Thursday, March 22, 2012

3/19/12 Property & Finance Committee Meeting

The 3/19 P&F meeting had a large agenda, but the meeting moved along well and lasted less than 2 hours. There were about 10 people in the audience which is less than usual, but some people were most likely attending the Attorney General's presentation at Stetson. That is where board member Maureen Snook was, and Maria Pimley was also not in attendance at the meeting but came later for the Executive Session.

Several administrative items related to the Westtown-Thornbury and Penn Wood renovations were covered by Kevin Campbell:

  1. Indemnity Agreement with Westtown Township: The committee agreed by a 4-0 vote for the district to absolve the township of any building inspections during the construction process of the 2 school renovations. This removes any risk to the township as they are held harmless, and allows the district to save on duplicate building inspection fees.
  2. Inspection Services: The committee agreed by a 4-0 vote to approve 2 firms for the construction testing and inspection services at W-T and PW.
  3. As-Built and Progression Photos: The committee agreed by at 4-0 vote to hire Multivista Construction Documents to provide photographic documentation of the renovations and additions at W-T and PW. The estimated cost is ~$41k and this cost is included in the existing renovation budgets.

The following financial items were discussed:

  1. Posting of Monthly Treasurer’s Report: Sean Carpenter recommended that each month’s Treasurer’s Report (which lists checks to be issued) be posted to the district website after board approval at the monthly meeting so that individuals do not have to request it.
  2. Financial Impact Study of Revised Transportation Plan: A summary report of the financial impact of the reduction in the number of buses due to bell schedule changes and bus stop reduction was reviewed (additional detail can be found on the district website). The report showed that 26 buses were reduced compared to the anticipated 23, and that taking into account vendor contract and fuel charge increases, the district saved $1,232k vs. the $1,150k projected.
  3. Review of Budget Forecast Model: Dr. Moore reviewed changes to the current financial projections.
    -2011/12: Projected expenses have decreased by $341k and this savings will be used to offset the anticipated gap for the 2013/14 school year. No changes have been forecasted for revenues, however they will continue to monitor tax collections and we could see some changes at the end of the school year. -2012/13: Revenues have increased by ~$362k due to the addition of activity and advertising fees which were approved at the last board meeting. Expenses have decreased by ~$982k, mostly due to the anticipated impact of Budget Committee Task Force initiative approvals (e.g., reduction of 7.9 FTEs). The result is a $1,345k favorable impact to our budget; $853k of it will be used to balance the 12/13 budget, and the remainder will be put in the General Fund Balance. If the Act 1 Index 1.7% tax increase is taken and $1.4M is taken from our fund balances ($1.2M from the PSERS Fund and $178k from the General Fund), our budget will balance. -2013/14 and beyond: the latest forecast still shows sizable gaps to be closed for the out years due to rapidly increasing PSERS expense and anticipated slow growth in the local tax base and state funding.
  4. 2012-13 Budget Calendar and Resolution for Approval: The board voted 4-0 to adopt a resolution to publish the Proposed 12/13 budget on 3/27 and to adopt that budget as final on 4/30 (it was stated that the 4/23 board meeting would be moved to 4/30). There are 2 things about this that puzzle me. First, the final budget is not due until June 30th; given the unknowns of the labor contract negotiations and any changes that will be made to the state budget, why not wait the 2 months so that the best data is used? Second and more importantly, the proposed budget includes the Act 1 Index 1.7% tax increase. I commented at the meeting that I had not heard anyone discuss their position on the tax increase, so was wondering when that was going to occur. Sean Carpenter stated that he believed the tax increase would be passed, but that any board member had the option to bring it up for discussion or express disagreement to it between now and April 30th. The room got very quiet and many of the board members looked down at the table, so I'm not quite sure what's going on there.

Next on the agenda was the discussion of 2 Board Resolutions. For those unfamiliar with resolutions, they are formal legal documents that the board votes on and if a majority approves, are signed by the board president and secretary. Depending on their topic and whether some action is being requested, these resolutions may be forwarded on; the resolutions that were discussed tonight would be sent to the PA General Assembly as they deal with state law and financing.

The first resolution discussed was the Resolution Supporting the School District Exemption from the Prevailing Wage Act (HB 709). This resolution requests that the PA General Assembly enact House Bill #709 which would exempt school districts from paying Prevailing Wage which they are currently required to do for construction projects costing more than $25k. Prevailing wage tends to be higher than the market driven rate and therefore forces schools to pay more for projects than they otherwise would. This added cost does nothing to enhance education, so school districts' exemption would be beneficial to WCASD and all other districts.

The second resolution discussed was Increased Funding for K-12 Public Education which Sue Tiernan asked be added to the agenda. This resolution highlights the shortfalls in current state funding for public education coupled with the unreasonable mandates that the state requires and is continuing to cut funding to support. It asks that the General Assembly increase K-12 state funding in areas such as Basic Education, Special Education, charter school reimbursement, and Accountability Block Grants which were reduced last year and are now being eliminated (these grants, among other things, pay for all day kindergarten). It was disheartening to hear some of the board members' opinion on this resolution. One board member stated that he did not feel comfortable simply asking for "more money" since not all school districts have made sufficient cuts, and another pointed out that because of the wealth of our district, we would get a very small portion of any increase in state funding.

This board has a duty to its local taxpayers, not the taxpayers of other school districts. This district has cut millions of dollars from its budget, and for every dollar the state takes away either the local taxpayer has to make up the difference or additional cuts need to be made. The board was elected to champion our school district, and part of that responsibility is ensuring that the state meets its constitutional obligation to provide for a public school system. Furthermore, one of the most dangerous aspects of this budget is a change in the funding methodology for transportation and Social Security. Historically these have been funded based on costs incurred, however it appears the Governor has changed this to a flat discretionary amount which relieves the state of all risk associated with increases to these costs, and puts 100% on the local taxpayer. Sean Carpenter, Sue Tiernan, and Dr. Scanlon will be working on revisions to this resolution and I plan to follow this closely as I believe the district needs to make a stand and this should be something everyone can support. If you agree, why not take 5 minutes to email the board that you would like to see such a resolution passed?

The last topic covered was the second reading of 3 policies related to board and committee meetings, 2 of which were revised and 1 of which is new. I wrote about the new policy, KCA-Public Participation in Board Meetings, in prior blogs. I still strongly disagree with this policy and wish the board would take the time to address the many concerns the public has voiced. Historically questions have been taken by members of the public after each agenda item at committee meeting. As Maria Pimley noted at the last board meeting, the committee meeting is where you really learn about what is going on...well a large contributor of that learning is in jeopardy.

While Sean Carpenter did have verbiage added stating that the committee chair has the discretion to take comments on certain topics, it will be on a case by case basis and is not required. While these board members might have the best of intentions, they will not be here forever and who knows how future board members will interpret this policy. Explanations from the board centered on 2 themes: 1) since the chair can still take commentary, not much will change and 2) committee meetings are for the board to do its work and the public is only entitled to observe, not to participate. This is exemplified by the comment of board member Linda Raileanu: “The working meetings are just that, working meetings. The only thing that is required is we allow you to observe us while we’re working. It’s only observational. We sit and we listen to everyone’s comments, technically it’s only a courtesy we accept anyone’s comment.” To point 1 I say if it ain't broke, don't fix it, especially given this board has such little experience on which to base such a large change in protocol. As for point 2, honestly I am offended by the suggestion that our elected officials taking time to listen to their constituents is merely a courtesy to us and not of any value. Refer to this article for more on this topic:

Whether it is intended this way or not, this policy feels like nothing more than an attempt to stifle dialogue and keep the board from having to address questions in public. While a new communications plan was outlined in the March Board Connections newsletter, none of the methods listed will replace the existing dialogue that takes place at committee meetings. It states that questions can be handled via email or phone, but there is nothing that explains whether all questions will be answered or the expected turnaround time. Furthermore, there is often learning in hearing the questions and responses that others ask, since sometimes people don't even know enough to ask a question. This opportunity for the public to become better informed will be lost. If you also have a problem with this new policy, write the board and/or Daily Local before Monday because after that the new policy will be in effect. See this DLN opinion piece for more:

Since I brought up the newsletter, I will end with a few thoughts on that. It does contain some high level information and I do appreciate their documenting the communications plan, although as I said I believe it is lacking a component that provides for any meaningful dialogue. The last page did not sit well with me, however. I appreciate that some board members contribute to our schools with their time and money, and I understand that they are trying to make themselves appear accessible. But there are many parents who spend innumerable hours in our schools, and they have neither the option nor [likely] the desire to publicize their service across the district. I just wish that space had been used for a more worthwhile purpose such as FAQs, budget information, an update on labor negotiations, or anything else that helps us understand what this board's plan is for our schools.

1 comment:

  1. I am pleased to see the Board resolution to publish the 2012-13 Budget and adopt a final budget on April 30th on the agenda for the March 26th meeting. The Board and Administration have been working on the 2012-13 budget for months. They are well aware of unresolved contracts and state budgets. The Board is taking a reasonable approach to implementing the task force recommendations. Delaying the budget vote only leads to rumor and speculation regarding potential cuts. Lets give the Board some credit for balancing taxes with a quality education. The current budget proposal meets the needs of a strong district while maintaining fiscal integrity. I hope to see the resolution pass on the 26th.