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:
- Reduce funding to the Phoenixville Public Library from the requested $508,000 to $490,000
- Eliminate the pay to participate fee
- 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.