TESD Finance Committee Meeting . . . reporting by Malvern Resident Ray Clarke

As we know, it is impossible to be 2 places at once . . . and last night was one of those nights.  I attended the Board of Supervisors meeting but I knew that I had coverage at the Finance Committee meeting with my friend Ray Clarke.  The Clarke family was busy last night, Ray at the Finance meeting and his wife Carol attended the Board of Supervisors meeting!  I thank Ray for providing his notes from the meeting and would encourage other readers to add their comments.

The TESD Finance Committee played to a packed house in the CHS auditorium last night.  We got through about 15 of the potential deficit-closing strategies, with the next session slated for March 8th, where the plan is to complete a pass through all of them.  My take-aways:

– There was great passion from parents and students who had benefited from, or who would be impacted by, the programs slated for change.  Hopefully, understanding the concerns will be helpful in finalizing the new program designs.  Although the majority spoke against change, particularly in the Middle School programs, there were some with experience (for example, of the proposed Advisory period) that spoke to the benefits experienced in neighboring districts.

– The Board expressed confidence in the Administration and, based on their performance, that seems to be well placed.  In particular I thought that Rich Gusick, Director of Curriculum and much else, was knowledgeable and made reasonable arguments.

– The Administration believes that the programs in the first “reference code” (those for the most part previously discussed, although you would not have thought so!) will result in the reduction of 19.3 FTEs, and that reduction could likely be met through retirements (7 known so far) and resignations rather than lay-offs – but this will depend on certifications needed and available.

– The drama came with a prepared speech from TEEA President Ciamacca.  She was very concerned that the possible increase in High School teaching periods from 5 to 6 would leave little time for the many functions performed outside the classroom.  (Note that we were progressing systematically through the strategies from #1 on, and had not reached that – #47 – yet).  She did, though, state that the TEEA wanted to be part of the solution and outlined an offer to work the last three days of 2010/11 for no pay (claimed impact $600,000) and also an early retirement offer (claimed impact $1,000,000).  She handed a letter to Board President Fadem, which I took to contain those offers (and from comments made, I was led to believe that this was the first official communication from the TEEA, and that written offers had been requested before).  Finance Chair Mahoney responded for the Board, welcoming the TEEA as a stakeholder, but sternly chastising the “grandstanding and unfair” tactic of presenting an offer for the TV audience rather than “sitting down across the table as in the past”. 

The devil is always in the details.  Is there in fact a mechanism for forgoing 3 days of pay?  For 2010/11, or for 2011/12 also?  How much would the district have to pay to save the $1 million from early retirement and thus, what’s the present value of that proposal?  Things that do need to be analyzed in a dispassionate way.  There’s clearly a communication problem, and from my perspective, since the TEEA is the only beneficiary of the situation here (compare the salary matrix for 2011/12!), they need to step up to the bigger role that I have advocated to them since last year.  If the objective is to increase compensation to a certain parity level, perhaps it might just be OK to get there in 5 years rather than 2?

– The 15 or so strategies reviewed so far have very real impacts – fewer middle school specials, fewer aides, fewer low enrollment CHS classes, reduced admin position, reduced contribution to clubs, etc. – but it seemed to me that for the most part the impacted areas are spread around, and plans are in place to mitigate the adverse effects.  (But still only the savings, not the costs, of closing the print shop are listed!).

A big issue for me is that many of the big strategies impact only next year: the $1.2 million supply/materials cost deferral, the $0.3 million food service fund transfer (but maybe make food service a profit center?), the $125,000 mothballing of the ESC (why one time?), the $0.3 million from issuing debt for capital items (next month’s meeting will start with an explanation of that (accounting wrinkle?)), and so on.  So the expenses will pop right back up, on top of the next round of contracted compensation increases, and we’ll be right back in the CHS auditorium, but with fewer options. One commentator mentioned a likely 2% Act 1 cap next year.  (And remember, the country is a whisker away from a foreclosure crisis, and school taxes are over two months’ typical mortgage payments…..).  The one time programs account for $2.6 million of the $8.3 million on the table (excluding programs not recommended).

The event seemed to me a good way to get the community engaged and to indicate the amount of thought behind the ideas (although there can always be more!).  We heard, too, about the 800 member Facebook group for students engaged in the dialog.  There could be a lot to learn from, and demonstrate to, that constituency.

Advertisements

Question . . . Has our Local Teachers Union Made a ‘No Strings Attached’ Offer of $600K to the TE School Board?

I am getting bits and pieces about a ‘no strings attached’ offer made by our local teacher’s union to the TE School Board.  It is rumored that the Union offered the School Board $600K (or an equivalent of $1200/teacher).  My understanding is that the proposed good will offer was to show an understanding and appreciation for the TESD budget deficit and an offer to help. Has this offer been substantiated?  It is my understanding that the offer was not accepted . . . any truth to that? What about the district suggestion that the Union open their contract for re-negotiations instead of the $600K offer?

I do not expect school district representatives to comment on the offer.  Are there teachers and/or residents that have factual information that could be offered. Even if you have commented on an older post, I would ask that you re-post your comments here so that we can get them on the front page of Community Matters.  Let’s see if we can get the details quantified. 

It would appear on the surface that this is a very generous offer . . . most of these teachers do not live in the TE school district and are offering to help our district’s  budget deficit.  If this is indeed a ‘no strings attached’ offer can we expect to learn the details of the offer at Monday night’s TESD Finance meeting?

Draft 2010-11 Budget Strategies Released by TESD

As was discussed at today’s TESD Public Information meeting, the district has released a draft 2010-11 budget strategies.  We thank the district for releasing this background information in advance of February 8 Finance Meeting.  These proposed strategies are to aid in the budget gap and I suggest a review prior to next week’s meeting.  Your comments/input on the suggested strategies are encouraged but understand that this a ‘draft’ and should be viewed as a starting point (rather than the end result).

I just received an email from someone who was unable to open the pdf in this post.  I have checked it and it is working on my end.  The document is 50+ pages, so it may take a couple of minutes to upload.  You can also find this document on the school district’s website, http://www.tesd.k12.pa.us/

TESD Public Information Committee Meeting Update

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was surpised to see the discussion of community blogs as an agenda item for the TESD Public Information committee meeting.  I attended this morning’s meeting and Ray Clarke has kindly provided an update on the meeting which I share below. Ray mentions the TESD 2010-11 budget strategies that are to be available online today.  I will post the document when it becomes available.

Ray Clarke’s Meeting Notes:

A quick update from this morning’s Public Information Committee. I came away with the sense that the Board is working diligently to improve communication with the public, but will take its time to embrace technology (eg video, blogs, Twitter) that reduces its control.

The good news is that there was support for a change in the Board Meeting process to allow public input on each priority Discussion/Action item – after any presentation of background material/recommendations and before Board discussion and vote. I suggested that while the Board needs to have the flexibility to manage the overall meeting length, the fewer a priori limits on number and length of comments the better. I think such a policy, if approved, would go a long way towards addressing the problems highlighted at last week’s meeting. It’s important to have a gauge of the extent and depth of public opinion.

On the Budget …..Next week’s Finance Committee meeting will be televised, but – I think – not live and not made available over the internet. The Committee was encouraged to look at practices from our neighbors, particularly Great Valley.

Also, in case anyone missed the item in the recent TESD Press Release, the “proposed 2010-2011 budget strategies that will be presented at the February 8, 2010 Finance Committee meeting will be posted on the T/E School District web site by the end of business on Tuesday, February 2, 2010”. TODAY!

So, plenty of time to identify your favorite at risk program and be prepared to speak for it! All the Info Committee members and the public at this morning’s meeting were concerned that this document be viewed only as a starting point for discussion.

And to close with comments relating to this blog (Community Matters): I got the sense that individual Board members do look on this (and others) as one of those gauges of public opinion I mention above. Along with, for example, formal District monitoring of traditional press sources, direct emails to the Board, etc. It may not have fully sunk in, though, that this is often a source of important news and information as well as opinion and analysis, and should perhaps be accorded a higher regard.

Back to TESD’s 2010-11 Budget, Where Are We With the Discussion?

Over the last week, I have been focused on the recent Board of Supervisors decision.  I know that some of you were urging me to get back to the school district budget discussion.  So for the moment, I’m leaving the unfinished township business and re-focusing front page discussion on our school district.  Ray Clarke sent me an interesting note, to look at this week’s agenda of the Public Information committee meeting of TESD.  Wasn’t I surprised to read that the sixth item on tomorrow’s committee meeting agenda was ‘The Districts Role in Community Blogs’.  I have to assume that this is referring to my Community Matters.  I have never attended a Public Information committee meeting but guess where I will be tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM?  I have preached greater ‘transparency’ on the School Board website to at least 3 of the current school board members so perhaps tomorrow’s meeting may be the right place for that discussion.  Since I will represent myself tomorrow, any particular questions/issues that any of you would like mentioned at the meeting?  This could be great starting point for Community Matters to help ‘bridge the gap’ with missing information that taxpayers (and teachers?) might need.

Whether you agree or disagree with the school board’s decision, the district budget for 2010-11 has been capped at the Act 1 index of 2.9% increase.  Now I think we need to look at what does working within the Act 1 index mean for the district.  What does this mean for the teachers and administration?  We know also that it is highly unlikely that teacher contract will be re-opened for negotiations.  Where do we stand with the issue of resolving the district deficit?  I understand that the administration has come up with a list of proposed cuts . . . anyone know what those proposed cuts are or which programs may be included? And what is the dollar amount on the proposed cuts . . . how much will this lower the budget deficit?  And do we know how much of the budget deficit is proposed to come from the district’s capital reserves? Let’s start the conversation rolling . . . I want your thoughts.  I am especially interested in public information suggestions/ideas that I can take with me to the committee meeting tomorrow.

TESD Preliminary 2010-11 Budget . . . Main Line Suburban Newspaper Calls ‘Reaction Mixed on T/E Plan’

The following article by Blair Meadowcroft appears in today’s Main Line Suburban newspaper.  The article details the mixed reaction of the passing of the preliminary 2010-11 school budget at Monday night’s TESD School Board Meeting.  One item that Blair mentioned that caught my eye concerned the replacement of long time 3rd grade teacher Walter Thompson at New Eagle Elementary with a long-term substitute.  There seems to be a vagueness concerning this matter and that information was coming from the children to the parents rather than the administration.  Anyone have further information on that topic?

As to how the cuts are to be orchestrated to make up the school budget deficit, is my understanding that we will be given further information at the Finance Committe on February 8?  I wonder if the adminstration and School Board will equally distribute the cost-cutting measures throughout the district?  Or, will certain grades or programs be more vulnerable?  Someone mentioned the reduction of AP offerings at the high school as a possible source, although at this point, guess most of us are in a ‘wait and see’ mode.  I wonder how much students or parents can impact the decisions?

      Reaction Mixed on T/E Plan

By Blair Meadowcroft

Although passed unanimously, the preliminary budget that was approved at the Monday-night Tredyffrin/Easttown Board of School Directors meeting did not gain the same unanimous approval from residents. The proposed preliminary budget for the 2010-2011 school year is $101.9 million from revenue and $111.15 million in expenses, leaving a $9.25-million deficit. On the table at the School Board meeting was the decision of whether or not to raise taxes in order to combat the deficit. If the board approved raising taxes up to the 2.9-percent Act 1 index, the deficit would decrease to $6.85 million. If the board approved to apply for exceptions to the Act 1 index, it would be allowed to tax 3.73 percent on top of the index, which could bring the deficit down to $3.75 million.

While not a perfect fix towards creating a balanced budget, the board was asked to vote on the proposed preliminary budget with the authorization to apply for the Act 1 referendum exceptions. After comments from various board members, it appeared some favored and some opposed approving the Act 1 exceptions.

“I will be voting no against the proposed preliminary budget because we need to protect the program and we don’t want to negatively impact the school,” said Kevin Mahoney, chair of the Finance Committee. “Tredyffrin has a large population of elderly people as well as five percent living below the poverty line and these people may not be able to afford a large tax increase. We should find necessary funding from the fund balance. It has been a rainy-day fund and we should use it to help us bridge this hard time. I suggest a minimal tax increase within Act 1 and I suggest we make spending cuts and use the fund balance where necessary.”

In disagreement, board member Peter Motel stated he intended to vote yes for the budget as presented until the possible spending cuts are determined. “We need to keep the option of going above Act 1 open, and if we do decide to go above the cap, we need to ask for public approval,” said Motel.

After discussion, the board voted on the motion to approve the proposed preliminary budget, with the authorization to seek out the Act 1 referendum exceptions, and the motion did not pass. The board then voted on passing the preliminary budget with an adopted resolution limiting the tax increase to the Act 1 index of 2.9 percent or less. This motion was approved and the preliminary budget for the 2010-2011 school year was passed unanimously.

At the end of the budget discussions, many residents voiced their opinions both for and against the outcome. The most common point made was confusion as to why the budget was not passed with the Act 1 exceptions. “I’m disappointed the Act 1 exception wasn’t considered,” said one resident. “The School Board did not have to take the additional tax increase but applying for the exception could have been a starter and should have been considered. I want our children to have a great program and I’m willing to pay up to the 2.9 percent or more. Whatever it takes to continue to present the best program with the best teachers.”

In agreement another resident stated that by not passing the Act 1 exceptions, the board has closed doors. “I don’t understand the logic behind limiting your options; you would not have been obligated to raise the taxes by passing the budget and yet by not passing it you now have cut your options,” he said.

It may have been surprising to board members but many residents not only voiced their willingness to pay higher taxes but also explained their concern that by not approving the possibility of higher taxes, the board has limited the opportunities and may now have to cut in areas, thus hindering the program that residents find so above par.

However, the hard times brought on by the poor economy did have some residents concerned that higher taxes would be one more bill they would have to struggle to pay. “I urge you not to take the entire 2.9 percent as a lot of us are already underwater, unemployed or retired and elderly,” said one resident.

This was the sixth meeting during which the budget was a line item, and the board will continue to discuss and rework the budget through June. The final budget must be approved at the June 14 board meeting. Until then the board intends to work on ways of lowering expenses and ways to use the fund balance in an effort to fix the deficit. The hope is to end the year with a balanced budget. For more information and to view the budget online visit www.tesd.k12.pa.us/index.html

In other news, a topic on the minds of many of the residents at the Jan. 25 school-board meeting was the replacement of a third-grade teacher at New Eagle Elementary School. According to many parents, Walter Thompson, a longtime teacher at New Eagle, is being replaced by a long-term substitute after an extensive review period for reasons they are unaware. The parents went on to say that their children were the only ones communicating to them what was happening in Thompson’s class and that they were the ones informing them of his being extensively monitored and audited.

Many parents expressed concern that various teachers instructed their children since October and that their third-grade education may have been hindered from the experience. Additionally many parents explained that their children were upset, even anxious over the situation.

The major complaint made by parents at the meeting was that the district did not tell them what was going on in their children’s class. They expressed that they were not trying to find out why Thompson was being audited or what he may have done, but wanted an explanation as to why the situation was handled the way it was.

After many comments and concerns were made by parents, the board re-emphasized that it were unable to give information about the Thompson.

Tredyffrin Easttown School Board to Hold the Line at Act 1 Index . . . Taxes Will Not Increase More than 2.9%! What Will be Cut to Fund the Deficit?

I was not at the TESD meeting last night – I was at Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors Meeting. (See last post, ‘Control of Tredyffrin Township in the Hands of 4 . . . Residents Will Now Play by Their Rules!’)

I have received several emails, telephone calls and also comments for Community Matters in regards to the School Board meeting and the standing room only crowd. Last night the School Board Directors decided with a 6-3 vote to limit the district tax increase to the Act 1 index of 2.9%. For many taxpayers this represented a complete reversal of where the last few days appeared to be heading . . . especially with the lobbying efforts of TEES Union President Debra Ciamacca. The school district teachers (and some of the T/E parents) were hopeful that the School Board would vote in favor of applying for Act 1 exception which could conceivably have sent the district tax increase to nearly 7%.

With a proposed 2010-11 school budget indicating a deficit of $9.2 million, it is difficult to understand exactly where the administration and School Board members will propose cuts . . . remembering that program cuts can translate in to teacher furloughs. Ray Clark provided us with some of his observations on last night’s TESD meeting. His remarks can be found here. Ray points to the February 8 Finance Committee as the next step in the district budget timeline. In anticipation of another large audience, it is suggested that the School Board relocate the meeting to the school auditorium.

I am anxious to get the dialogue going about the school budget; what does last night’s meeting represent for the school district? How will the School Board and administration prioritize the program cutting that will be required to meet the remaining deficit? Will the teachers and parents have any influence on the decisions?

Between the School District meeting and the Board of Supervisors meeting, last night represented a night of decisions that could have a long-lasting effect on our community.  I look forward to hearing from you on both topics.