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Local Voices: About the School Board Budget

Our schools are winning awards, and that is because of our teachers, not our overhead.

Editor's Note: Lisa Longo is a candidate for the Phoenixville Area School District Board of Directors and also writes "as a concerned parent."  Patch actively welcomes and invites local voices submissions from all political candidates (for any politial race) as well as blogs from local voices throughout the community, whether you are a private citizens or elected official. Click here to blog on Phoenixville Patch.

Thursday night there was a special public meeting of the Phoenixville School Board for a vote and discussion of amendments regarding the 2013/2014 budget.

There were three amendments proposed:

  1. Reduce funding to the Phoenixville Public Library from the requested $508,000 to $490,000
  2. Eliminate the pay to participate fee
  3. Eliminate a reserve in the budget of approximately $1,000,000, resulting in no tax increase this year

 

The first amendment, put forward by Paul Slanika failed to get a second and did not move forward. It is worth mentioning that Board President Jay Gould reminded the Board that the Library has had a “flat” request for the last few years, and faces the same budget issues as the school district. The argument made by Mr. Slanika, that “all children” benefit from a tax increase to the school but not from the library was one he has made before. I responded to this argument at an earlier meeting by reminding the Board and Mr. Slanika that not every taxpayer has a child in our public school but many of them use the Library. I was happy to hear my statement echoed by a Board member last night.

The second amendment, put forward by Kevin Pattison, was quickly seconded and did pass removing the fee that asks families to subsidize sports, clubs and activities. The program contributed approximately $40,000 annually, but also created paperwork, confusion and difficulty for some families according to the discussion.

The third amendment was made by Irfan Khan. This amendment would result in no tax increase this tax year by removing a reserve of approximately $1,000,000. There are several reserves we carry, from health care and pensions to capital projects and an unallocated reserve. Mr. Khan suggested we not fund this reserve this year. This does not reduce the reserve per se, it simply does not increase the fund.

On the first vote, the second amendment passed, eliminating pay to play, as did the third, removing the reserve. This created a budget deficit of approximately $77,000.

The Board then voted on the budget. The budget failed to get the needed 5 votes to pass.

A discussion ensued of how to close the deficit and whether a second vote could take place last night or if legally the Board was required to wait 10 days.

Board director Dan Cushing made an excellent point, one I felt was ignored by the other members. Mr. Cushing stated that with the failure of the Board to pass this budget, and the amendments, both were “dead”. That the administration now had to present a new budget that could get the needed votes to pass. Instead, after a short executive session called for by Board President Josh Gould, who cited “personnel and contract issues” as the reason for the private session, the Board decided to vote on the same budget and same amendments a second time.

Once again the budget failed to get the required votes, but this time, the amendment to remove the reserve also failed to get the required votes.

Before this second vote, which I think may have been improper anyway, there was a suggestion by Mr. Slanika that the shortfall of $77,000 be made up by simply not hiring a teacher next year, the budget calls for 6 new teachers, why not go with 5, he wanted to know. Dr. Fegley responded that we need those teachers to maintain reasonable class sizes due to our enrollment. “The good news is enrollment is increasing”, Dr. Fegley stated. Mr. Khan then suggested the shortfall be made by reducing the reserve for health benefits.

During a short break I suggested to several Board members that there were other places we can reduce the budget, for example, my first suggestion was repairs and maintenance. We are funding a reserve to replace the two turf fields every 10 years at an approximate cost of $2,000,000. We can choose to reduce that reserve by the $77,000 this current year and review the funding in future years.

I also suggested a review of consulting fees we are paying. Either would be more sensible than cutting funds for teaching staff. I also think we need a complete and detailed review of district administration salaries, costs and expenses, which I will call for if elected in November.

I think if we are going to make cuts we need to make them outside of the classroom, and take a good hard look at the overhead costs and see if we can’t find ways to decrease those costs.

Our schools are winning awards, and that is because of our teachers, not our overhead.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

James Smith June 07, 2013 at 03:22 PM
Another one of Paul Slaninka's knee-jerk reactions. "let's eliminate a teaching position to make up the budget short fall." Paul is a slap in the face to Dr. Fegley and his Administration, to the Teachers and Staff and to the Parents and Volunteers, who provide the best education and support for the children of Phoenixville. And regarding the Library, Paul Slaninka once stated at a board meeting that he has "only every witnessed mother's with young children frequenting the Library." What? Really? I pass the Library most mornings and it is always a buzz with people of all ages with books in hand. It seems that education is the biggest waste to the tax payer in the eyes of Paul Slaninka, (a retired TE school teacher).
harry finster June 08, 2013 at 05:21 PM
he can see what a failure phoenixville is and wants to cut the losses
Douglas J. Trainor June 09, 2013 at 06:03 PM
What justifies raising taxes on property owners with fixed incomes or stressed family budgets? The following item mentioned by the author seems like an athletic pork barrel if I've ever seen one (and I've seen plenty) -- "a reserve to replace the two turf fields every 10 years at an approximate cost of $2,000,000". Wasn't the artificial turf replaced at Washington Field only 2 years ago?! A 2008 article by Barry Sankey in The Phoenix stated -- "The overall price tag for the project has been placed at $700,000 with the Phoenixville Area School District willing to put up $500,000 towards making it possible. The remaining $200,000 would have to come from fundraising and/or public donations. Boys lacrosse coach Jim O’Brien is in charge of plans to make the turf field a reality."
Lisa Longo June 09, 2013 at 06:24 PM
Mr. Trainer, the explanation I have been given is that the turf is "cheaper" than grass and can be used more. I am quoting amounts that have been discussed in meetings I have attended. I think the cost excessive, and would much prefer we maintain grass fields.But the fields have been constructed and now must be maintained. One of my concerns is that more and more of our tax dollars are being used to outsource services to private for-profit companies rather than maintain jobs. I have to do more research and study, but I have to wonder if it is really more expensive to maintain grass than turf, I honestly do not know the answer, but I plan to find out.
Douglas J. Trainor June 09, 2013 at 07:32 PM
Mrs. Longo, I think someone is quoting from company brochures or from fake company studies that are not independent or objective. There are several comparisons (I'm not claiming scientific studies) of grass versus turf out there that don't come from companies, and those put grass as cheaper. Oh, but you can play more games in the rain on artificial turf! Fewer ankle twists but more concussions? Do you know what company won the past contract(s)? Personally, I am uncomfortable watching $2,000,000 fly out the window every 10 years, but this is not the true cost. From the article by Mr. Sankey, I gleaned the status quo budget is based on 5 parts PASD money extracted from citizens and 2 parts voluntary fundraising. So the cost for resurfacing every 10 years is actually modeled as $2,800,000 -- and that doesn't include the annual costs of maintenance. In the current scheme, PASD (taxpayers) fund 71.4% of the 10-year resurfacing [capex] costs and volunteer donors fund 28.6% (5/7 versus 2/7). Motivating those fundraisers and merely changing the current scheme towards a more equitable 2/3 versus 1/3 would save PASD and taxpayers $133,333 over 10 years or $13,333 per year. One interesting figure would be cost per athlete per year -- and nobody should count one athlete more than once because they engage in different sports!!! What are the ticket admission prices for adults per game per sport?
John Q. Public June 09, 2013 at 09:38 PM
Douglas, I'd vote for anyone who made taxpayers a priority. Privatized/outsourced, I'd don't care if it slows the annual property tax increases, and maintaining public jobs should not be a goal of any board member.
Lisa Longo June 09, 2013 at 09:54 PM
John Q Public, I agree, it is not the function of the Board to "maintain jobs" per se, but it is the function of the Board to ensure taxpayer funds are spent in the most responsible way. Does it make financial sense to outsource to for-profit companies versus having a district employee? What are the pros and cons of each? How do we weight the relative benefits and efficiencies of each and how do they impact the community? Those are the questions I do think we should be asking.
Lisa Longo June 09, 2013 at 09:54 PM
Thank you for this information, I have a feeling I am going to have to learn more about this topic.
harry finster June 09, 2013 at 10:06 PM
phoenixville grads can play football,but they cant do math, when math is a bigger money maker for graduates in the long run but then again low class people are generally short sighted
Douglas J. Trainor June 09, 2013 at 10:26 PM
There is a subtle aspect to these kinds of budgetary decisions that don't get modeled that often and are typically uninteresting to people in political debates or above their heads. The usual talking point is the end cost -- who does it cheaper? But many comparisons are flawed for simple reasons, not going deep enough into the problem before coming to a solution. There's the employee versus contractor thing, and there's the local versus nonlocal contractor thing. Employees typically put much of their paycheck into the local economy, but so do local contractors! There's the small part in employment taxes (and real estate taxes) but the main part is spending of that money in the community for daily living. Managers like low head counts on employees, and employees typically have retirement plans and health insurance plans. Managers like consultants, because they can hire at will and they can draw on different skill sets, and there is no direct cost for retirement and health plans.
Douglas J. Trainor June 09, 2013 at 10:28 PM
My guess would be that the contractors used in the past were not local, but might be regional as far as the labor. And that for the part of the job that's materials, they're not local or regional. So when you compare actual costs and benefits, a proper modeling would include the benefits to the community from the money being spent locally. And that money in turn goes through the cycle again, and in fact, over and over -- unless the money leaves the area, then it doesn't come back unless there are unusual circumstances. I don't know if there is a rule-of-thumb on how to factor for this though, but it's certainly there from human behavior. However, past a certain point, people may hoard money and not recirculate it, and this is why "trickle down economics" fails in reality, and in fact has never worked, and is truly a "false economy", but so many people just believe the idea of it that it that the idea doesn't die.
Lisa Longo June 09, 2013 at 11:34 PM
Whatever your problem is, whatever demons you have that chase you and make you so hateful toward Phoenixville, are they not long gone? Why do you think students here "cant do math"? I assure you, we have an excellent math program. A small percentage of students can play football, they all can do math.
harry finster June 10, 2013 at 01:23 AM
why dont you do a real analysis ?the talented people leave phoenixville school system,the dregs remain to keep it at a fairly low standard compared to the good local schools like great valley or conestoga
Douglas J. Trainor June 10, 2013 at 04:59 AM
You are not making any sense -- nothing you've said here corresponds to reality. I'm being charitable here when I say that I think I know what you are trying to say, but that's about as far as I'm going. You either need to attenuate your comments by mixing in humor or perhaps deal with some issues or maybe just take a little longer composing your thoughts before publishing them to the public. Just giving you a heads up that some might think you're pathetic with what you've written, but perhaps you just need a nudge in the right direction. douglas (mathematician)
MPorchik June 10, 2013 at 12:38 PM
It's easy to explain Harry. He is a troll. He gets some odd pleasure from seeing people getting mad at what he writes. Ignore his inane comments and when he doesn't get the attention he is seeking he will go elsewhere.
Paul O'Leary June 10, 2013 at 06:39 PM
Lisa, thanks for your thoughts. As well as the others, well mostly, mentioned here. I have great faith in Dr. Cushing as I do in Mr. Gould. I have had two children in this School District for 11 years now, and I'm mostly pleased with the educational experience that they have been afforded. I don't envy anyone that has to deal with school budgets, they effect so many people so differently. But in the long run I believe that the better educated our children are the better it is for our communities overall economical health. We need to just take a look at the Philadelphia School budget disaster to know how well we are doing. I think we are best keeping all budget discussions on a respectable level to come up with the best solutions. There are a few on this site that continually hide behind false monickers and delight in the name calling. It's a shame that this site allows that type of slanderous behavior, these are just sad people that need to be eliminated.
Chris June 10, 2013 at 06:45 PM
Ms. Longo. First don't let Harry get to you. He's always big on negative opinion but low on any facts. Second, all this budget stuff isa drop in the bucket. Until the state does something about the PSERS crisis we are all in trouble for years to come. Thanks for the write up.
Lisa Longo June 10, 2013 at 07:15 PM
Paul, you are welcome and I appreciate your comments. My goal is to bring awareness of issues and share my thoughts on the process, from budgets to policy, I think we will do better with more input and transparency. Thanks again, Lisa
Lisa Longo June 10, 2013 at 07:16 PM
Chris, you are welcome, and I do think PSERS is going to have to be a big part of future strategic planning. I actually started my career in finance doing pension accounting so have some knowledge of funding pensions, but have a lot to learn on the school district and state level issues. Best, Lisa
harry finster June 11, 2013 at 02:06 AM
philadelphia has such high standards,you can be proud that you are better than them,gee maybe you should compare phoenixville tosyria ,bet youve got them beat too,

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