Monday, March 29, 2010

Downward spiral

Here is a letter appearing in today's Courier Times . . .

How many more things can the Neshaminy School District take away from our children? They want to eliminate the music and arts programs, librarians, family consumer science, swimming, after school activities, just to name a few. Oh, and don't forget that we will no longer need guidance counselors and reading specialists.

I thought this district was wonderful; I'm sorry to see it heading in this downward spiral.

Suzette Liptrot, Middletown

I get it, Suzette. Nobody, especially School Board members, wants to cut student programs. But saying you don't want cuts without addressing our legal obligation to the deficit is unrealistic. I would truly appreciate you, and all Neshaminy residents who don't want to see student programs impacted, providing us with some guidance. Don't just write letters or show up at a meeting and say don't cut programs - tell us what should be sacrificed so that these programs can be spared. Do you want us to outsource support functions? Do you want us to cut classroom aids? Should students have to pay for their extracurricular activities?

You can read Ms. Liptrot's letter in its entirety by clicking here.
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38 comments:

SuzetteLiptrot said...

The budget cuts should be spread equally throughout all areas of the district including sports programs, administration, transportation, facilities and other areas. For the nearly 50 years that my husband, a graduate of Neshaminy schools and a former Neshaminy athlete, has lived in this district the first programs that are always mentioned for cut backs are the fine arts. These programs are just as important to the students as any other and produce as many, if not more, talented youth in the areas of art and music as any other program. While I am not suggesting that no cuts be made to the fine arts program, I do believe that the cuts should be proportional across the entire budget.

KClarinet said...

Well, I know in advance what reaction I'll get from most of the people who post here (so I'd prefer that unless you can answer my questions directly you save the energy it will take to tell me taxes are already too high and teachers and support workers are to blame because they've gouged the district for 20 years), but there is that asterisk in the side bar about the 2010-11 Preliminary Budget on the home page of this blog that says "assuming no exemptions are used."

I've asked a number of times here what the impact in actual dollars would be (apart from increased hardship on taxpayers) of a tax increase sufficient to continue funding all programs as they are. I've never gotten a pure, numeric response.

The average tax impact of a 2.9% tax increase is given as $121.55 per year - $10.13 per month for the average taxpayer. What would the increase be using the exemptions allowed by state law?

In other words, if outsourcing is adopted and its projected savings realized (as it seems clear the board right now seems inclined to do) and allowable exemptions were used, what would the average impact on taxes be?

William O'Connor said...

The following comment submitted by ACS was edited for content.

I am sure Suzette has never darkened the doorway of a School Board meeting. You continue to try and educate the masses so keep it up. Everyone insists on no cuts like they do not believe there is a problem. You, like Mr. Webb has in writing and in the last meeting, need to focus the residents like Suzette on the real problem, high priced union labor costs so they understand that our problem is caused by the excessive contracts we need to get on par with other district as Dr. Spitz always said.
Keep up the work trying to help people understand that if we do not address the expense side we will have to cut education. The unions have told the board they are not interested in that and in helping the Administration cut appropriately. Just like your overdrawn checkbook Suzette, $7.6M deficits do not fix themselves....come up with some real ideas then write a letter or speak at a meeting.

William O'Connor said...

That's a reasonable approach Suzette, although my goal is not to eliminate any vital student programs. And as a former NHS Vocal Music Booster President, I can assure you that the Arts won't be singled out . . . well, at least not without a fight.

Neo Con said...

ACS try to expand the scope of your blinders. While outsourcing will reduce a great deal of overhead, understand that it is not a majic bullit that will cure all. I applaud your ferver but do not think that all will be well. Many things must change as well and outsourcing is merely a bandage on the brain hemmorage that this district is suffering from.

William O'Connor said...

KClarinet, quick estimate ... $270 for the "average" household.

acs said...

Neo Con, I agree and disagree. Outsourcing is the absolute right thing to do and should have been done years ago however boards had no guts or brains. There is no reason for NSD to be in the business of busing or custodial services...no matter how many shoes are tied. Now we have a board that has both brains and guts.
Outsourcing solves a lot of financial problems in short term and long term in this district. So is a lot more than a Band-Aid.
To extend your metaphor it is brain surgery to stem off the bleeders in the hemmorage and stabilize the patient.
The patient still has to adhere to a new diet and preventative meds. So I agree you are correct if the NFT contract is not filled with concessions, NSD will still have a deficit next year and the year after due to teachers healthcare cost and the fact that Act 1 will be even lower than 2.9% next year due to low inflation. Some think it will be <2%. There will however come a point, and it is not that far away when with no retroactivity of pay or steps, it becomes cheaper for the district to run without an NFT contract.
I have said this here many times before, we could run 5 more years w/o an NFT settlement and NSD teachers would still be in the top 10 compensated teachers in PA. That tells you something.

srodos said...

Neocon:
Does the following equation cure a brain hemorrhage or make it worse?
Savings from Outsource transportation= 2/3 current deficit

Mark said...

I would like to see more action on the outsourcing or out-tasking of the non critical services. I have been involved with this work with large enterprise customers and if structured correctly they can be beneficial not just to the bottom line but also to help improve services. I would suggest a workshop that would help categorize what truly impacts student performance and education versus what does not. These decisions are critical to make early so that options can be discussed around alternatives and cost reduction. Program performance matrix should be in place to see if they are affective? If not then they should be cut or reduced. Non-critical services (defined as not related to student education or development) should be looked at with the intent to either reduce cost or source (If there is a cost justification). My only concern around this is that we are not moving fast enough or with the necessary urgency.

Levittowner said...

I don't think many people are insisting on absolutely no cuts . What I see is an advocating for programs that are important to their children. And why not? Just because they haven't been able to attend a school board meeting doesn't mean they can't let the school board know what programs are important to their children and family. Isn't that what the school board is asking?

I can admit that I personally want to keep a few items: middle school sports...IOP (gifted programs occur during those times)and instrumental lessons to name a few. I don't care as much about other progrmas as they don't impact my children as much. However, I know we can't have all the programs and I don't personally want to defend what I think should stay or be cut. My personal opinion is the public should not make the cut decisons anyways. Then the decision process risks becoming a "who screams the loudest" to keep a program decision. The board is becoming educated on ramifications and I truly believe they are going to make an educated decision.

What I do hope is that soon we will see a revised cut list to see what is still in the running if we outsource. Kindergarten for sure needs to come of that list to make the public believe those programs cuts can happen.

Ann said...

I cannot imagine the music, sports and the rest of the curricular activities gone. These activities help kids build their identity, confidence and help keep their grades in check. Can you imagine what the neighborhoods would be like if kids had no after school activities? The tax payers would be really complaining then--kids need to be kept busy why parents are working and keep them safe. Drugs would become the next problem! I am sure there are other areas that could be cut--we do not need any more tools materials for the classrooms every class has enough computers and flat screen monitors/tv. Think long and hard because you may regret what you decide.

I Must Be Living in Jersey said...

Ann, on a different thread I stated my belief that Mr. O and Mr. Webb are trying to get this community to understand what has to happen to balance this budget. Either we outsource nespa jobs or we cut programs left and right. Even if the board does outsource there will still be a small deficit and some programs may be effected. But to quote Webb from last year they will cut with a scalpel instead of a hatchet.
If you want to protect these programs then you need to support the board if and when they decide to outsource nespa jobs. The union blew it for their people and underestimated the board's spine to make a decision like this. Now it's our turn to stand behind this board.

acs said...

The irony of this discussion is that we will outsource this year and avoid cutting into the bone of education as we should. However next year we will have a deficit and this list will be back staring us in the face.
Maybe this board needs to really go further this year to cover the next year or two of the excessive cost of the teachers contract. If teachers had any concern for educational rpograms they would voluntarily open the contract so the distrcit could change to a more affordable HC plan vs the cadilac they have now. William how about that for thinking outside the box?
Nahhh the NFT is greedy to the end. Damn the students and double damn the taxpayers and the heck with support staff outsource them....who needs them....

C said...

William why is the board and the blogging public so fixicated on grounds, food services,busing and custodial services. Local private and parochial schools do not have carpenters heating,plumbing,and electrical staff either they use service contracts for their buildings the cost savings would be huge,no need for vans, trucks ,equiptment etc. Thats why I asked the question about F&E outsourcing the other day and no one wants to talk about it,this is big money like transportation.

C said...

acs, your NFT double damn statement is the first statement I've read from you that I 100% agree with!

I Must Be Living in Jersey said...

Who or what is F&E? Is there another nespa group I don't know about?

RVN6869 said...

I'm going to jump into the water and get wet here : ) First post. I have been making a few meetings and heard many heart felt comments.

We all have to realize, the position that the school district is in, didn't happen over night. It has taken many years. We are at a crossroad. Do we continue down the same path, or, do we, as a community realize that we can't continue to do business the same way as in the past.

From a outsider's view, and I do live here in the district. We will be here next year and the years after talking about the same issues until we make changes. Lets be blunt. Unless the Teachers Medical and Pension Plans are changed to what many in the community have. This district will continue to lose finacially.

Now, before someone states that I am picking on the Teachers, I am not. There pensions and medical packages were agreed on in the past. But, there can be something done to change the way, new hire teachers can plan for their retirement. The teachers that have their existing plans can be grandfathered in. But all this may take several more years and a bunch of legal stuff I know nothing about.

The yearly Budget. Isn't this basically a yearly wish list that everyone wants or thinks that they need for the next school year. Sure, there are many constant repeat costs. But, does everyone have to have what they want this year? Can't it be spread around a bit?

But, the bottom line is, many people ARE on fixed incomes and the taxes have to be controlled. If you have a job and watch the news, you are witnessing the recession. If you are unemployed and counting on the wages received. You are in the recession and one of those thrown into a fixed income. No one knows how long that will last, 26 weeks and hopefully get an extension to hold things together ?

Our School Board is faced with hard issues. I don't think I could do their job, and to think many Volunteer for this. Having several different groups pulling on them. Unfortunately, I feel the Support team is on thin ice. I do know how they feel, because many years ago, I was in their shoes.

The School Board is trying to do the best they can for the students and keep all the programs. As Mr. Eccles stated in the last two meetings. "Please send us your suggestions". Let's get our thinking caps on.

acs said...

RVN Welcome. Your comments are great and the attitude is right on.
There really isn't any new thinking available since we have been doing this routine for more than a year. This board is finally tackling the issue head on.
The only new thinking on the table is outsourcing. How does the board not save taxpayers 32M over 5 years when all they and paradise have done is say we are out of money. Yes I beleive outsourcing is done except for ink on paper and I hope it is a 9-0 vote since any board member voting to not do it says they must want to GUT our already fragile education system.
That is a sure way to get voted out.

C said...

IMustBeLivinginJersey, F&E is Facilities and Engineering, they are the plumbers electricians carpenters HVAC etc (Plant Maintaince)another group under NESPA contract.

csld said...

C...F&E was up for bid but the bids came in too high so it would cost the district more money to outsource them.You do bring up a good question why is the three classifications (buses,food service and custodians)the only services that are being outsourced..Why not the instructional assitants ,diningroom aides,hall aids,computer lab aids ,ISS aids,secetaries and clerk typists.These jobs are also under the nespa contract.Why only these three?

acs said...

Those 3 = $32M in savings to district....is a pretty darn good start for 2010-2011.
I assume the rest would go later.

RVN6869 said...

ACS, thank you for the Welcome and kind words. Basically, I'm still learning the workings of the School and everything that is being discussed.

I am guilty of basically having my head buried in the sand for many years during the past. I was more concerned about earning a living and the daily routine as many in the general public do. We, and I guess I could class us as the silent majority, just go about our lives and let the school run itself more or less.

The one sticking point in my view is the Teacher contract. I know that they state that they have been working without one for roughly 2 years now, and that is admirable. But, in the long run, there is no real urgency for them to settle. Sure, there is no raise increase, but the hidden cost to the taxpayers continues. The cost of their healthcare that they don't pay into at the present contract. So, although they haven't had a raise in 2 years,they have no out of pocket expense, yet our cost has risen to provide what they have.

As I mentioned, I'm still learning all this and hopefully, I am finding the correct information. Things have to change, or we all will be dealing with this every budget and contract. Last year was a start and we were warned that this year was going to be tough also.

Mr.Rodos had a good suggestion at the last School Board meeting about alternative energy, like solar panels. The only thing I can think of is, that I wish someone would have thought of that as the school was under construction. I'm sure it could be done, as he mentioned. We could look into getting some grants, etc. See if it would pay for itself in a certain number of years.

JS said...

csld, I'm guessing those departments don't have many dedicated companies who would bid for them. I'm also guessing that many in those positions are part time and don't have benefits (thus making them even less beneficial to outsource.

To be honest the turn over you would get with secretarial staffing services would be astronomical and quite a liability for getting things done effeciently. Most just don't do data entries like other temps.

We haven't heard about Grounds yet, but I'm guessing the fact that snow removal hasn't been factored in to either Custodial or Grounds bids makes them less likely to be outsourced.

It's not surprising that an "on-call" F&E would be more expensive to bid out. I mean who else would be available to rip up tiles through out a brand new high school to repair the floors underneath? Quite a quality building we got over there. Wasn't there supposed to be someone in charge of "quality control" or was "on time and on budget" all that mattered?

acs said...

RVN You have taken the first step by getting involved and educated since this is complicated. Many do not understand this is where excess taxation starts if we are not vigilant. Look at the mess prior boards have left us by getting in bed with unions.
We can have an impact by electing good competent fiscally responsible board members like William and going to meetings to help the board understand how taxpayers really feel. Remember the unions FORCE all members to put shirts on and try to intimidate board meetings and residents form speaking. Taxpayers need to unite and speak with one voice but unions count on this being hard for us.
Glad to have you on board. These Unions can be beaten if we all stick together and make our will known.
Thanks to William for establishing the blog.

Levittowner said...

ACS..I find it safe to say that this blog was not made to "crack the unions." as you imply in your last post.
And no.. I'm not in a union and I actually don't think they serve much of a purpose anymore.
However, having been on this blog since it's inception, I think your misrepresenting it as put together to "crack the union" is wrong and is just a way to push your one and only interest..union breaking. You are becoming quite tiresome in your quest to direct this blog in only one direction.

csld said...

ACS I hate to sound like a broken record but food service is not a saving for the district it is 55,000 dollar income for the district.ACS even if all three are outsourced you still have all the other classification that have no contract and are still not paying for benefits. Js all those departments have some full time employees with benefits.
I think you ACS are going to be disappointed because I think (this is only my opinion)that the buses will not be outsourced only because I dont think the district will be willing to give up their fleet so easy.

acs said...

Lev, Really you think so? First of all the community is not interested in given unions 6% raises and free healthcare as the NFT continues to demand. This dialog IS ONLY about the UNIONS there is little else negatiely impacting NSD and American Public education to the extent the teachers' union is. So I do not understand your point and William decides what is written here NOT you and ME.

Root cause is important.We do not have deficits due to malfeasance and waste we have it due to out of line labor cost due to excessive union contracts.
Do you think taxpayers are delighted to find out that Public Union labor costs us $32M over 5 years more than we needed to pay.
Do you think taxpayers want to give teachers pay and benefits existing nowhere in the private sector just because this union can intimidate boards and lawmakers to get what they think they deserve above fair wages and comp?
Sorry you are tired Lev but I am not.
This is about limiting the unlimited power of the teachers' union. Our board is doing everything they can to address this but they need to know the comunity is behind them. I never hear a resident take the mic and say they want unions to get everything or even half of what they demand. Do you?
Maybe with a new Gov like NJ we will make a start. This is all about unions sorry you are tired.

William O'Connor said...

ACS, I'm not going to post the blog link you requested because it shifts the focus away from Neshaminy. I don't want to turn this into a debate about the pros and cons of organized labor. The minute we do that, people start arguing whether or not unions are still necessary, do they help or hurt the community, etc. All of a sudden the conversation won't be about Neshaminy any more.

As I've said from the beginning, our number one priority in fixing Neshaminy's economic woes is to drastically restructure our labor agreements because those costs do not provide for a sustainable economic model. For that reason, I have stood completely behind the Board's Negotiation Team in their efforts to resolve our contract issues with both the NFT and NESPA. And of course I have also stated this in a multitude of ways on this blog.

I know a number of people who belong to unions who agree with the board's position because their concern is affordable public education. I don't want to alienate them or anyone else because the perception is we've turned the discussion away from education to union bashing.

Are we good?

march said...

ACS you obviously did not read today's Inquirer story where they stated that having a freeze or even giving back from the teacher's union will not help the school districts. The problem is that Gov. Christie has cut funding to school districts by 5% and also has witheld some of this years funding so there is no way to recover from that, but if you make more than $400,000 you'll get a tax break.

Remember that past school boards laid the groundwork for this union to have such power. Other teacher unions do not conduct themselves like NFT, because they have not been given this opportunity.

I am just hoping that by the time my 6th grader gets to NHS there will be something for her or maybe it's time to sell and move to CR or CB.

acs said...

William, I agree completely and no problemsincei knew you would censor but mostly wanted YOU to see it and maybe send to your board peers. However, t is good to hear you acknowledge where the problem is and your position backing the negotiating team. The NJ story and Mr. Christe is what is happening there is our story sand really the story across America so a good reference point but we are focused on our mess. It is up to this board to do the right thing by protecting our education quality at "all costs".

acs said...

March, this is my point, people are not taking the time in all districts including CR and CB to understand that escalating labor cost IS what is destroying education programs that is the nexus and that is what is happening now in NSD but worse than others locally. You are right and I always say it in my 74 posts that Face is counting, we are here due to prior boards and lawmakers. ACT 1 now limits the board on tax increase ability so if you have to by law maintain the 80% of your budget that is labor then have to cut expenses. The law just does not allow for more taxes to cover costs any district accrues and you certainly will not get taxpayers to approve a referendum for higher school taxes for teachers with the salary and benefits they get now. This is why William and board are working on the expense part of the equation i.e. privatizing services, pay to play, pools before even approaching education cuts. I believe this is the exact right direction and this board fortunately has zero appetite for education cuts but a real appetite for a zero tax increase. They can do it but it is a tricky dribble.

C said...

JS to answer you after some research I found out all F&E employees are fulltime with benefits it seems to me like I said before administration bid it the way they did to protect their own jobs because without employees we do not need Directors and supervisors and leaders to oversee a contractor that can be done by the Business Manager if it was bid by individual departments, heating, plumbing etc. it would be very easy to farm out and yes the high school building is a joke wait till William get those electric figures

csld, as far as the aides go I think most if not all are non benefit positions making it very easy to retain them once all NESPA fulltimers are outsourced,the secetaries will more likely be pushed in to a pool with administration secetaries who already have their new contracts

acs, you must get rid of all NESPA fulltimers or your savings plan fails, education programs get cut taxes still go up and the community seeks blood this board must get the administrators pulling in the same direction as they are, I sense some are still feathering their own nest to justify their own positions check out some of the things in the purposed budget still alot of we can cut out on the non educational side (trucks, mowers,golfcarts etc.)

csld said...

C..Not all aides are fulltime but there are maybe less than half that are and have benefits.Believe me I dont want anyone one of us to lose our jobs but my point is that even after the board outsources these classifications you still have these other classifications that still dont have a contract and we are back to where we started.
ACS this comment made me laugh...
" Remember the unions FORCE all members to put shirts on and try to intimidate board meetings and residents from speaking"
Yes ACS I do have one of those shirt and I have never worn it to a Board Meeting and I seriously doubt that anyone has ever been intimated by that shirt.

acs said...

csld, you are your own person my friend and that is good but remember back to school night?
of course this is intimidation and many parents were and are enraged by this display. they spoke at board meetings about it.
the union members have to where the shirts and they go to board meetings to intimidate. this is a tried and true practice. i am not saying it works on most board members... maybe a couple. so far they seem to not be intimidated but you have to be out of it to think this doesn't intimidate citizens from speaking their minds in front of all those teachers and support staff. of course they are there to intimidate taxpayers form speaking supporting outsourcing and pay freezes-especially people with kids in school....get real.

William O'Connor said...

The following comment submitted by JS was edited for content.

Shame on you JS. You know better :-(

C, I myself saw the "golf cart" items on the budget expendatures. The only person I ever see on one is the trainer at the High School.
I saw him at a Volleyball game yesterday and asked him who else uses one. As far as he knows he is the only one, but did acknowledge that he has asked for a replacement one for the last 8 years. He believes it finally is being approved because the current one he uses is so old that there are no longer parts for it. I told him not to hold his breath for it (and as a taxpayer himself agreed he wasn't expecting to see one). As for the second one listed he had no clue who it was for, maybe the Marching Band who use one to pull equipment?

I think F&E came back more expensive because of the "on-call" type of work. Calling a plumber in the middle of the night for your home is always expensive.

JS said...

Ok, well sorry, you could have left off the sentence with the reference to names.

I hope my post on the other thread doesn't get edited because I did not use 1 single conjecture (all numbers and facts from posted sites). I do bring up one item I've asked about before about a certain person, but you have admitted that while you did vote against it, it is true. (as per your own comments on Facebook).

Hoosier Daddy said...

I just came from the courier comments from this article. One person really sniped at you and another defended you equally as emotional. I will say this, you really know how to fire people up, one way or the other.

csld said...

ACS to quote you the union members have to wear the shirts and they go to board meetings to intimidate. this is a tried and true practice.
No offense but you are wrong I can tell you first hand from working in this district and knowing alot of people that alot are not wearing the shirt when they are at these board meeting beacause you dont see them wearing a shirt you are assuming that they are not union members.Yes the union does ask you to wear your shirt .I am only speaking of the Nespa not the NFT,I do agree that the teachers should of not worn their shirts on back to school night.If anything I think the teachers made it worst for themselves because this made alot of the parents mad.