Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Moving Forward Although Some Digress

The Board meeting opened with the recognition of some of the District's best in academics, service and athletics. The 12 National Merit Finalists from East, Henderson and Rustin who represent the top 1% of scholars in the country were recognized for the achievement as well as members of East's girls swimming relay team. These students exemplify WCASD at its best, illustrating that a quality education combined with exceptional co-curricular programs are valuable. Everyone in attendance was delighted for these students.

Hopefully, the full board meeting held last evening, March 26th, marks a turning point in positive interaction with the Board and community members. Although, the policy KCA was passed unanimously, the Board answered questions and addressed concerns from the public which it has been avoiding in recent months. Policy KCA effectively allows the presiding committee chair to determine the public comment period, allowing for comments before or after the meeting or on each agenda item during the meeting. All the Board members relayed the policy doesn't change how meetings will be run but provides additional levers to maintain an effective meeting. It does beg to ask why change a policy if nothing is actually going to be changing. Almost all of the Committee Chairs felt sure that meetings would continue to run as they always have in the past. Although, Heidi Adsett said that she couldn’t make any promises. Maureen Snook reminded us all that there are many avenues to communicate with the Board; but that “the staff knows much more of the details than the Board” (I am guessing she is referring to Administration).

Mr. Carpenter and Dr. Moore presented a 4 year budget outlook. The report was well done and clearly depicts the financial position and budget imbalance the District faces over the next 4 years. Click here to access the Budget Presentation.

I congratulate the District and the Board for presenting this outlook and providing their thoughts after the presentation. Mr. Carpenter indicated the earned income tax for the District is up year over year as a positive economic indicator for the increase; Mrs. Miller positively answered a direct question about agreeing to the Act 1 increase. Dr. Pimley graciously stated that although a lot the budget imbalance is due to the pension plan, this is no fault of the teachers. Mr. Coyle noted that the PSERS increase is beyond our control. He encouraged all stakeholders to contact their legislators to lobby for change in Harrisburg. Dr. Scanlon said that everyone has worked hard to increase efficiencies without affecting the programs but that we must continue to look ahead when making budgets. Despite that, not everyone on the Board remained constructive.

One Board member still bothered by comments made last year when parents were fearful of cuts to arts and music asked Dr. Moore to reminisce with her, back to last June, when members of the community affirmed their willingness to pay a slight tax increase, many actually offering “donations” when it became clear there would be no increase. Noting her “curiosity”, this Board member went on to question Dr. Moore about the actual number of “donations” received during that period. As luck would have it, Dr. Moore had those figures at her immediate disposal: 5 Board members and 3 members of the community “donated”, but no amounts were given. Head nodding and with a look of deep contemplation on her face, she commented she found that number “interesting”, but would have “expected more” from people. And that was it: no conclusion drawn, no solution offered or comment made on the CURRENT budget, just an indirect, unproductive and contrived joust at this community. She then voted yes to pass the budget resolution which I thought contradicted her statements. Maureen Snook was the sole vote against passing the preliminary budget that calls for the 1.7% tax increase.

No matter, it seems most of the new Board Directors as well as the veteran members are moving forward and are proactively addressing this year's budget and the years ahead implementing task force recommendations judiciously, cutting expenses where applicable, creating new revenue streams and agreeing to resolutions to get mandate relief from the State. Furthermore, any savings over the budget are put into the reserved fund balance to offset future imbalances.

For More Info:
From West Chester Patch
School Board to Increase Property Taxes by 1.7 Percent
School Board Changes Public Comment Policy
From Daily Local News
Pensions, mandates shackle schools in suburban districts
Budget proposal reflects 1.7% tax hike in West Chester Area
West Chester Area School District Board Meeting Highlights

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