Debbie Bookstaber's School Board Update: March 2008

You can read the March committee summaries at and the March meeting minutes at and, but here are a few highlights from my own perspective.
  • Budget:

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

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, 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

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 or by emailing me at

  • 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.