State Rep. Paul Drucker’s Bill to encourage ‘green’ building for schools passes House

News from Harrisburg . . . Our State Rep. Paul Drucker’s House Bill 689 to provide incentives for school districts to construct cleaner and more efficient schools has passed the House with a vote of 106-85.  My understanding is the roots of this legislative bill began in 2008 under former State Rep. Carole Rubley’s direction.  With some 2009/10 updating, Rep. Drucker was able to successfully move the bill through the House’s voting process.  The following is excerpted from Pennsylvania State House press release:

 Current law requires school boards to first receive voter approval before commencing any major construction plans over a certain dollar amount, including new buildings or significant renovations. That law, he said, inadvertently impedes the construction of environmentally friendly schools due to the high up-front cost, which may push the cost of green construction over the limit. House Bill 689 would exclude any costs incurred by a school district in the construction of a school building that meets the Green Building Standard from the calculation of construction costs when determining if voter approval is needed. At a minimum, Green Building Standard projects must include performance-based credits that will improve a building’s energy performance and promote the use of environmentally friendly building materials and technologies. Documentation to support the energy efficiency of the project is required. Green Building Standard projects must also employ third-party, post-construction review and have a performance record of certified green buildings in the United States.

The bill includes a requirement that Green Building Standard costs be submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Education at the same time that construction cost estimates are submitted for approval. Drucker said that inclusion of Green Building Standard costs with construction costs would allow districts to demonstrate any long-term savings produced by investment in green building technologies.

“Over time, green buildings save money by reducing energy costs and provide a healthier internal air quality for our children,” Drucker said. “My bill would allow school districts to realize these long-term benefits without being burdened by the up-front costs associated with green building.”

Rep. Drucker’s bill will now go to the Senate for consideration and here’s hoping for a successful outcome!

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Economics Driving TESD’s Budget Woes . . . EIT to Be Explored

Ray Clarke attended the TESD Budget Workshop last night and provides the following commentary.  I am fascinated that the school district is bringing EIT out of hiding.   There is much misunderstanding about Earned Income Tax – we need an open and thorough airing of EIT.  I would suggest that the TESD and township partner for the discussion, have an outside expert give a presentation (like Easttown Twp did for its residents).  The presentation should be taped and then shown repeatedly on both the school district and township cable networks.  Some people hear ‘tax’ in the Earned Income and then simply shut-down. 

Whether it is the township or the school district we are talking about — we are currently facing tremendous economic hardship and all revenue sources must be explored.  Personally, I don’t want to pay more taxes and my personal household will suffer with EIT (my husband works for Unisys) however, . . .  there is also a reality to the situation.  I applaud the School Board for recognizing the need to explore Earned Income Tax and would hope that the Tredyffrin’s supervisors would be likewise motivatedit’s called exploring options.  Both the township and the school district have been faced with major deficits in their budgets that have required cuts in personnel, services, programming in an attempt to close the gap.  But to what end can we continue to make these cuts?  At what point do we weigh the quality of life that all enjoy in this community vs. increase in taxes?  I do not see how continuing to say, no new taxes  is a long-term solution to the problem.  Comments?

A quick report from the Budget workshop. Only 25 or so residents tonight, probably reflecting that there was little discussion of program changes. The occasion was used mostly to lay out a framework, stake out some board member positions, and set up the important April 12 Finance Committee meeting where the next level of expense reductions will be discussed.

However there were some really significant outcomes, worthy of full attention.

The basic parameters being positioned to balance the budget are:
– Implement the $4 million of expense reductions already discussed
– Tax to the full 2.9% cap
– Use $2 million of fund balance
– Find at least $0.7 million of 2010/11 reductions from $1.5 million of mostly non-educational strategies
Round numbers, subject to tweaking up or down.

The principal dissent came from Dr Brake, who is not thrilled with the proposed changes to the Middle School program. He seems to be the only one on the other side of this.

Dan Waters and Kevin Mahoney lost few opportunities to highlight the fact that these 2010/11 actions leave the structural problem untouched (shades of Tredyffrin’s “structural deficit”!). And they are right: 50% of the $4 million is one year only, and of course the fund balance use can’t continue for ever. The deficit for 2011/12 after the above programs would still be $7.5 million (8.2 – 0.7).

So, the administration is going to do the following:
– Deepen the study of the $2.6 million of class size, CHS period changes, etc. that – practically – can not be implemented until 2011/12. (Strategies 47-56, approximately.) If all were implemented, the deficit would be down to $4.9 million.
– Study the implementation of an income tax. Taxing to a likely 2% Act 1 property tax cap next year would still leave the district $3 million short, so this – to me – seems inescapable.

Some EIT information that’s new to me, and definitely has a major impact on the revenues for TESD: Kevin Mahoney stated that there is the potential to reclaim not only taxes paid to neighboring municipalities, but also to Philadelphia (which would apparently get reimbursed from gaming revenues).

Kevin Grewell has posted a lot of helpful EIT information here. Important features confirmed tonight appear to be that this would be implemented under Act 511, which is coordinated with the Townships. Resident tax is split between School District and the townships, non-resident money is collected by the Township (which turns out to be looking at fire department funding).

Debbie Bookstaber (from the last TSC) asked that the study include a comparison of an EIT and a PIT.

The Board took pains to emphasize that program changes must be fully vetted, particularly in the Education Committee, and subject to public input. Back to that April 12th meeting. Also, decisions will need to be made soon on the health insurance funding and bond issuance as part of the $4 million 2010/11 programs – the former in particular being highly susceptible to assumptions. I’d like to be convinced that all aspects of utilization risk have been thought through

Update . . . Tonight’s Supervisors Meeting

My primary reason for attending the Board of Supervisors meeting tonight was for the announcement of the Sidewalks Subcommittee members. Three members were chosen from the Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission and Sidewalks, Trails and Paths (STAP) Committee.  Supervisors Kichline, Donohue and Richter; Planning Commissioners Bob Whalen, Trip Lukens and Vicki Snyder; and STAP members Sean Moir, Jim Donegan and Molly Duffy are the 9 members of the Sidewalks Subcommittee.  Township Manager Mimi Gleason will serve as the facilitator of the committee.

After the announcement of the Sidewalks Subcommittee, I expected an outline of the committee with a stated process; but none was offered.  What was the meeting schedule – how often would the committee meet? Would the meetings be open to the public?  What was the timeline for the committee? Will the community be given regular updates at future supervisors meetings?  In other words, I was looking for specifics on the subcommittee and the process. 

In a review of the February 22 Board of Supervisors meeting minutes, I found the following:

” . . . He [Lamina] said the plan is to have the new subcommittee begin work in March with the goal to conclude the process by the end of this year. . . “

So during the next 9 months, I guess the Sidewalks Subcommittee will begin a process to re-examine where the community wants and needs sidewalks.  I believe that the end-goal is for the Board to adopt formal policies and procedures to provide guidelines for the development and construction of sidewalks in the township.  Although not mentioned tonight, I am assuming that the subcommittee will set a goal to include the residents through area focus groups.  Transparency and openness of the Sidewalks Committee is going to be important if the community is to trust this process. 

I have publically stated, and remained concerned, that during this re-examining process by the Sidewalks Subcommittee there are liability issues to the township from developers/contractors doing work in Tredyffrin.  As long as the formal policy on sidewalks remains a ‘open issue’, this liability will exist.  Here’s hoping that the Sidewalks Committee is able to get underway quickly, remain focused and meet their goals and objectives by the end of the year.

Another item of personal interest to me tonight was the Mt. Pleasant town hall meeting.  Scheduled twice before and cancelled each time due to snow, I am pleased that the meeting is re-scheduled for next Monday, March 22 at the First Baptist Church on Upper Gulph in Mt. Pleasant.  Today I had received an invitation to attend the meeting from Officer Larry Meoli and was glad to hear the town hall meeting mentioned tonight.  Supervisors DiBuonaventuro, Kichline and Richter will be the liaisons from the Board of Supervisors at this Mt. Pleasant community meeting. Also in attendance will be representatives from the township staff, police and zoning. 

Further School Budget Discussion . . . How will the District fund the gap?

Tonight is an important TESD Budget Workshop — 7:30 PM, auditorium at Conestoga High School.  Yesterday, I posted the agenda and materials for review.  This is our school district and our taxpayer dollars . . . how do you want your dollars spent and how do we fund the district deficit?

There have been many budget-related comments today on Community Matters — several of which were focused on EIT.  For further discussion, below is a commentary received from Ray Clarke.  In the past, Ray has offered his opinion on EIT but has updated his remarks based on TESD’s  current 2010-11 budget information.  Here are Ray’s comments — let’s use this as a starting point for discussion:

I’d like to get away from history (except as a guide to the future) and ponder what needs to be done to secure our kids’ education going forward. I think much of the evidence supports John’s advocacy of an EIT. I’ve posted it here before but here goes again, starting with updated budget numbers:

1. After one round of proposed program changes that have been vehemently opposed by many in the community, plus a 2.9% property tax increase, the school district will still be in the hole by $3 million in 2010/11, $8 million in 2011/12. (Note that it is relatively easy to squeeze expenses for just one year…..). No official word from Tredyffrin yet, but the township will need to fund contracted compensation increases next year, too.

2. A 1% EIT would raise $9 million for both Tredyffrin township and school district, of which $2.7 million is already paid by residents and $2 million would be paid by non-residents. (Easttown would also have to implement the tax.)

3. Perhaps a 2010 Tax Study Commission would ask a question like: “Would you prefer that property taxes increase 15% for all, or that the township residents not now paying a 1% EIT do so and the township gets a 1 for 1 match, worth $4.7 million a year now and increasing with inflation?” Might there be a different answer than to 2007’s question, which referenced only shifting taxes from property to income?

4. There will be in 2011 a county-wide mechanism to collect an EIT at low cost for all the other townships with this tax.

5. An EIT diversifies the tax base among all income earners and wealth holders.

6. The TSC stated that: “Had we been presented with compelling funding needs by the school board that could not be satisfied by the present system we may well have endorsed a change in the manner in which our schools are funded.”

So, given that …

 – There is no willingness by the TEEA to consider deferring accelerating teacher salary increases (6.9% in 2009/10 over 2008/9, and more contracted each year until 2011/12) and sharing health benefit cost increases

 – We need to fund $4 million a year in replacement capital and the capital fund is running dry

– There is no willingness to unlock capital tied up in unproductive properties (note: enrollment is projected to decline in the short and medium term)

 – $2 million of the $4 million proposed expense savings have only a one time impact

 …it seems to me that the need is indeed compelling. Whatever views one might have of past School Boards, it seems to me that the current one has to operate in a very different economic environment and that their actions should reflect that.

Monday, March 15 — 2010-11 School Budget Workshop

Budget Development Workshop
Monday, March 15
7:30 PM
Auditorium, Conestoga High School

Budget strategies for the 2010-11 school district have been discussed at the February and March Finance Committee meetings.  Those budget strategies are reflected in a draft budget which will be discussed in greater detail at the Budget Development Workshop tomorrow night. There will be slide presentation; click here for meeting’s agenda and a review of the slides.  There is much information included on the slides and I would encourage everyone to review.  One slide that caught my eye was the following:

Professional Staff (TEEA)
2009-2010
Teachers, Guidance, Media Specialists, Nurses

• Average years of service in T/E is 10.3 years (10.5 for 2008-09)
• 77% hold advanced degrees (74% for 2008-09)
• Average salary $74,581 ($69,788 for 2008-09)

How does the District intend to close the remaining gap in the 2010-11 budget?  We know that there will be a $2.9% tax increase and the suggested budget cuts total approximately $4 million.  There remains a $2.7 million gap . . . how will that deficit be funded?  floating a bond?  more programming cuts?

In the review of the Looking Ahead slide (pg. 26) we note that the 2011-12 school year budget indicates a deficit of $8.2 million (most of which is not attributed to PSERS increase). When the PSERS increase fully kicks-in for the 2012-13 school year, the deficit sky-rockets to $18.5 million! It continues to climb from that point — seriously, have a look at pg. 26, the numbers are staggering!

The draft budget includes budget strategies from the February and March Finance Committee meetings.  These strategies include:

• Contribution from Food/Nutrition Service Fund to General Fund
• Education Service Center Disposition
• Outsource Print Shop
• Restructure 7th and 8th Grade Program Delivery
• Eliminate Elementary FLES Program
• Restructure Middle School Special Area Classes
• Reduce Number of Regular Education Aides/Paraprofessionals
• Eliminate all Conestoga High School Classes with Fewer than 15 Students
• Eliminate Supervisor of Special Education Position
• Reduce Number of Extra Duty Responsibility Positions and Club Sport Contribution
• Reduce 2010-2011 Budget Requests to 2008-2009 Levels
• Issue Debt for Capital Expenditures/Long Lived Assets
• Explore Self-Insurance for District Medical Coverage
• Hire an E-Rate Consultant
• Reduce Information Technology Budget by 10%
• Reduce Use of IT Contracted Services by 20%

Although I previously provided the budget strategy information, I think it is important to re-post that link for your review.  These informational materials were used for the March 8 Finance Committee Meeting.  The consensus reached by the School Board and Administration was to tentatively use budget strategies #1-12, 14, 31, 39 and 40 for a savings of approximately 4$ million.   What budget strategies would you suggest to fund the remaining $2.7 million budget gap? 

Tomorrow’s Budget Workshop represents one of the few remaining opportunities to let your voice be heard in regards to the 2010-11 budget.  Whether you are a teacher, parent or taxpayer . . . do your homework by reviewing the materials and come to the meeting prepared.  Offer your opinion to the Administration and School Board; speaking up could make a difference in programming and jobs for next year.

TESD Facilities Committee Update

To update . . . I attended the Facilities Committee meeting on Friday morning.  The meeting started at 7:30 AM and lasted until 11 AM!  Dr. Pete Motel is the chairman of the Facilities Committee; school board members Karen Cruickshank and Anne Crowley serve on the committee and attended.  Also in attendance for the meeting was Superintendent Dr. Waters, Business Manager  Art McDonnell, Controller Jeff Curtis, Construction Manager Bob Plyler, and Architect Tom Daley.  School board president Betsy Fadem was in attendance for some of the meeting.  Ray Clarke, Julia Hanson and 2 other residents also attended the meeting.  The agenda included complete updates on all current and planned district construction projects.

I had never attended a Facilities Committee meeting so I was not sure what to expect . . . Pete Motel could not have been more welcoming to me, and much to my surprise, seemed to appreciate my many questions.  There was not a question that seemed to be off-limits; they could not have been kinder or more patient in their responses.  There will be minutes from the Facilities Committee and I will post them when they become available.  Here are some of the meeting highlights. Ray, feel free to add your comments from the meeting.

I asked about the use of Teamer Field, whether it was available to rent.  Teamer Field is not available and the reason is that there is an agreement with local residents to be mindful of the community with lights, noise, etc.  Aside from specific district school usage, they are respectful of the community and the immediate neighbors by not allowing non-district usage.

The 4 houses on Lancaster Avenue will be demolished in June, after school gets out.  The demolition is being coordinated in conjunction with the township sidewalk project.  It is the intention that the work will be Monday-Friday (during daytime hours) and all neighbors are to be notified of the demolition schedule.  Originally slated for additional parking, this land will be seeded and the parking lot project has now moved to the 2011/12 budget.  When pressed, Dr. Motel does not think that the parking lot will ever be constructed, period.  It does not appear that there continues to be a parking need. This will be savings of $1million+ in the 2011/12 budget.   There was a question about whether the Old Lancaster property could be sold — it’s not so much whether or not it could be sold.  Dr. Motel was absolute that the District will hold on to the property; it will not be sold.  The ESC building (next to Easttown Library) is slated for demolition in the fall.  That building has major asbestos issues and its demolition will remove a yearly maintenance cost to the district.

I asked how the land on Old Lancaster Ave and the 1st Avenue (ESC site) would be used in the immediate future. Future usage had not been decided — I made the suggestion that perhaps the space(s) could be used as a community garden or perhaps middle or high school student garden projects.  Just thought that this could create an opportunity for a partnership between the District and the community — maybe even a ‘feed the hungry’ type of garden.  Not sure where I should take those suggestions . . . maybe there is a local nonprofit that would like to get involved.

At the end of the meeting, I thanked all those in attendance at the meeting for their indulgence with my questions.  I can not stress enough — Pete Motel and all in attendence offered complete access and transparency.  I was most impressed!

 

Spring Forward

Wow, has today not been absolutely miserable, ugh!  The rain, the clouds, the darkness . . . not good.  I live in the Great Valley and we lost our power at 7:30 AM and we just got it back on — 3:30 PM, 8 hours.  Isn’t it amazing how much you come to depend on electricity.  Since the outage only involved 350 homes I am assuming that PECO had higher priority situations.  Regardless, I’m certainly glad that power has been restored in my neighborhood!

It’s that time of the year again when we switch to daylight savings time. The sun will begin to rise earlier and set later with our days getting longer and longer. Hopefully, our longer days will be full of sunshine (and not too much more of this rain), which is certainly not the case today!  To stay current on the time change, you’ll want to set your clock ahead one hour before you go to bed tonight. The phrase “Spring forward, Fall back” helps people remember how Daylight Saving Time affects their clocks.   At 2 AM on the second Sunday in March, we set our clocks forward one hour ahead.

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