we are going to put together a presentation to show at the Feb. 8 meeting,” said McDonnell. “Hopefully we’ll find a way to combat the $9.2-million deficit.”

Whether or not the board decides to increase taxes, the potential for a deficit of some kind exists for the 2010-2011 academic year. The preliminary budget will again be discussed Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the school-board meeting and Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the finance-committee meeting. The June school-board meeting to vote on the budget is scheduled for June 14. All meetings are to be held at the Tredyffrin/Easttown Administration Offices at 940 W. Valley Road, Suite 1700, in Wayne.

“Public input will absolutely be considered and is encouraged,” said McDonnell. “We always have public-comment times at various points during and at the end of the meetings.”

Tredyffrin Easttown School District . . . Continuing Discussion on 2010-11 Budget

The posting, Understanding the Tredyffrin Easttown School District Budget Process has generated interesting comments.  Please take the time to read these thoughtful remarks from our local residents.  In my review of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District (TESD) budget, I admit that I very surprised to learn that 75% of our school district budget is allocation to teacher and administration salaries. 

In my attempt to understand the salary range of teachers, I found an interesting online site which details the salaries (2007-08) of the 195,000 Pennsylvania public school teachers and administrators. This link will now only allow you to review the range of TESD teacher and administration salaries but also allows a comparison of TESD salaries other school districts.  It is particularly interesting to review the salaries of Radnor, Upper Merion and Great Valley school districts as compared to Tredyffrin-Easttown.  There has been much discussion about the teacher unions, teacher salaries and benefits, pension plans, etc. I would like further research on the pension retirement programs.

Malvern Resident Ray Clarke Provides Updates on Tredyffrin Easttown School Board’s Finance Committee

Fortunately for us, Malvern resident Ray Clarke not only attended last night’s Finance Committee meeting of the School Board, he also took copious notes.  With his email that accompanied the following notes from the meeting, Ray also referenced the attendance at the meeting.  Unfortunately, Ray reports that only about 4-5 residents and 3 teachers attended!  How is this possible — are we all so focused on the township budget that we don’t have time to be concerned about the school district budget?  Far more of our tax dollars are spent on the school budget than on the township budget.  If we can fill Keene Hall with residents for the township budget, why not the same attendance for the schoold district budget discussion?  I know that the township budget contains a number of emotional issues (including the proposed cut to the fire company, libraries and nonprofits) but our wallets are going to take a far larger cut with the proposed school district tax bill, if we don’t get involved and offer some oversight.

Please take the time to review all of Ray’s notes and comments.  We all owe him a debt of gratitude for not only taking the time to attend but to write up his notes!

Ray Clarke’s meeting minutes from December 14 TESD Finance Committee meeting:

  • The projected 2010/11 budget deficit, assuming no changes to programs, is now $9.2 million
  • This is driven by increases vs the current year of: $3 MM (+6%) in compensation, $3.7mm (+24%) in benefits, $0.8MM (+15%) in professional services and $0.7MM (+8%) in other purchased services.  Projected revenues are more or less flat
  • Teacher compensation is driven by a contractual matrix based on credits and  -wait for it – LONGEVITY
  • If this preliminary budget in approved in January, the district can go to the State to request the ability to increase taxes by another 3.7% on top of the Act 1 maximum of 2.9%.
  • The resulting 6.6% increase, $292 per median household, would raise $5.5MM of the needed $9.2MM, leaving $3.7MM to be found
  • Administration has identified $2.5MM of reductions, of which many could be equally as contentious as a 5% reduction in Township support for firefighters (eg: reduce funding for High School Clubs; reduce art, music, etc in Grades 7, 8; ..…)
  • The teachers have refused to open their collective bargaining agreement.
  • Unquantified, but possibly meaningful additional expense reduction items include self-insuring for medical benefits, a 7 period day at CHS and reductions in non-teaching staff.
  • The gap rises to TWENTY FIVE MILLION DOLLARS three years out, in 2012-2013.  Driven by the ongoing 6% annual compensation increase plus (net) benefits that increase from the current $14MM to $27.5MM, largely due to the state teacher’s pension plan funding needs.
  • $25 million on the back of current real estate taxes of $81 million, would be a 30% PROPERTY TAX INCREASE.

 There could be options to draw down some of the $30 million fund balance to offset this, and this apparently ties in to the proposed bond issuance, but I couldn’t follow the explanation.  The bond issue item was dropped from the agenda.  Note that there is $13 million in the General Fund for “Designated Future PSERS Rate Stabilization”, but the administration said that they do not want to use that.  (But what is it for, then?)

 When asked directly if they would be interested in reclaiming their share of the >$2.7 million EIT paid by Tredyffrin residents to other municipalities, the $2 million that would be paid by non-residents (with a1% EIT), and of the equivalent amounts from Eastown, the board members were completely dismissive.  Only when pushed, did the administration offer that TESD can indeed start the process by telling the Township by November of the preceding year that it wants to implement an EIT.  (No good for 2010/11, of course).

 The hoary old arguments were raised: the TSC (which loaded the deck, but admitted that it would have a different conclusion in different times), the 2007 public vote (on a completely different question), the variability of earned income (based on personal anecdote), etc.

 There’s definitely a sentiment to approve a preliminary budget that gives TESD taxing flexibility up to the 6.6% increase.  In theory, residents can then weigh in on their preferences between tax increases and program cuts, and I believe that the administration at least is working hard to be transparent and to facilitate that.  The final budget and tax rates will be set in June.

 A final point, the Board claimed the ~6% annual compensation increases (and benefits packages) were negotiated based on assumptions that the revenues would cover the increases, but those assumptions were not explained.  Presumably a combination of development that increased the tax base (in our pretty much built-out township?) and tax rate increases?

*******************************************************************

Thank you Ray!

Looking for School Board Budget Details

I explored the Tredyffrin Easttown School Board website looking for current comprehensive school budget information.  I found the final 2009-10 School Board budget which is marked ‘draft’ online. (I am assuming that this became the final budget).  The document is actually a 6-page overview — the budget line listings are limited at best.  The complete budget for the current fiscal year needs to be posted online.  I would also like to see budgets from previous years linked to the school district website, for comparison.

Overwhelmingly, comments received from emails and phone calls have been in regards to teacher salaries, teacher union contracts and the process.  Understanding the teacher salaries are the major component in the school district budget, I was hoping to be able to review the salary schedules, health care benefits, tuition reimbursement, union contract information, etc.  Unfortunately this level of detail was not available on the district website.  I did determine the combined school district salaries and benefits in the 2009-10 budget  listed as $71,595,554.  If my addition is correct, district salaries and benefits is equivalent to 65% of the total listed expenditures of $110,424,721.  Now more than ever, with our continuing economic crisis, full disclosure and transparency is needed and would be welcomed by this taxpayer.

I suggest that the school district’s website include a section where it provides comprehensive information about, and copies of, the school district’s major contracts with employee organizations (unions) entitled to bargain collectively on behalf of teachers. The teacher contracts and benefits account for nearly 2/3 of the total districts costs and commit the school district to maintaining agreed-upon payments over many years. Unions representing teachers in Pennsylvania have the legal right to strike, so I would suggest including information on contract negotiations and proposed terms of future contracts, including: 

  • Number of years the contract is proposed to remain in force
  • Salary schedules
  • Summary of health care benefits
  • Retirement incentives (bonuses, continuing health care coverage)
  • Days per year/hours per day worked
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Other personal benefits
  • Assessment of union dues for non-union members

Not being successful on the Tredyffrin Easttown School Board website, I researched beyond our school district in hopes of understanding the process.  What I discovered was great variances in available information and level of transparency among the 501 public school districts in the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania spends approximately $22 billion annually on public education from all sources. About 35% of this money is appropriated by the General Assembly and allocated to local districts by formula. These formulas are partly set by programmatic factors (e.g., funds for “basic education” and “special education” are allocated separately) and by measures of a district’s potential tax base. For most Pennsylvania school districts the main source of local revenue is the property tax, followed by either an earned income tax (EIT) or personal income tax (PIT). Local districts have the legal right to levy other taxes, but many have abolished these so-called “nuisance taxes” on various grounds.

Since the passage of Act 1 of 2006, boards must announce during December of the year before a school fiscal year whether they will increase property taxes beyond a formula-determined ceiling or to request exceptions to this ceiling from the state. 

All of this being said, do you think that our School Board will consider making more budget details available on the district website along with continuing updates on the 2010-11 budget process?  Comments?

Tredyffrin Easttown School District – 7.2% Tax Increase Possible

In an update from the Tredyffrin Easttown School District, it is stated that there is a deficit of $1.5 million in the current school year (2009-2010) budget.  This deficiency plus the current economic situation is affecting the 2010-11 budget decisions.  It is anticipated that the 2010-11 school year’s expenses will exceed revenues by approximately $8 million!  Act 1 of the 2006 Pennsylvania Tax Relief Act allows for a 2.9% increase.  The 2.9% tax increase would provide additional $2 million revenue.  This tax increase would not require voter referendum to pass.  The School Board has not raised taxes above the annual index since Act 1’s enactment in 2006. However, even with the 2.9% tax increase, a $6 million deficit remains in the budget. 

The School Board is allowed to increase taxes above the annual index based on specific allowable exceptions.  The District’s analysis confirmed the eligibility for exceptions in (1) state mandated retirement rate increase, (2) special education and (3) maintenance of selected revenues.  If these options are applied for and approved by the State, the School Board would have an option of raising taxes up to an additional 4.3% – combined with the allowable Act 1 increase of 2.9%, taxpayers could be looking at an increase of 7.2%!  We understand that the current economic situation presents a real struggle for the School Board and the administration, but how to balance the budget?  How do you want the School Board to balance the budget?  Do they greatly increase taxes, reduce services, eliminate programs (such as FLES), increase existing fees, charge for extra-curriculum programs? 

Tonight’s discussion at the School Board meeting should be very interesting — 7:30 PM at Conestoga HS.  Come out and let your voice be heard!  Here is a link to the agenda, October meeting minutes, correspondence and financials.

Tredyffrin Easttown School District’s FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary School) – Budget Cut?

There is a T/E School Board meeting tonight at 7:30 PM.  One of the major  discussions tonight will be the possible elimination of the FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary School) program.  Many T/E parents strongly support the continuance of foreign language learning at the elementary school level.  They believe that the T/E middle school foreign language program is accelerated compared to other school districts as a result of FLES.  An online petition opposing the elimination of FLES has had 571 signatures since November 12 – click here for the petition.  Will the supporters of FLES prevail?  Stay tuned.

I’m hearing that our proposed school tax increase may be as high as 7.2%.  Let’s hope that this isn’t so — let me do some further checking.