Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Counting down to June 16th

Shame on you! You missed a very important meeting last night. Attendance was certainly not what it should have been, and that makes a world of difference. More on that later. In the meantime, here is a recap of what happened:

2009/2010 Budget
After finding more savings in insurance and reducing copying service costs, Joe Paradise unveiled a modified Proposed Final Budget which highlighted an average $133 property tax increase – that’s a $13 drop from the $146 figure posted in the May 12th version. With gaming revenues slated to give qualified property owners a $211 rebate, this represents a net decrease of $78 off the upcoming tax bill (for the average residential assessment of $27,080).

Foreign Language, Participation Fees
Good news for 8th grade foreign language students – it’s back! Not so good news for students in extracurricular activities – the concept of participation fees is also still in the budget. Dr. Muenker stated last night that a more reasonable alternative may be to assess a one time, annual per-student fee of $75 for high school students and $40 for middle school students regardless of how many activities the students participate in. This would only generate about $100k, and more funding is needed to hit the $250k revenue target.

Other Cost Reduction Ideas
Despite reduced spending, there is still tremendous pressure by some members of the board and public to drive the budget down even further so there is no tax increase next year. To that end, Dr. Muenker and Mr. Paradise presented a list of other potential budget reductions to the Board for discussion. It is important to note that Dr. Muenker does not endorse these reductions as he believes they may be detrimental to the educational experience of Neshaminy students. The other possible reductions are:
* Eliminate the Middle School Instructional Opportunity Period
* Eliminate Middle School Sports, extracurricular activities
* Eliminate the Senior Citizens Tax Assistance Program Enhancement
* Close both remaining middle school pools - 2 support staff
* Eliminate K-5 Reading Program new textbooks
* Eliminate Capital Reserve Fund contribution
* Raise Aquatic Fees by about 75%
* Eliminate Elementary Guidance Counselors
* Eliminate Reading Specialists
* Eliminate Elementary Librarians
* Close Alternative School & contract out

Federal Stimulus for Education
Your state legislators in Harrisburg are still trying to balance their budget by grabbing the Federal stimulus money earmarked for education. If Senate Bill (SB)850 is successful, Neshaminy stands to lose upwards of $1.5 million next year, and YOU get to pay for it.

School Lunches
The request to increase school lunches by 20 cents next year has been lowered to a 15 cent hike request.

Mandating PSSA Proficiency
It was reported that the Board Policies committee did not move forward with a recommendation to make PSSA proficiency a graduation requirement. At issue was the ability to effectively schedule remediation classes for students in need, which is an integral part of the safety net aspect of this proposed policy. Simply stated, there isn’t sufficient space at the high school to schedule the students who may need remediation. No safety net, no change in policy – for now. The matter has been kicked back to the Education Development Committee for further review.

Ad Hoc School Closure Committee
With student enrollment still on the decline, there may be an opportunity to close an elementary building without overcrowding classes. Closing an elementary building is a very complicated process and it’s something we would need to start researching now if we want to consider a closure for the 2010/2011 school year. I requested that an Ad Hoc committee of the Board be formed immediately so that we can begin the research and evaluation process now rather than waiting till later this year.

A few thoughts about last night . . .
If you put one foot in ice cold water, and then put your other foot in steaming hot water, on the average you should be comfortable, right? Of course it doesn’t work that way, and that’s how I feel about this budget. Some people are telling us we’re not doing enough to cut the budget while others are saying we’re hurting our children’s education. There is no such thing as a happy medium when it comes to education and property taxes.

Our budget has been reduced further even though we have put 8th grade foreign language back in. Mssrs. Muenker and Paradise have done a great job of sharpening their pencils on this one. We still have to tackle participation fees which I sense is a split issue amongst the board. Some believe it’s a good idea, others do not. I’m not sure where this one will land.

Regarding the other cost reduction ideas, I want to re-emphasize that they do not have the support of our superintendent or business manager at this time. Their task going into this budget cycle was to get the budget within the Act 1 limit of a 4.1% increase (without using state-approved exceptions) while maintaining a quality education program. As it stands now we’re looking at a 3.3% hike, among the lowest in Bucks County districts, without any major program cuts. I’m not speaking for either gentleman, but my gut is that they are hesitant to entertain any further reductions until we can assess the impact of the ones already proposed. Can’t say I blame them.

School closures are never a popular topic. No matter which building you’re considering and no matter where it is located, it is a “neighborhood” school in the eyes of its students, faculty and parents. But if our buildings are still underutilized, we must be open to the idea if we are going to run this district more efficiently. I firmly believe that the board must begin this process now so that we have sufficient time to carefully review enrollment trends, class sizes, impact studies, etc. to determine if a building closure is warranted.

Ok, now the “shame on you” part. Where were you? Although there were about 75 people in the audience last night, most were teachers, support staff, administration, etc. Only about 15 people were simply residents, and I’d guess that 10 of them wanted to see us cut the budget further while the other 5 were concerned about our educational programs. Last night was your last chance prior to the final budget vote to tell your school board representatives face-to-face what is important to you. We even moved the meeting to the auditorium in anticipation of throngs of concerned citizens showing up to plead with the board for one thing or another, yet citizen turnout was very light. Do any of the issues mentioned above concern you in any way? They should. And on June 16th, we will vote on them.

Sending emails is nice. Posting comments to blogs is fine. Watching the recorded meetings on TV is great. But none of these equals the impact of you actually sitting out in the audience. Being at the meetings is how you make your voices heard (even if you don’t actually speak). It’s how you let the board members see the faces of all the different kinds of people they represent. It’s how you can show support for the board members who share your values.

You’ve got one more crack at this; Tuesday, June 16th at 7pm. That is the date of our last scheduled board meeting for this school year and that is when we vote for the final budget. If anything I have discussed in this post is important to you in any way, then you must find a way to get to that meeting. Bring family, bring friends, bring neighbors. If you don’t come, don’t complain.

You can read the Courier's coverage of last night's meeting by clicking here.


JS said...

As I have stated before, not all of us can make it to meetings. Something I hope I can change in the future, but as for now it's not possible.

With that being said, I would really love to see someone (Particularly seniors) stand up and say "An extra $7 in taxes is too much, please make students pay for their activities". That's how much it would cost each household to cover the $250,000 needed for the "pay to play" gap.

If I were at a meeting I would turn away from the board members and look at those in the audience. I would look them in the eyes and ask them if $7 dollars is worth it so that every child of every family (especially those just scraping buy) had the same opportunity for activities that they and their children most likely had. I doubt I would have very many keep eye contact (at least those who shout for "no tax increase" every chance they get)

As I said, my schedule (and even more so on the 16th) prevents me from being there, so my comments get to go through you Mr. O'Connor (as well as Dr. Spitz). I urge you to put it that way to those in attendance next week (if you even feel that way). $7 dollars. Less than 2 cents a day.

As for the other cost cutting messures, I agree that they are far more detrimental to the education of students (particularly in reading areas).

I find it funny that we want to close the pools yet charge more for aquatics (A fact I was told Dr. Spitz did speak up about). If the pools were closed then that would eliminate swimming, so the amount needed to be covered by "pay to play" would be lower, thus lowering the $7.

First thought on Alt Ed is that if we are going to outsource, shouldn't we decide that before our facilities staff rennovates the areas of the High School that will house them? Or will we as usual waste the money rennovating and then have no choice but keep the program because we didn't act prudently?

I understand why the support staff were in attendance last night. They are seeing great cuts in their numbers (as well as some in teachers), with little to no cutting at the top. Their bosses tell them they can't keep everyone, but receive raises themselves. The "administration" position that the board talks about having been left unfilled, has been shifted around so that the savings equates to that of an additional Secretary (that was told to me by the person moved up out of the "extra" secretarial position. Funny how an extra $100,000 a year job, netted the district a savings of a $30,000 a year job. But that's how this district operates, whether the Board knows it or not.

KClarinet said...

I'm glad my kids (Neshaminy grads) are through school and out working and, so far, successful. I only hope the kids who come out of the mess these cuts will create do as well.

srodos said...

Sometime within the next two weeks the School Board members will have to decide if they are the Board of Education or the Board of Lower Taxes at the expense of Education. When you start to cut reading specialists,counsellors and librarians out of the elementary schools you have to wonder about your priorities. If some of the Board members were disappointed with last year's test scores what will they say when the results of these cuts kick in? It appears to me the Board has sold out to the interests of less tax no matter the cuts.
In the spirit solely of saving money and enjoying a good laugh, I propose that we cut all high school sports and extracurricular functions. Since we will no longer have these in the middle schools it would make no sense to start them in the high school. If there are no sports or extracurricular activities then you have no need for cheerleaders or the Marching Band,Color Guard, etc.or anything else after school. As for swimming, part of the year they can use Core Creek Park. These alone would save millions, of course no student would be interested in attending and thus by eliminating busing another 9 million could be saved.
I think that the School Board should return to the
idea that the education of the students is their primary concern and to stop trying to top one another with ridiculous ways to cut educational programs.

123 Magic said...

I was just wondering why the students in the Neshaminy School District don't attend the Elementary and/or Middle School that is nearest to where they live? Wouldn't it save us money if they did? I know some kids are bused right past Elementary schools to attend one that is further away. I know people that live 5 minutes from Sandburg, but they go to Maple Point? Why is that?

acs said...

Frankly, and no offense intended Mr. O'Conner, but it really seems like the board is generally confused on how to approach this budget. Especially given no resolution to the NFT negotiations.

It must restructure the teachers contract that is a requirement and it is also true that they must cut. For anyone to say the Neshaminy board is the board of lower taxes has not been paying attention for the past 25 years. It has been anything but that.

That being said there seems not to be a consistent strategy that would guide the board and the Super in doing prudent management of the budget process.

A School Board is not just missioned with Education Quality it is missioned with structuring the most efficient and affordable education system for a particular district-no 2 are identical. That means balance of cost and quality. By the way quality is in the eye of the beholder in many cases. This is why all districts do not have all the same programs. This board over the years has not been prudent and focused only on spending more money, it has caught up with us due to these difficult economic conditions as Mr. P says so now we are in a very tough spot with very tough even gut wrenching decisions to be made.

Your hot water fridgid water analogy is good. I just think the distict has tilted so far to overspending over the years there is much more wieght now on the cutting side. This board and Super are stepping up and trying to correct past sins. That is not easy especially for a district that has never made hard choices.

Bill, I do not envy you and the other members. This is probably the roughest time in this boards history including the strike year. Keep up the good work it is hard to be on the firing line.

sportsfan said...

I read your blog and could not believe that cutting out middle school sports is being considered.

I think in some ways sports in schools is more important than the school work. It teaches the kids endless life lessons about winning, losing, building relationships with teammates, dealing with different coaches and building discipline with hard work.
Most kids look forward to their sports and actually can't wait to go to school.

In addition, most school problems (grades, PSSA test scores, discipline) are home related and coaches provide a much needed support system to the student which in some cases is not present in the home.

Middle school sports also feed the high school sports program. One can not exist without the other.

You can not put a price on what the sports programs provide for the kids.

nostradamus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nostradamus said...

Here are my latest predictions:
* The board will reveal new initiatives to include:
A) Elimination of 8th grade foreigners
B) An 8% reduction to the alphabet by eliminating the letters R and S. This will confuse crowds at football games when cheerleaders scream "Go Edkin!"
C) High school students will not be granted bathroom privileges until they have demonstrated pssa proficiency

Residents of Trevose, out of concern that the Poquessing pool will be closed, will overwhelmingly elect AquaMan to the school board in November. In his first official act, AquaMan will build a pool at Tawanka and reopen the facility as a school for children with swimming disabilities.

Frustrated with the support staff contract situation, bus drivers in Neshaminy will strike on the first day of the next school year. In a related story, no vehicular accidents involving buses were reported on September 1st, 2009.

In 2014, the high school renovation project will still be on time, on budget.

Misunderstanding the teachers demand for "retro" pay, the district will roll back salaries to 1975 levels. A Courier Times editorial will hail the move as "a good start"

nostradamus said...

Bonus prediction:
North Penn, Morrisville and New Hope-Solebury will form a regional school district. As a testament to where public education is heading, it's new name will be No-Mor-Hope.

Gabriel said...

Welcome back Nostradamus!

Every year that I have witnessed budget development, at some point Mr. Paradise would say something to the board about holding back expenses or spend less savings. For the first time I can remember, on Tuesday night Paradise told the audience that the board is actually the first to budget prudently. So when Mr. Paradise tells people that he does not support any further cuts, I listen to him. I hope the board does too.

JS said...

With all of the teacher and support staff layoffs happening this week, may I ask how many administrators were let go?

Know this Mr. O'Connor, the Board has touted that an upper Administration position was left unfilled, supposedly saving the district money. Sadly though, that has not been the case. Yes the position was never filled, but all the subsequent positions below it in that department were bumped up, eventually the only "open" salarly position was that of a secretary. I know this because one of those who benefitted from their "raise" couldn't keep their mouth shut in public.

How is that saving the district money? Though a specific job title was never filled, the salary money from that title was divided up to other positions. So instead of $100,000+ salary savings, only $30,000 or so.

There have to be cuts, but come on now. There seem to be too many administrators (not just too many principals, but upper level as well) and positions being cut seem idiotic. A building the size of the High School (which is getting bigger as we speak) and you cut the only on-site IT position? So all the technology and computers going in to this building and you get rid of the person who is actually in the building to fix it? (I know your position on Technology Mr. O'Connor so don't think that this rant is against you)

I just feel there are some major issues out there that the Board in general need to step up on. I know that the Board can't micro-manage, but I think too much faith is being put in the personnel below them, with not enough oversite. Take the construction for example. I had the priveledge of speaking to a Neshaminy Facilities employee recently and he blatantly stated "if I did my job the way these contractors are, I'd be fired immediately. It's shoddy, incomplete, and in some cases dangerous." The reason that it's being done that way? So that "on time and on budget" can continued to be used by the District when talking about the project.

The so called "Renovated, like new" areas of the High School that amounted to essentially new paint and new tile in the hall ways. Doors and windows (some almost 30 years old) not replaced. Cracks in walls and out dated light fixtures not addressed.

The reason? We've been cutting items from the process left and right just to stay "on budget". (Which personally I believe is a joke and creative accounting has had to have happened to keep it "on budget") The finished project will be displayed as if that was the way it was supposed to have been. I challenge the Board to find out exactly how much they had to cut, and what the building would have been like for real.

If you want an eye opening experience, take a walk of the building with out an administrator or Reynolds rep. Take a look at the stains in the ceiling tiles, the full crack in the floor of the new Main Street, adjoining walls that don't line up, etc. If you don't just believe what they tell you and use your own eyes, you will see that there are alot of people being paid for subpar work on this construction job.

So after June 16th this budget will be passed (most likely). After that I urge you (and Dr. Spitz because he has always shown to have a nose for numbers) to delve deeper, and find out just how improper this construction job has gone. Then you'll have to ask yourself "how could the District representatives allow it to be done that way?" The answer? Because it had to be "on time and on budget".

News Flash said...

Did I hear correctly that you may be out of town on business and cannot be at the 6/16 meeting? That makes me a little nervous which way the budget vote will go. This just proves they should have supported your idea for remote participation.

William O'Connor said...

You heard correctly, NF. I will be away on business scheduled to return on Wednesday. I am actively trying to find someone at work who will cover for me so I can get back in time for Tuesday's meeting.