Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Final meeting, final budget

It was billed as the budget that had something for everyone to hate. While it may have lived up to its hype in some respects, this was budget surgery by scalpel rather than hatchet. Here’s the bottom line . . .

Act 1 budget limit (millage increase): 4.1%
Neshaminy budget increase: 2.29%
Average residential increase: $92

If you are eligible for a tax reduction through the State’s Gaming Relief funds, you will receive a credit of $211. This means that the average Neshaminy residential tax bill will decrease by $119 – quite an accomplishment considering there were no program cuts to education. Back in next year’s budget is 8th grade foreign language; gone are extracurricular participation fees and pool closures. And you can put aside fears about some of those other cuts like eliminating elementary school guidance counselors or librarians.

But the budget is not without its share of pain. Let’s not forget that dozens of district employees lost their jobs as a result of the 9th grade consolidation into the high school; midday kindergarten bus runs have been eliminated; and of course there is the dreaded tissue controversy. If you were present at Tuesday’s meeting you heard several citizens voice their displeasure over some aspect of the budget, once again proving there is no happy medium when it comes to education and taxes.

While we must continue our efforts towards responsible budgeting next year, we must also focus on improving our educational programs. PSSA results will soon be available and we’ll see if Neshaminy students continued the momentum from last year’s improvements. We have to keep an eye on the high school which will now house our 9th graders, hopefully with sufficient space. How well will the former Tawanka students adapt to classes now being held on NHS grounds?

Those are just a few of the things on our plate now, and I’m sure there will be many more challenges as the new school year comes around. But for now, that’s a wrap!

Anybody got a tissue?

30 comments:

Levittowner said...

Wanted to take a moment to thank the board. You made cuts while keeping intact the integrity of our children's educational experience. (and keeping our house values from falling even more!) Which is saying alot- given the constant pressure you all receive from the "zero tax increase" crowd.

acs said...

I have to say this is really good progress for the board. I know many want a zero increase but the good news this is likely to mean that those that really cannot afford our taxes will not have any actual increase in 2009. As importantly, at least for this cycle.(next year will be painful I am sure) they protected current programs. Now the board needs to hold tight on their postion with the Unions, lock the contracts in and then they can really be proud of their accomplishments for the district. Thanks for your hard work Bill.

Gabriel said...

The most significant development this year was the Board's ability to work together. The venom is gone. No longer are the Levittown and Langhorne reps at each others throats. Even the Lower South reps seem more engaged.

Not sure what caused the change, but the Board will continue to accomplish great things if this unified effort can continue.

One thing I don't like is the insulting, combative words of some speakers in public comment. One person in particular reminds me of the retired educator who used to dominate meetings with his negativity. He regards anyone who differs with his view as being ignorant or lacking courage. This is behavior we can do without.

Congratulations to you and the entire board, William, on a successful year.

Rebecca said...

Beyond the challenges you listed you still have contract negotiations, a possible building closure, and who knows what else. You won't be getting much of a breathed

Thank you for your work on the board and for keeping us informed through this web site. I don't think you realize how much people depend on you to keep them informed.

News Flash said...

I heard some rumors that you are thinking of running for house of reps. Don't know if they mean Harrisburg or Washington. Care to comment??

LivininLevittown said...

Hold on to your hats people. Even I am happy with the budget number. My increase will be less than $92 and I will get the rebate. So my taxes went down and the district is still giving good programs. Gabriel is right about the board not fighting like they use to. I don't know if its because we have a new superintendent or board president but things are definately better. The rumor better be false because I like you on the school board. I don't always agree with you but I trust you. I don't like to many politicians but in your case i'll make an exception.
I gave the board a grade of b in the survey. If there was a b+ I would have gave you that. Very good William!

Gabriel said...

Interesting. I have also read that rumor, I think, on the courier blogs months ago.

acs said...

I agree on the public commnent reference but I also think that it is a shame that you only get a few residents to speak when there is such a vast majority against the teachers contract demands.It really gives the union a false impression and doesn't give the board the support they need to stand firm. I don't always agree with the extreme statements made on both sides but I truly respect those that have "courage" to stand publically and say their piece. If the board caves to the Union this time all its great work will be for naught.

William O'Connor said...

I heard that same rumor several years ago but didn't know it resurfaced. No truth in it whatsoever.

sk.langhorne said...

You should watch the meeting on tv acs because something very interesting happened. At least two speakers demanded that the board get a contract done with the teachers to which the teachers in the back of the room stood up and cheered. Their applause quickly changed to silence both times when the speakers added paying for benefits was a reasonable compromise. Even the students in the audience applauded that. The teachers must see the handwriting on the wall when even the parents and students who support them say that paying for benefits is appropriate.
I also thought it was hypocritical for the union president to tell the board that they hadn't properly invited her back to the negotiation table. Apparently she won't accept the verbal offers given by the board president but wants it in writing instead. What stopped her from requesting that negotiations resume? The public wants this matter resolved and is holding both sides responsible, but so far only the board has shown any interest in resuming discussions (although they don't seem that interested either).

IrishFarm said...

The board and teachers have put themselves in a no win situation. Any settlement with the teachers will require the board to make some concession that the tax paying public will hate. The teachers union should have negotiated more willingly before this and have now painted themselves in a corner. They will never get what they wanted and will end up losing more.
Nostradamus predicted these negotiatiations would last through 2011. I think he is right.

I Must Be Living in Jersey said...

The budget was your financial success story of this year. What would you consider the board's best educational achievement for this year? Sorry to be cynical, but I cannot think of any.

William O'Connor said...

Jersey - My opinion is our top educational accomplishment came after the decision to relocate the Alt Ed program from Tawanka to the NHS campus. Bill Spitz, Susan Cummings and I (as part of the Education Development Committee) worked diligently with Tawanka staff to understand the needs of the program. With the help of principal Joann Holland and her staff, the three of us assisted in obtaining more and better space for the Alt Ed program with cooperation from District Facilities.

Tawanka was an ideal location for the program, and I'd like to think that the Ed Dev Committee gave the program a good chance at being just as successful up at NHS. To be fair, the real credit of this program's success isn't due to the space or Ed Dev - It is because of the talent and dedication of the Alt Ed staff.

nostradamus said...

Definition of irony -

* Louise Boyd won't return to the bargaining table until she receives a written invitation.

* Paper supplies have been cut from the budget. Can't send a written invitation with nothing to write on.

* President Webb will attempt to instead send an invitation via email until he is reminded that the board has banished use of any post-19th century technology.

* The board will give special permission for an email invitation but then the email servers will go down. When Webb calls the Neshaminy Help Desk for assistance, nobody will answer because the IT staff was laid off.

IF THE SCHOOL BOARD AND THE NFT CANNOT EVEN AGREE ON AN ACCEPTABLE MODE OF INVITATION, HOW THE HELL CAN THEY EVER NEGOTIATE THINGS LIKE SALARY AND BENEFITS?

acs said...

What I thought was interesting was the degree of applause by all the swimming students and parents in front when a cerain frequent board speaker and BCCT opinion writer repeated his attacks yet again on the teachers. That was telling to me. Boyd really didn't do her cause a lot of good by antagonizing the board and residents.

Angie said...

I do have a question, if they are doing away with mid-day bus runs for kindergarten, how are we to get our children to/from school in the middle of the day? If my inlaws are watching my children and my oldest is going to kindergarten, my mil can't drive her mid day. So I am supposed to leave my classroom (I am a teacher in NJ) to go take my daughter to school? I am confused on how this is going to work out.

acs said...

Angie, I would encourage you to look very closely at the budget cuts and why they were needed. Fundamentally the board has real challenges in balancing cost and need. I beleive this continues to be due to the extremely high labor costs we continue to absorb in the district. Because of that trade off going forward you will need to get used school closures, program cuts and decreased busing. I feel for you since you are at the very beginning of your NSD experience. Get involved and fight for your school district. Don't let the unions take quality education away from you and your children.

Angie said...

What I would like to know, is what is the state law for student transportation? I know NJ law but not PA. What are the duties of a school district for transportation of a kindergarten student? William can you answer that? Not sure if you would know that answer.
Thanks.

Jose said...

if the board put back in the budget everything that was painfully cut then we would be over the limit. i don't see how the board can settle the teachers contract. if they make any concessions they will have to give teachers some kind of raise and not make them pay all of the 17% for insurance that they want them to pay. if they do that our costs go up. and there is no incentive for the teachers to just give up all they have. it seems to me that neither side will benefit from a settlement so this will go on for years.

William O'Connor said...

Angie, There is no requirement that school districts provide any transportation for anyone, K thru 12. The only catch is that IF it is provided, then it must also be provided under the same terms for private school kids whose schools are within 10 miles of District boundaries.

William O'Connor said...

Note to Teacher - Thank you for your comments but I cannot publish them as they are based on hearsay. Since I am not familiar with your identity, I cannot assume that you truly speak on behalf of a group of people.

Teacher said...

-Thank you for clarifying the rules for posting on your site. I will try it again a different way.

-I am a Neshaminy teacher who feels that we should compromise on pay and insurance benefits, and it is my opinion that there are many other teachers out there who agree with me. Speaking only for myself, I do not believe I can freely express my opinion with our leadership. I am loyal to our NFT leaders but this is a point where I disagree with them. As I said above I think there are others who believe as I do but are afraid to speak for fear of being ostracized.

-I know there are many teachers who read this blog including our leaders. I am urging them to take a non-binding secret ballot of our membership to see how we feel about the board's offer. I suspect that a good number, maybe even a majority, will tell them we are ready to negotiate concessions.

-I do not want to strike and I do not want to work to contract next year. I want to teach. I want to give the children everything they need from us. As much as anything else I want the teacher bashing to stop. I am proud of who I am and what I do, and I was much happier when parents felt that way about us. The lack of fruitful contract negotiations has not helped anyone and it is time to come to an end.

-I thank you Mr. O'Connor and the other reasonable voices on the board who care about the children's education. With any luck there will be some changes to the school board after the election that will make the board more approachable. If both sides really commit to dialogue then we can get this done.

sk.langhorne said...

Even if there are other teachers like you it won't be enough to change your union's mind. Both sides have dug in their heels and won't budge but the public sympathy is more with the school board. Your union made a costly mistake by not including paying for benefits it its counter to the board. It showed the community that teachers as a group are not willing to negotiate. Most people wouldn't have expected the union to accept the first board offer, but at least the teachers counter offer should have been more realistic.
The board asked for alot but also offered a 3% raise. The union offered nothing in return but demanded a 6% raise. You are not going to win fans in the community with that approach.
Good luck to you.

Casey said...

Question for you sir - is the union allowed to request a negotiation session or is that the lone power of the board? I heard the union president at the last meeting say to the board that if they reallly wanted to meet with her that her contact information had not changed. Sounds like she is waiting for a written invitation from the board. Is a written invitation necessary? Can only the board do the inviting? Sounds to me like someone is stalling, I just can't figure out which side.

William O'Connor said...

Casey, either side can request a meeting. On a couple of occasions Board Prez Webb has extended a verbal request, but as you noted it appears that the NFT will only respond to a written request. But nothing is preventing them from requesting a meeting.

srodos said...

The union contract will only be resolved when those teachers at the top of the pay scale decide to reach into their pockets and pay whatever percentage of the health care premium that is necessary to resolve the impasse. In my opinion those teachers on schedules 1-10 of the pay scale would currently pay a percentage of health care premiums because they will continue to get a raise until they reach the maximum.
The school board would be making a huge mistake to cave in on this issue just to obtain a contract.
In 4-5 years when those on the frozen pay scale overrule the union officers or vote them out of office the contract will get settled.
Until that time it might be cheaper for the taxpayers to press the board to drive a hard bargain with BC/BS than to give a 3% raise on a much larger figure (salaries).
Besides working to the contract can go both ways.

acs said...

Teacher, Bravo. I have heard this privately from many quarters. Many many younger teachers are quite embarrassed by the Union leaders in their individual communities. Many have said they have lost friends over this. Life is about taking stands for your moral convictions. If you believe the union's position of literally gouging the community over and over when no one else gets this extravagant a contract than support it. If not then you and other members should stand up and support the community. You should know that 99% of taxpayers do not support Louise and the union and obviously she is misguided to think she has real member support for HER absurd postions. So a strike will not be good for the teachers. Good luck to you and thanks for your courage to speak up here even if it is anonymous.

Teacher said...

-The board can help the situation by not making sarcastic comments in public. When people like Frank Koziol call Neshaminy "The Good Ship Lollipop" it's an insult that only pushes us further apart.

-The board should look into the rumors that administration and some support staff have been given lucrative raises since Dr. Muenker was promoted. It doesn't set a good example for a select few people to be receiving generous bumps in pay while others are being asked to give back. I am willing to make concessions to benefit taxpayers but not to subsidize raises for a privileged few.

-If you agree these are reasonable requests then please encourage the board to act accordingly. I know Mr. O'Connor is reading this and trust he will do the right thing.

srodos said...

If anyone in the school district received a raise it was with the approval of the school board.

JS said...

Mr. O'Connor I believe that the raise issue our mysterious teacher refers to should be looked into.

I know you don't like hear-say or rumors, but I will say I have overheard one of the individuals that benefited openly blab (I'm sure against all instructions by their boss) about the "raise". They never asked for the "raise" so I'm not going to call them out here by naming them.

Here is the situation as I understand it. At some point there was an upper level Administrator position (not a principal) open after either someone's retirement or Dr. Muenker's promotion to Superintendent (or both). The board touted that we were saving money by leaving a position open and not filling it.

Well here is the problem. Though that position title was never filled, every position below was pushed up the pay scale. All the way to the bottom until the open pay amount equated to a secretary. So no one got promoted, but got a pretty big bump in pay.

As I said I know you don't like rumor, but this one came out of the mouth of one of those apparently making the extra money.