The fall has been an incredibly busy time for the School Board. I've included some highlights from my perspective below. If you're looking for a comprehensive report, read the minutes and Action Line updates online at http://www.tesd.net/.
- The rising cost of gas impacted the district- especially the transportation budget. At the Finance meeting, the board discussed district efforts to conserve fuel.
- In response to the unprecedented increase in food costs, the board approved an increase to school lunch prices. Breakfast at the Elementary Schools increased from $1.25 to $1.35. Lunch at the Elementary Schools increased from $2.10 to $2.35. Breakfast at the Middle Schools increased from $1.25 to $1.35. Lunch at the Middle Schools increased from $2.20 to $2.50. Breakfast at the High School increased from $1.50 to $1.75. Lunch at the High School increased from $2.35 to $2.75.
- With T&E Care, I worked to launch a program to assist students that miss the cutoff for Free and Reduced Lunch with lunch costs. The program started in October. If you are interested in applying for the program, visit http://tecare.org/schoolmealassistance.html
- If you can, please support T&E Care with your donations. http://www.tecare.org/. In addition to its work in the community, T&E Care supports our districts students in many ways. I've worked with T&E Care to run the school supply drive and to provide refurbished computers to students. These supplies and computers help these students succeed in school.
- Green Schools: The School Board is working hard to "green" the schools. These efforts apply to transportation (the district applied for a bio-diesel fuel grant), facilities improvements, communications with parents and the public, and even how the board works. For example, the board now receives electronic weekly updates. Previously, the board updates were delivered by hand, and each board member received a packet that contained hundreds of pages weekly. The e-updates are a great improvement- both in terms of cost savings and the environment. Another green effort that is both environmentally friendly and a way of saving money is the electronic bulletin board. In response to input from parents, the Public Information Committee and Administration worked to set up an electronic bulletin board for non-school related fliers. This reduced the size of the weekly PTO newsletters- saving time and paper. Additionally, many parents have opted to receive their newsletters electronically.
- The board adopted a Fund Balance Policy, which was discussed in Spring 2008.
- Transportation: TE has a new bus contractor this year, so the transportation coordinator Toni Pulcini spoke at the Finance Meeting in order to answer board questions and parent concerns about transportation. Here's her report:
Transportation Report to the Finance Committee – September 2008
Currently the District utilizes 113 vehicles to transport approximately 7,700 children each day to 106 different schools. The vehicles travel approximately 9,936 miles daily over 512 different bus runs and stops almost 2600 times each day traveling over 28 square miles within the District roads and well beyond.
This summer we continued our three year plan to evaluate our bus runs with the goal of enhancing efficiency while maintaining safety. Last year, we re-designed several HS runs and this year we evaluated and re-designed several Middle School bus runs. Our goal next year will be to evaluate the ES runs in the same manner.
Also this past spring we mailed postcards to all households listing their current stop information with an opportunity for correction. This summer, in the interest of student safety, we mailed individual letters to all households instead of publishing the bus stop location and times in the newspaper. This also allowed us to get the information to the parents earlier and including it in the school mailings saved us postage costs. We also redesigned and updated the information on our web site.
As part of the ongoing plan the revised runs, along with several other factors, have resulted in changes to existing patterns throughout the District. One of those factors was several additional roads were deemed “hazardous” by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Districts are required to transport any student who would walk along a hazardous route. This increased the number of students the District is required to transport by approximately 150 students. To accommodate the students, runs were re-established, thus changing the former runs. Another factor was in an attempt to improve efficiency and safely transport all students, efforts have been made to relocate bus stops from individual addresses to intersections of roads where students have a place to wait safely. Relocating stops to safe intersections allows space for buses to maneuver and for groups of students to wait. In future years, the relocation of stops should be reduced as intersections can serve all students in a neighborhood. Changes due to these factors may have contributed to different run times.
NOTE: Since working with our new contractor, we have taken advantage of their safety officer’s review of stop locations. He is a former accident reconstruction officer with the PA State police.
Since 1993, TE has been using a “multiple-run” transportation system. Many of our bus drivers begin their morning and afternoon by completing a run to/from Conestoga High School. These buses then complete additional runs for middle school and elementary school students. The length of the High School run determines that arrival time at the Middle School. The first flight of buses is scheduled to leave the MS prior to the second flight arriving approximately 15 minutes later. Its possible that students, who in prior years, were on a first flight bus are now experiencing a change due to a switch to a second flight run, resulting in a later drop off time.
Please be assured that we are continuing to look at all of the run times to try to make them more efficient.
- TENIG Contract: The board approved a collective bargaining agreement between the District and the Tredyffrin Easttown Non-instructional Group for the period July 1, 2009-June 30, 2014.
- The Board reviewed and approved the 2008-2009 District Goals. You can check them out at http://tesd.net/goals/0809goals.pdf.
- Recess: I spoke to many parents about their concerns regarding a reduction of recess at the elementary schools. (The second outdoor recess had been turned into an indoor snack break.) Parents came to the September and October Board Meetings to voice their concerns. At the October Education Meeting, the Board heard parent concerns and then received a report on the elementary program with information from the Resource Utilization Task Force and the Elementary Blueprint for Instruction Committee. Included in this information were reports on Use of Instructional Time, Research on Literacy Instruction, Research on Math/Science Instruction and the Six-Day Schedule. The District was able to restore the second outdoor recess in response to parent concerns.
- 2009-2010 Budget: The Board approved the Finance Committee recommendation to certify that the District would stay within the Act 1 cap (4.1%) rather than applying for eligible exceptions which would increase taxes further. The Finance Committee is still working on the budget, and our goal is to have the lowest possible tax increase.
- Calendar: The Board approved the proposed calendar for the 2009-2010 school year after reviewing many drafts and hearing parent feedback. The approved calendar was draft G. The board discussed drafts A-F at the September, October and November education committee meetings.
- The District conducted a test of the TE All Call System. Click here for more info on the TE All Call System.
I believe people should be judged based on the issues and their experience-- not based on their race or sex.
So, as a mother, I was disturbed to read this article on Gov. Sarah Palin:
"With five children, including an infant with Down syndrome and, as the country learned Monday, a pregnant 17-year-old, Ms. Palin has set off a fierce argument among women about whether there are enough hours in the day for her to take on the vice presidency, and whether she is right to try."
Some of the comments are particularly discouraging:
"Upon reading that Ms. Palin’s special-needs child was three days old when she went back to work, Ms. Moore began questioning the governor’s judgment. Partly as a result, she plans to vote for Senator Barack Obama."
My son Joseph is about the same age as Gov. Palin's youngest son since both babies were born in April. Since Gov. Palin's nomination, I've spent a lot of time talking to my friends from Yale. Most of us are mommies now. The majority are Democrats, but we're pretty evenly divided between working moms and stay-at-home moms. Regardless of our politics, we found Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton inspirational.
One of my good friends from Yale is a dedicated Democratic activist. She is ardently for Obama, and she disagrees with many of Gov. Palin's positions. We became friends at Yale because we were both leaders in community service organizations that helped women. We both call ourselves feminists. We might have a different interpretation of what that means, but we agree wholeheartedly that it is wrong to attack Gov. Palin as a bad mother for political gain.
My husband went back to work almost immediately after our son was born. Most men do. And nobody would question their judgment as a result.
On a personal note, I ran for School Board while pregnant. I fought off morning sickness to knock on more than 2500 doors, and I stood for 12+ hours at the polls on election day. At the same time, I held down a fulltime job and continued to volunteer in the community. I even worked until a week past my due date and finished a blog post while in the early stages of labor.
I missed a committee meeting since I was in the hospital recovering from my c-section, but I was back at School Board meetings within two weeks after giving birth. Since I have a supportive husband and extended family, I have been able to combine motherhood, volunteering and work.
In the photo above, you can see me and Baby Joseph refurbishing computers for T&E Care at the E.S.C. Building. As he napped in his stroller or snuggled on my lap, I was able to spend hours refurbishing computers for needy students with only a bit of occasional drool on a keyboard or spitup on my shoulder.
So I find it a bit puzzling when people infer that mothers aren't capable of serving their community or their country AND taking care of their children. There is nothing in the world more important to me than my son, but I am still capable- with the support of my husband and my family- of contributing to the workforce and to my community too.
Attacking Gov. Palin's qualifications as a mother is likely to score political points, but it is wrong. And I suspect such sexist attacks will turn off young mothers. Regardless of their politics, my mom-friends agree. Love her or hate her: Gov. Palin deserves to be judged based on her merits.
The Administration moved from the old ESC to new offices at the West Valley Business Center. Here's the link for directions: http://tesd.net/directionsTEAO.htm
You can read the May and June meeting minutes at http://tesd.net/schoolbd/submeetings.html, http://tesd.net/schoolbd/updates/may08.pdf, and http://tesd.net/schoolbd/meetings.html, but here the biggest highlights from my own perspective.
The Public Comment period for the GCAs ends on Monday June 16th. You still have time to voice your opinion on this proposal. Visit http://tesd.net/gcacomments.htm to find a sample email and the addresses of the appropriate contacts in our state government.
- The finance committee finalized the plan to provide after-school activity coverage for the middle schools. This plan will give parents options and enable all students to participate in after-school activities. Additionally, it will not cost the taxpayers any money. I want to thank the many community members who came to board meetings to express the needs of working parents and provide feedback as well as the administrators who worked with the board to evaluate the options.
- The finance committee voted to accept gaming revenue from the state. The gaming revenue will provide a tax rebate to people who have a homestead exemption. The average rebate will be $181. If you have not applied for your homestead exemption, please contact the county for an application.
- The finance committee worked on a fund balance policy to outline how any future surplus (revenue - expenditures = surplus) would be handled. This policy is still under review and will move to the policy committee next.
- The finance committee also discussed T/E's grant application regarding bio-diesel fuel for school buses. If our grant application is accepted, we'll be able to switch to a more environmentally-friendly fuel at no additional cost to the taxpayers.
- You can find documents relating to the budget at http://tesd.net/budget.htm. The board will adopt a final budget on June 16, 2008. The proposed final budget is available for public inspection.
- The budget was approved in the amount of $98,406,374 revenue, $4,052,244 fund balance transfers, of which $1,430,000 is the contingency, and $102,458618 is for appropriations on a tentative basis.
- This will result in a tax increase of approximately 4.37% (which is an average cost of $178 to a T/E homeowner. Thankfully, the gaming revenue will provide an average of $181 in tax relief for a T/E homeowner.)
- The Act 1 index was 4.4%, and the Board stayed under that index. Many neighboring school districts were not able to stay under the Act 1 index.
- The Board worked hard to cut unnecessary expenses in the budget while preserving the quality of the educational program. Due to rising fuel costs, the decline in investment income, rising costs of benefits & salaries, the increase in prescription medicine rates, new state mandates, rising costs of special education, and reduced real estate sales, revenue has declined and expenses have increased. Due to these factors, nearby school districts like Radnor and Lower Merion had even larger tax increases than T/E.
- Other districts throughout the state have had to cut educational programs such as FLES or increase class sizes in order to stay within the Act 1 cap. T/E was able to stay under the cap without cutting FLES or increasing class sizes, so the education of our students will not be impacted negatively.
- The Diversity Committee met to review the socio-economic makeup of our district and to discuss reading and math scores as well as extra support offering to students performing below grade level.
- We also met to celebrate the retirement of Nancy Letts, who will be greatly missed. Nancy has been a tremendous advocate for children in our community and has contributed a great deal to the diversity committee.
Public Information Committee:
- We met to discuss changes to the tax bill, topics for Board Talk and to evaluate the district policy on fliers/newsletters. Our goal is to reduce the number of unnecessary fliers sent home by making them available online. This is both environmentally friendly and a cost-cutting measure. We are still evaluating the plan and will be meeting with PTO newsletter representatives in the fall to get their feedback before we implement it.
- We met in May to review the District Strategic Plan, Literacy Intervention, the Classrooms for the Future Grant Application and much more. The Strategic Plan is available for public inspection, and I encourage you to read it. http://tesd.net/te2008/strat-pl.html has summary information.
- The Plan is the result of many hours of work by teachers, administrators, students, parents, board members, and community volunteers.
- In June, we got to attend Conestoga's Graduation. I'm consistently impressed by how accomplished the students in this district are. I saw a copy of the Spoke, which listed the colleges students will be attending next year. Wow!
- In June, we also attended a ceremony honoring the district retirees. It was so nice to meet them and to hear about their impressive dedication to students in this district.
Since so many of you have asked for photo updates, here are some pictures of my baby from May and June. Enjoy!
You can read the April meeting minutes at http://tesd.net/schoolbd/submeetings.html and http://tesd.net/schoolbd/meetings.html, but here the biggest highlights from my own perspective.
The board has been working hard on the budget. In particular, we’ve been examining the revenue and expense assumptions and searching for things to cut in the budget without damaging the quality of the educational program. With rising fuel costs affecting our transportation budget, falling interest rates harming our revenue, and the continued rise in benefits costs, this has been a tough task.
You can find documents relating to the budget at http://tesd.net/budget.htm. The board will approve a preliminary budget for 2008-09 on May 12, 2008 and adopt a final budget on June 16, 2008. The proposed final budget will be printed and made available for public inspection by May 22.
On April 25th, Betsy Fadem, Pat Wood, Karen Cruickshank, Rich Gusick, and I met with PA’s Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak to discuss the proposed Graduation Competency Assessments (GCAs). We were joined by representatives of other nearby school districts.
Secretary Zahorchak expressed his point of view that the GCAs will set high expectations for PA’s students and ensure that a high school diploma has meaning in every school district.
I am sympathetic to many of his arguments. I agree that it is critical to hold our students to high standards and to provide remedial help to students who cannot meet state standards for reading and mathematics.
The goal of the GCAs according to Secretary Zahorchak is to eliminate “meaningless diplomas.” However, I do not believe that T/E issues “meaningless diplomas” or that the GCAs are the right solution for a district like T/E.
Approximately 15% of T/E students do not pass the PSSAs, but these students are able to prove their proficiency through alternative assessments and continue on to attend excellent colleges. The GCAs would harm these students by preventing the district from issuing them a diploma unless they passed the PSSAs or the GCAs. Yet these students have proven their proficiency through their success at Conestoga and their acceptance at respected 4-year colleges.
Furthermore, adding the GCAs will further reduce the instructional time available to students in T/E. While the State intends for the GCAs to replace the traditional end of course exams used by school districts, T/E’s standards are significantly higher than the state standards. As a result, if we were to replace our end of course exams with the GCAs, it would dumb down our curriculum. The effect would be even more significant in our accelerated, honors and AP classes.
Finally, the GCAs would be another unfunded mandate for our district since we would not receive adequate funding to cover the additional remediation and other services associated with the GCAs.
Joseph on his birthday:
Another birthday picture:
Here's Joseph getting ready to go home from the hospital:
Joseph's first day at home:
The School Board has been busy reviewing the preliminary budget during the month of March. In addition to committee meetings and the regular monthly board meeting, the School Board held two public budget workshops.
You can find the budget workshop agenda and documents relating to the budget at http://tesd.net/budget.htm.
The budget is a work-in-progress, and the board will be hard at work examining the revenue and expense assumptions in the budget over the next few months. The board will approve a preliminary budget for 2008-09 on May 19, 2008 and adopt a final budget on June 9, 2008.
Dan Kristie from The Daily Local covered the 3/31/08 Budget Workshop. He writes:
"Tredyffrin/Easttown School District administrators will spend the next few weeks trying to figure out how to eliminate a projected $6.2 million deficit from the district’s 2008-09 proposed budget.
School board members have told them, however, that cutting educational programs should be a last resort.
`One thing I’d like to see in this budget is cuts to things that aren’t educational,’ said School Director Debbie Bookstaber. ‘I’m reluctant to change programs that parents love.’
The school directors said they would rather see the budget balanced on cuts to non-educational items or on an increase in the collection rate of the real estate transfer tax or of other taxes.”
You can read the full story here.
After West Chester School District cut the FLES (Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools) program from its budget, I heard from many concerned parents worried that T/E would be impacted. While I cannot comment on the factors that influenced West Chester School District’s decision, I will say that I believe T/E can find a way to balance its budget without cutting educational programs or reducing the quality of the school district.
In fact, the proposed budget for 2008-09 shows the district’s commitment to educational excellence. It restored a music position that had been cut the previous year in response to concerns from numerous parents that the cut had affected the quality of the music program. Additionally, the proposed budget maintains the district’s commitment to small class sizes.
We will be looking to balance the budget by examining the expected collection rate for real estate taxes, the interest rate assumption for district earnings on investments (see pages 5-6 of the 3/31 presentation available at http://tesd.net/budget.htm), applying a vacancy factor to the personnel budget, considering previous recommendations from the Opportunity and Operations Review Committee, and more.
- Finance Committee:
In addition to working on the budget, the Finance Committee reviewed the Transportation Services RFP responses and discussed the numerous written communications from taxpayers regarding the proposed Senior Tax Relief Program that had been discussed at previous Finance Committee meetings. The letters/emails received overwhelmingly opposed the proposed plan as rebates to low-income seniors would be funded through a tax increase for all taxpayers. Several emails objected to any redistribution of tax dollars for a non-educational purpose. Others noted a need for tax relief for everyone in the district. And some taxpayers pointed out that tax relief is needed for all low-income taxpayers regardless of age. A final resolution has not been reached yet, and this topic will be discussed in future Finance Committee meetings. The School Board reads every letter and email, so take the time to send in your opinion.
As reported by the Main Line Life (3/13/08) and other local papers, the Finance Committee also discussed the need for a fund balance policy to define how the district plans to handle tax surpluses. The article is not online, so I am posting the full text here:
“T/E Committee discusses ‘fund balance policy’
By Dan Kristie
The Tredyffrin-Easttown School Board’s finance committee announced on Monday that it will begin to craft a “fund balance policy,” which will set out how the district plans to handle tax surpluses.
School Director Debbie Bookstaber said the policy would reduce “taxpayer anxiety” about the district’s current $7.5 million surplus and would “assure people we’re good stewards of their money.”
The school directors, at Monday’s finance committee meeting, discussed the policy only in vague terms. Finance Committee Chairwoman Betsy Fadem said that discussion of the specifics of the policy would happen at the committee’s April 14 meeting, which is open to the public.
The school directors did hint at issues that could arise during next month’s discussion.
School Director Pat Wood spoke in favor of the school district “building a reserve” so that the district would have something to fall back on in tough economic times.
“When you have money, everybody thinks they need a piece of it,” Wood said, acknowledging the point of view of the people who have argued that the $7.5 million surplus should be returned to taxpayers.
According to the school directors, the fund balance policy discussion will likely include the suggestion that surpluses be used in the following ways:
-To cover future expenses
-To cover, on a one-time basis, a current expense; and,
-To give taxpayers a one-time tax credit.
School director Liane Davis said that, while these policy components won’t rule out the use of the surplus to cover operating expenses, that way of deploying the surpluses should not be “encouraged as an acceptable practice.”
Bookstaber said that the idea to create a fund balance policy came from comments district taxpayers had made during the “listening post” events the school district holds.
Many taxpayers, she said, were concerned that the district had a $7.5 million surplus.
The fund balance policy will cover use of surpluses in the following funds: The Capital Fund, the Food Service Fund, and the General Fund. Of those three, only the Food Service Fund is self-sustaining- the prices the district charges for cafeteria meals cover the cost of the food service program.”Note: The $7.5 million surplus discussed at the 3/10/08 Meeting was based on estimated 2007-08 expenditures available at the time. The actual surplus amount (2007-08 Revenues – 2007-08 Expenses) will be significantly lower and cannot be fully calculated until the end of the fiscal year.
I strongly support the need for a fund balance policy. The district should make every effort to tax only as much as is needed—and not any more. But in the event that the district does run a surplus, we owe it to the taxpayers to have a clear policy on how the surplus money will be spent and/or returned to the taxpayers.
- Public Information:
The Public Information committee prepared a resolution opposing the proposed Graduation Competency Assessments (GCAs). The resolution passed unanimously at the March 24 School Board meeting. You can find the resolution at http://teschools.wordpress.com
The March Board talk explains the Olweus Anti-Bullying Program and will be available on SchoolTube shortly. I encourage you to take the time to watch the program.
- Diversity Committee:
On March 4, the Diversity Committee met to discuss socio-economically disadvantaged students in T/E. We were joined by Pat Furnell from PECO, Asher Kemp from Multitherapy Services Incorporated, and Sandi Gorman from FLITE and T&E Care who came to share information about programs that can assist families in the district.
At $69,904, Chester County has the highest median household income of all PA counties. Tredyffrin’s median household income is $90,134 and Easttown’s median household income is $103,486. Between the two townships, over 44% of households earn over $100,000. But even though T/E is one of the wealthiest school districts in the state, 2.2% families in Tredyffrin and .7% of families in Easttown are below the poverty line. Approximately 3% of our district’s students receive free lunch. There are even more families who are above the poverty line but who are economically disadvantaged. It is not easy to identify children in need due to confidentiality issues and the need for self-identification.
Since research has shown a relationship between the income gap and educational achievement, the committee discussed several issues related to the types of programs and support needed in order to level the playing field and to help all students achieve in our district.
In addition, we discussed areas such as field trip costs, school projects, sports, extracurricular activities and technology to ensure that we’re not accidentally overlooking the needs of low-income students. In the finance committee, we’re currently exploring after-school activity coverage that would enable students of working parents to participate in after-school activities in the middle school. And we will be looking into the cost of field trips and school project materials at a future school board committee meeting. While support exists for students who cannot afford to go on school trips, we heard from the committee that some students in the middle school do not feel comfortable asking for the support.
Regarding technology, this is an important issue since having access to a computer is necessary in order to complete assignments—particularly at the high school level. Two organizations I volunteer with— FLITE and T&E Care— will accept your old computers, refurbish them and place them with students. However, the need for computers far exceeds the limited supply FLITE and T&E Care currently have. If you have a computer to donate, you can find information on www.tecare.org or by emailing me at Debbie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
- ISC Committee:
I attended the ISC Committee meeting to discuss the results of the District’s Homework Study with parents. Parents provided feedback on the quantity of homework as well as the educational quality of the homework. The Education Committee will be meeting in April to continue this conversation.
- Electronic Learning and the Strategic Plan:
At the March 24 Board meeting, the administration gave a presentation on the role of technology in the strategic plan. If you can, take time to watch the March Board meeting on T/E TV in order to hear this summary of the district’s technology plans.
- Policy Committee:
In response to several taxpayer letters and emails, the Policy Committee is examining the nominating process for School Board leadership positions.
- Middle School Advisory Committee:
We met to discuss field trip planning and evaluation and to brainstorm topics for the 2008-09 Middle School Advisory Committee.
- New FLITE Program:
FLITE has a new College and Post High School Workshop series. To read about this program, click here.
- Baby Bookstaber:
I promised to share photos of Baby Bookstaber in my March update. Since he’s overdue, you’ll have to wait until my April update for photos.
- Public Information Committee:
At February’s meeting I gave a presentation about technology communication options for video and document sharing, information distribution, and social networking.
Following the meeting the T/E Board Talk about the Graduation Competency Assessments (GCAs) was posted online at www.tesd.net. Additionally, I loaded a copy of the video online at http://www.schooltube.com/ and obtained a free one-year license of School Tube’s MVP service. The goal of online video sharing is to make Board Talk more accessible to taxpayers in Tredyffrin-Easttown.
One unexpected benefit is that the Board Talk video prepared by Tredyffrin Easttown is now accessible to other districts throughout the state. Our School District opposes the proposed GCA regulation, and our Board Talk video has helped us build support throughout the state for our stance against this unfunded mandate. For more information about the GCAs, please visit the website I created: http://teschools.wordpress.com/.
At February’s meeting, we also discussed the growing importance of social networking sites such as MySpace as a way of communicating with students and taxpayers in the district. Following the meeting, the School District claimed the names of our area schools in MySpace and put a discussion of social networking on the agenda for the March Public Information meeting. (Note: Registering the school names did not cost any taxpayer money.)
Following up on the requests of former board member Sandi Gorman and other community members, the Public Information Committee also asked that the administration begin posting agenda materials for regular school board meetings along with the agenda on the District web site. We also will continue to evaluate other methods of sharing materials with the public. Towards the end of the month, I stopped by Conestoga High School’s TV studio to film two segments for the March Board Talk. One segment was about the implementation of the Olweus Anti-Bullying Program at the Middle Schools. For the second segment, I was interviewed by a Conestoga student.
- PA Costing Out Study:
If you missed the February School Board meeting, please take the time to read through the presentation about the PA Costing Out Study at http://tesd.net/schoolbd/presentations/08feb25costing.pdf.
The PA Costing Out Study determined that public education in Pennsylvania is underfunded by approximately $4.6 Billion. The PA Costing Out Study notes that state and local taxes in PA are comparable to national averages but 6-12 percent below those collected in 6 nearby states. Therefore, according to the study, if additional funds are needed, they should be collected at the state level and allocated by the state according to a formula set by the state. Yet the study does not examine the impact of unfunded state mandates on local school districts.
Translation: Your taxes will go up. The state won’t do anything to reduce the impact of unfunded state mandates on your local schools. And don’t expect to see increased state funding for your local schools if you live in Tredyffrin Easttown, which will only get the minimum increase required by law. If you worry about tax increases, this line should concern you. Please take the time to let our state legislators know that we don’t want to see PA taxes rise to a New Jersey-like level.
- Chester County Intermediate Unit Budget:
You should also check out the CCIU’s Budget at http://tesd.net/schoolbd/presentations/08feb25cciubudgets.pdf.
Unlike the School District, the CCIU’s budget is not capped under Act 1. Factors such as declining enrollment pose a threat to the CCIU’s budget. The CCIU will be working to reverse this trend, but we will face tax increases in the future if they cannot.
On page 9 of the presentation, you’ll find information about the CCIU’s Green Initiatives. T/E may be able to learn from the CCIU’s experience and leadership in this area. Expect to hear more in the coming months about green initiatives and related cost-savings.
On page 10 of the presentation, you can read about the $4,365,611 grant the CCIU received from the state to establish a statewide education network to enable every school district and IU in the state to share resources, collaborate on projects and reduce costs through the aggregation of digital content and broadband services.
- Strategic Plan:
In February, I had a chance to review the latest copy of the School District’s Strategic Plan. I’m impressed by what I’ve read so far and by the extensive amount of community involvement in the plan. The Strategic Planning Process began in December 2006 with a “Vision of the Future” brainstorming session. Starting in February 2007, focus groups met to discuss the questions raised by the brainstorming sessions. Before my election to the board, I was a part of one of the focus groups. We discussed the current state of education and the skills we felt were necessary for students to succeed in the future job market.
Next, a committee of 33 members (including community members) met at a three-day retreat in May 2007 to develop a new mission statement for the district and several strategies. In July 2007, a professional scenario planner helped the committee develop four future scenarios for the School District based on identified uncertainties. The four scenarios were the subject of another round of focus groups. I also participated in those focus groups. My group discussed the potential impact of government mandates as well as distance/cyber learning on the district.
The next step was action planning. A team of over 185 community members, School Board members, administrators, teachers and students were involved in the process. They completed a comprehensive study which was shared with the Strategic Planning Committee and School Board in February 2008. The Strategic Plan will be submitted to the School Board for approval in June 2008.
Many aspects of the plan involve new technology and the role of technology. I am the School Board liaison to the Technology committee, and I’m looking forward to contributing in that area and others as the district works to implement the plan.
- After School Activity Support:
As I mentioned in my January update, the Finance Committee is evaluating how to provide after-school support for students participating in middle school sports and activities. At the February Finance Committee meeting, we spoke with administrators from the two middle schools about how to provide this support. Several potential solutions were proposed, and these will be discussed at the March Finance meeting. As I stated in my January update, I feel strongly about the need to provide this support and will continue to look for a solution that works.
- School Events:
I had the opportunity to see Conestoga’s spring musical Footloose. There were over 80 students in the musical, and the dance numbers looked pretty complicated. I was extremely impressed by all the hard work that went into the production and by the vocal talent of the performers. Kudos to TEMPO, the Tredyffrin Easttown Music Parents Organization for all their hard work on the musical and for staffing the refreshment stands during the show.
- Tax Relief:
In February, the Finance Committee discussed a proposed tax relief program for low-income seniors. (You can read about the meeting in the Main Line Life.) On 2/28/08 The Suburban had an editorial "Finding Fulfillment in February." This listed the Laurels and Lemons for the month. One of the lemons was:
"Boo-hiss to the T/E School Board's Finance Committee for pushing back the proposed tax relief program for low-income seniors. It's nice to suggest that all taxpayers need relief, but on the mostly wealthy Main Line there are certainly some who need it more than others. Most Main Liners have no idea what it would be like to be elderly and unable to afford the prescription drugs that keep everything working properly; for many extremely well-off residents, the biggest financial decision they need to make is whether to buy a second home at the Shore. Yes, there are young, low-income families, too, that need relief, but under state law only seniors can get rebates- so why don't we at least start by doing what we can instead of talking about what we can't? Let's get our priorities straight T/E, and start giving back to those who really need it."
Tom Colman, a taxpayer who attended the February Finance Committee meeting (as well as nearly every school board meeting), responded the following week with a letter to the editor:
A better path to school tax relief
Your Feb. 28 "Laurels and Lemons" column gave a "boo-hiss to the T/E School Board's Finance Committee for pushing back the proposed tax program for low-income seniors." I'd like to applaud the Finance Committee rather than admonish them. The Finance Committee is taking their time because they want to consider taxpayer input, and they want to "get it right."
When it comes to tax relief, you say, "under state law only seniors can get rebates." It is unclear to me where you got that notion. The only legal questions that seem unsettled are whether school districts can legally offer rebates to a selected group of taxpayers (e.g., low-income seniors) under the "uniformity clause" of the state Constitution. There is currently a bill in the state legislature that will attempt to assure that such selective rebates are legal, but its passage is by no means certain. On the other hand, the T/E School District is free to offer tax rebates to ALL homeowners tomorrow.
But, why not tax relief for ALL homeowners? School districts collect taxes in order to fund educational programs, not to redistribute money to other people. School directors are elected to direct schools. What qualifies a school director to decide who in the community is more worthy of help: a fixed-income senior, a poverty-line renter, a newlywed, a recently unemployed couple facing mortgage foreclosure?
At the recent public hearing on property-tax rebates, I offered a plan that would provide rebates to ALL taxpayers. The proposal would use budget surpluses to fund annual tax relief for ALL homeowners and would add up to $1 million to the district's reserves annually. In addition, low-income seniors would get another $400-$800 per year of property-tax relief. I have also urged the school district to establish a voluntary "check-off" on property-tax bills, whereby taxpayers could make voluntary donations to a newly established tax-relief foundation. And those funds could be used for tax relief for both homeowners and renters.
But why even get to tax rebates? Why not just tax less? It's simpler, cheaper and eminently more fair to just let people keep their own money, rather than collect it, bank it, spend months haggling about who should get some back, decide how much, review applications, determine eligibility and send out rebate checks.
Just tax less. For starters, the district could reduce its budget by more than $1 million by implementing a payroll-budgeting policy that more accurately reflects vacancies throughout the school year. This budget-policy change would affect the budget numbers and the amount of taxation — it would not in any way change the number of employees, their pay, benefits, etc.
The school district has just begun its budget planning for 2008-2009. The proposed budget will be nearly $100 million. A small cadre of citizens will be at the school district's budget workshops and board meetings, urging the school board to be fiscally prudent while continuing its excellent educational programs. Please join the meetings and provide your input.
T/E has a truly outstanding school system, with top-notch board members, staff, teachers and support personnel — and a community that values and supports excellent schools. "Laurels" to all of them.
Thomas E. Colman
Mr. Colman’s letter to the editor is an excellent summary of the issue. Let me be very clear: I support tax relief for low-income seniors. In fact, I support tax relief for everyone. I attended the November listening post meeting Mr. Colman wrote about in his letter, and I listened to what the taxpayers had to say. Overwhelmingly, the taxpayers asked for tax relief for all and opposed any tax shift that would raise the tax burden on one group in order to give a tax rebate to another group. I’ve received numerous emails from taxpayers saying the same thing.
I strongly believe that school taxes should go to schools and educational purposes. The proposed “Low Income Senior Tax Relief” plan would raise taxes on everyone for a non-educational cause.
In my opinion, if you care about low-income taxpayers, you would vote against this plan. Here’s why: In order to pay for the proposed rebate, the School District would need to increase everyone’s taxes regardless of income. Furthermore, tax hikes cause landlords to raise the rent, and renters are among our most vulnerable residents. The proposed plan would directly hurt many of the families (both renters and homeowners) I’ve met in the district—especially low-income families who are scrapping and saving in order to afford a residence in this top-rated school district.
I agree that many “low-income seniors” need our help. Rather than violating the Uniformity Clause of the PA Constitution or using our school tax dollars for a non-educational purpose, I believe we should endeavor to meet this need using private dollars rather than compelling the taxpayers to support my own personal charitable inclinations.
I volunteer many hours of my time with local charities, and I have been repeatedly impressed by the generosity of T/E residents. I truly believe T/E residents that can afford to do so will support the proposed foundation to assist needy seniors. But, if taxpayers wouldn't voluntarily support tax assistance to low income seniors, I don’t believe that I, as a School Director, have the right to force them to do so.
At the February Finance meeting, I proposed that the district’s $7.5 million surplus be used to provide a rebate to all district taxpayers. This would provide equitable tax relief to everyone in the district. I also proposed additional relief for low-income seniors through the establishment of a foundation that would be funded by voluntary contributions from taxpayers.
Two other ways to provide tax relief are to (1) calculate more accurate budgets and (2) avoid taxing more than is necessary, as proposed in Mr. Colman’s letter. I will continue to take taxpayer feedback and to share it at Finance Committee meetings.
- Contact Debbie Bookstaber:
Want to share an idea? You can contact me by email at email@example.com.
- Next Update:
Check back in early April for my next School Board update and pictures of Baby Bookstaber who is expected to make his arrival at the end of March.