The April 23rd Property & Finance Meeting was relatively short and sweet. All board members were in attendance with the exception of Heidi Adsett.
Lunch prices will be going up by 10 cents in September to $2.20 for Elementary and $2.45 for Middle/High School. This is not due to budget issues, but because of a federal law covering reimbursements that schools receive for free and paid lunches.
Sean Carpenter and Dr. Moore presented a "2012 Budget Goal" as well as an updated budget forecast model. This was somewhat surprising to see, since I've never before heard mention of a "budget goal" in terms of a maximum amount of expenses the board wanted to see; instead, the process of late has been to identify possible cuts and take all those that were palatable to the board and community, without a target number to meet (within the confines of the tax limit and fund balance). The Preliminary Budget that was approved at the March meeting was $202,676,500; the amount coming out of this meeting was $201,790,500, a reduction of $886k. This reduction was accomplished predominantly via lowering the projected heating fuel and electric costs by $395k, lowering the projected transportation fuel charge by $100k, and removal of 3 Elective Course Teachers for a salary/benefits savings of $280k. The specific elective course teachers to be eliminated are yet to be determined as it will be based upon student enrollment in elective classes, and could be accomplished via attrition or by some teachers going from full to part time status.
It was shown that because the 2011-12 budget was $202M, the 2012-13 goal was set at $202M as well due to a desire to keep next year's budget as close to this year's as possible (at one point the 12/13 expense projection was ~$211M, but did include salary increases which have since been removed). The point was also made that the budget 3 years ago was $203M, so that for the second year in a row the budget was lower than the past year's, and that this had never been done before. This definitely seemed like a move to make this budget more acceptable to some, although who those people are that the board is looking for approval from I am not sure. My concern is that we have now squeezed the budget to the point that zero wiggle room remains. I'm sure for some that is welcome news, and of course in a way it is since excess budget $s can lead to unnecessary spending. However, once this budget is approved and submitted to the state, the district cannot spend one cent more, so for that reason a little wiggle room might have been welcome....I sure hope the forecast assumptions were very very good!
The budget discussion logically led to the discussion of the tax levy for next year. I know I may sound paranoid, but it did bother me a bit that although the financial model still included the 1.7% Act 1 increase, it was not shown on the draft Annual Tax Levy Resolution that the board will be voting on at the monthly board meeting on Monday. We tried to gauge the certainty of the Act 1 increase every way we could think of--how many versions of this resolution will be presented on April 30th? --what happens if the budget amount passes but the tax levy does not? --has anyone asked you to change the tax levy amount that is presented at the board meeting? Sean Carpenter stated that only the resolution with the 1.7% increase will be presented, and agreed that if any board member had an issue they should speak up now. None did, with the exception of Maureen Snook. Unless I misheard, she said something along the lines that if EIT is up why should you need to raise taxes, and if it's down people can't afford to pay more taxes, and there are alot of empty stores...so basically a tax increase can never be justified. No surprise there, her position has been very clear from the start.
One member of the audience from East Bradford did speak up, however, in disagreement to the budget and tax levy proposed. He readily admitted that it was his first school board meeting, and that was very apparent. He did not understand what has been done to get the budget to the point it is now at, nor that many of the out of control costs are beyond the district's control (pension, mandates, prevailing wage, charter costs). He stated that he voted for these board members because he thought they shared his views on not raising taxes, and that taking the 1.7% increase (which he thought was above Act 1) was "kicking the can down the road" (with the exception of Maureen Snook whom he praised for voting against the preliminary budget). I could not disagree with this perception more--taking small but steady tax increases is the ONLY way the district will be able to meet the mounting pension costs until our governor decides to do something about it and stops shirking the state's responsibility for public education. This man also called the activity fees and advertising revenues "just another kind of tax on the community" which is a strange characterization--the existence of those new revenue sources has REDUCED the amount of tax needed to balance the budget. I certainly do not begrudge this gentleman his right to his opinion and to state it at these meetings, but I do take issue when someone comes in at the 11th hour talking in generalities about "the budget being too big" without any knowledge of the work that has been done over the last several months or the very few levers public schools have to pull when cutting expenses due to all the laws and mandates, and has no better solution to propose.
The last items on the agenda were a resolution urging the General Assembly to work on pension reform, and new policies for the newly approved Activity Fees and Advertising. There were not any surprises here. It looks as though some more work needs to be done on the Advertising Policy to ensure that the district is protected against advertisers who do not meet its standards for acceptable material, and although the policy states that the administration has final approval for ads, some board members did not feel completely comfortable with giving up that authority. I'm sure we'll be hearing more as this policy is worked through.
Board members have been given countless opportunities to say that they will not vote for this budget. All signs are pointing to it going through on Monday night. All I can say is, I'll believe it when all the votes are in.