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:
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.
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.