Wednesday, January 18, 2012

1/17/12 Property & Finance Meeting

It was a LONG meeting which began at 6:30pm and lasted more than 2 hours. All board members with the exception of Heidi Adsett were present. The seating area for the public was full. Here are the highlights:

Budget Forecast

-our 2011/12 projection has improved by $1665k, due to a $700k increase in revenues and $965k decrease in expenses. The revenue improvements are from increased EIT ($250k), better than anticipated R/E tax collections ($250k), and increases in "other" revenue such as billings to other school districts (($200k). Expense decreases were from lower salary costs due to vacancies that were not filled ($700k) and savings in transportation contract expenses ($265k). The entire $1665k will be applied to a designated fund balance for the 13/14 school year so will have no impact on our 12/13 budget.

-our 2012/13 projection has improved by $2292k, comprised of a $377k increase in revenues and $1915k decrease in expenses. The revenue improvements are from EIT and Other Revenues similar to 11/12. A small part of the expense reductions are due to transportation savings similary to 11/12 ($100k) and debt service reductions ($256k) due to a small delay in the timing of borrowing. The major part of the expense decrease is due to the elimination of all salary increases for not only the 2012/13 year but for all future years of the forecast. This resulted in a net savings of ~$1481k when netted with PSERS/FICA reductions and associated cuts in state subsidies for those items.

-the bottom line impact of these changes is an improvement of ~$3.1M for the 12/13 school year. Excluding the impact of any tax increase or fund balance usage, that leaves us with a $5.1M shortfall. We are projecting to take $1.8M from our fund balances, comprised of our entire $1.2M PSERS designated fund and $600k from our general fund, leaving it at 6% of expenses (board policy mandates a 5.2% mininum). That leaves us with $3.3M to make up in increased revenue sources or budget cuts for next year. If the board takes the 1.7% Act 1 tax increase, that reduces the shortfall to ~$800k.

>I am very happy to see these improvements in the financials, especially as we move into the budget phase of looking at potential cuts coming out of the budget task force committees. I do, however, think it is risky to remove all salary increase from the budget for the following reasons: 1)it artificially reduces the shortfall so we will be considering less cuts than we may end up needing and 2)if union negotiations are not resolved by June we will be passing a budget and making a decision on whether a tax increase is necessary based on assumptions that may not come true and could leave us with an unbalanced budget in 12/13.

Community Budget Task Force Findings: Dr. Scanlon categorized all recommendations into their respective board committee for further review. He recommended that the administration distribute the findings into 3 categories: Phase 1 for approval at the 2/27/12 meeting, Phase 2 for the 4/23/12 meeting, and Phase 3 to possibly be considered for the 13/14 school year or beyond. The board seemed amenable to this process.

Penn Wood Elementary Renovations: Kevin Campbell presented the bids for the different portions of the renovation work. The bids in total came in at $9.5M, almost $1M below budget. A lengthy discussion ensued when representatives from Five Star Inc. objected to the awarding of the HVAC work to Myco Mechanical instead of their company. The issue centered around use of the Venmar vs. ChangeAir systems and preferential pricing that the ChangeAir vendor was giving to Myco Mechanical which effectively decided which company would win the bid. The representatives from Five Star felt that it was unfair for the decision to have been impacted in this manner, and that their company should also receive some preference given it is based in West Chester and the owner's children attend WCASD. Linda Raileanu felt that these practices were unfair and should not be tolerated, while Karen Miller said it was just part of doing business. The committee accepted the bid as presented by Mr. Campbell with the stipulation that going forward something would be done to prohibit these types of situations from impacting the awarding of work to vendors.

Rustin Sewer Line Right of Way Settlement: the final hurdle to the Westtown-Thornbury renovations appears to have been settled. Westtown Township had been requiring WCASD to settle the dispute of 2 Dunning Drive homeowners related to the Rustin sewer line before allowing the W-T sewer work to commence (although the 2 are totally unrelated). The district had moved foward with exercising their rights under Eminent Domain to have the property condemned since they could not come to an agreement with the homeowners. However, a settlement has now been reached for which the district will pay each party $5,000 to cover the cost of the land and attorney fees. It is believed that this $10k is less than it would cost to move forward with the condemnation hearing.

New/Revised policies regarding public participation at board/committee meetings: the policy for board meetings was revised and a new policy regarding public participation at committee meetings was created. Only the new commitee meeting policy was discussed. Currently the committee meetings are much more informal than the full board meetings and public comment/questions are taken after each agenda item. The new policy stated that public comment would now only be allowed at the beginning of each meeting on agenda items only and for a limit of 2 minutes/person with a 10 minute max, effectively limiting comment to 5 people/meeting. Furthermore, questions would not be allowed. Several members of the public spoke out against this for reasons including censorship, the fact that the public had alwasy been allowed to participate in this manner, and the fact that this was the only way some people felt they could get any information (anyone who attends meetings regularly knows that committee meetings are where all discussion takes place and most issues are decided). Furthermore, Sean Carpenter, Sue Tiernan, and Karen Miller also said they were not in favor of the policy; Sean said that he felt the committees benefit from the public input and that it should be left to the committee chair to drive how the public comment/question process occurs, not an overall board policy that all committees must follow. Vince Murphy, Maria Pimley, Linda Raileanu, and Ed Coyle spoke out in favor of the policy. Maria said she thought the limitations on public comment would allow the board to do its work more effectively, and Linda Raileanu cited several times that she thought the meetings had become like "a circus" (although she did not elaborate on this). The board decided not to pass the policy in its present form on to the full board, but instead asked Dr. Scanlon to revise it so the committee could reconsider it in its revised form. I will give the board the benefit of the doubt that they will continue to allow the public the opportunity to ask questions and make comments which I believe is our right, so will reserve sharing my opinions until a final policy is presented.

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