Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How do you trim $7.6 million?

That's the question in front of this Board, and there are no easy answers. Even if we do eventually outsource support staff positions (we are still in negotiations with NESPA), we are likely to have some deficit for next year's budget. And, Heaven forbid, what do we do if we want to actually improve some of our programs, say elementary computer education? How will we pay for that?

During last night's meeting the Board reviewed a list of potential budget cuts. Nobody out there with any concern for our programs should dismiss this list assuming some 11th hour miracle solution will come along. But judging by the parent attendance, or lack thereof, at last night's meeting, that is exactly what this community is thinking. So please forward this post to every Neshaminy parent you know and tell them to get involved NOW. Start coming to meetings and help the Board determine which expenditures can be cut. Some sacrifices will be made, and with YOUR help we can do it with minimal impact to our students.

Don't pretend this problem doesn't exist. Don't ignore it. And whatever you do, don't show up at our last meeting in June and say that we never told you about potential cuts. Don't make me bring out Mr. Angry Eyes again!

You can read the Courier Times recap of last night's meeting by clicking here. The complete list of potential budget cuts discussed is summarized below:

1. Eliminate Middle School IOP
2. Eliminate Middles School Sports/Co-Curricular Activities
3. Close both remaining middle school pools
4. Middle School pools - Charge appropriate extra fee for use
5. Eliminate Elementary Guidance Counselors (8)
6. Eliminate Reading Specialists
7. Eliminate Elementary Librarians (8)
8. Eliminate Middle School Librarians
9. Close Alternative School and contract out service for existing students
10. Creation of activity fees
11. Special Ed Instructional Assistants - Reduce
12. Eliminate High School Co-op program
13. Middle School Librarians - Share in complex
14. Increase Facility Usage fees
15. Split Principals in Middle School/Elementary School Complexes
16. Increase Aquatic Program Usage Fees
17. Reduce or eliminate instrumental itinerant Music
18. Reduce per-pupil allocations for all schools
19. Eliminate Art/Music/Phys Ed teachers for each building - Use traveling specialists
20. Reduce or eliminate use of Department Heads in High School
21. Eliminate Sophomore Phys Ed
22. High School - Further increases in class size
23. Senior release time (shorten school day for seniors with sufficient grad credits)
24. Change Middle School concept to Jr. High concept
25. Eliminate Kindergarten
26. Eliminate Kindergarten specials (art, music, library, phys ed)
27. Eliminate 1 pre-first class
28. Eliminate/Reduce Family Consumer Science Classes in secondary schools


acs said...

I am very disturbed that parents with kids in the schools are not at meetings. They have the most at stake because it is their kids well being and their high taxes vs all the old guys that just complain about taxes and offer nothing positive. If teachers and support staff get what they want parents lose both ways.
Yes we need to cut. And frankly there are no sacred cows. We need to see if we have too many guidance counselors,librarians,reading specialist etc etc. we need to be honest about everything....and meunker does also..

JS said...

My first quote comes straight from Mr. Holland's Opus "...sooner or later these kids aren't going to have anything to read or write about". That's my feel for cutting anything concerning cuts in the arts.

First I would say that this list needs to have amounts put in context. We all know that "activity fees" would supposedly bring in $250,000, but what about others on the list? Also are all "activities" (sports, clubs, etc.) all going to be charged the same rate? Also will lower coach/adviser stipends be in the NFT bargaining, or will little Jimmy and Susan being paying a fee to generously pad a teacher's pension?

I'd start with those things that eliminate excess staff while not eliminating the program. (Saves both in salary/benefits, but lowers our pension liability in the years to come). I guarantee Special Ed assistants are far more plentiful than needed. As always I feel there are too many Administrators (which would give the biggest savings per position cut), and to go with the Middle School/Elementary combining, combine the TLC with the High School (from an administrative perspective).

Well you can't close the middle school pools with out including the disbanding of the Swim Team. (no pools, no swim team). Sadly that will probably be one of the biggest bumps in savings (between the upkeep and liability savings).

I will say again, outsourcing and cutting small programs seems to be penny pinching. Where is the accountability at the top? If everything is going so haywire with the budget, transportation, custodial, etc. why has no administration been either replaced or told to take a pay cut (or gosh) even a pay freeze? Those are the ones who are being PAID to oversee this whole thing. What really are we paying them for if this is what we get?

abbeyainscal said...

Of course, what's never on the table is:

Stop salary increases in this type of economy.
Start paying teacher on a performance outcome basis.
Stop paying $90K for a kindergarten teacher? Are you kidding me?
Increase health care costs paid by the teachers.

Some things never change! What the teachers fail to realize is that if you keep cutting programs on behalf of the kids, you will create an atmosphere of gloom and doom that is self-fulfilling. Then, when scores start decreasing, etc. - who will be the first people that get the blame? That's right, the teachers.

If the teacher's would only realize that by giving up just a little, they would gain so much more.

acs said...

JS, "outsourcing is penny pinching"
You must be very wealthy if you think saving $32M is pennies.
This is the largest and most essential part of balancing the financial plan for NSD.
Everything is on the table but outsourcing is a key ongoing annuity benefit of $6M per year and it prevents program cuts. The board should start with that and work other efficiencies as I mentions. Meunker is protecting the hen house! They all do.

anne said...

What is going on with teacher contacts? Why are we still paying all of there benefts? Maybe if we get this resolved then our children will not lose valuable programs.

JS said...

I wasn't referring to outsourcing because, if you notice, outsourcing isn't even on this list.

Though to some extent that's the case, pick on the lowest paid employees and the smallest departments in the district (art and music). All the while not eliminating administrators or making those at $115k+ even contemplate a pay cut. I consider "penny pinching" to be cutting the low rungs on the ladder while leaving those in the penthouse unscathed.

I'm pretty sure that custodial outsourcing is a done deal because it really doesn't have much of a down side because it can easily be reversed. I'd say it is a toss up for transportation, but only if others share my concern about the bind you put yourself in once you sell the buses. If the Board doesn't feel that way then that's a done deal too.

The steps that should be taken should be the ones that eliminate excess teacher and administrator positions while not eliminating actual education content (combining, + class sizes, etc.).

ACS, you've made your feelings known about outsourcing and the NFT and Support unions. I have yet to hear you call out the administrators. Do you realize that even with paying 15% and only a 3% raise that the lowest paid administrator in the district is taking home an extra $100 per paycheck ($2,600/year) compared to last? Seems a pretty decent deal.

Even the lowest paid teacher will be getting a bigger paycheck if they sign this offer. The reason? Because even though pay increases and step increases have been frozen, they will jump back in when they sign the contract. No there might not be retro pay, but the jump in two step levels will be anywhere between 6% - 17%, add on the 1% annual increase and (not including those at the top step) the lowest raise a returning teacher would get would be 7%, with some getting an 18% raise. (Note: this is based off average step scales for the state)

A 7% raise would more than cover any contribution to their medical benefits.

That leaves the Support Staff who would only get the 3% raise, and since they make a good deal less than teachers, would mean on average about $100 less per pay check.

I'll admit the choice between losing your job and taking less pay is one thing. Making that decision while watching everyone else in the district take home more money is a bit tougher. There are many that don't want to lose their jobs, but not enough to beat out the ones who feel it's wrong to be the only ones to take home less pay.

I will say for the record, less pay vs no job is an easy decision, take the job and claw back what you can down the road.

I'll also say again why the bottom of the chain gets picked on, the person that stands there and tells everyone "we have no money" heads to his brand new Jag, cashes his 3% more money (amounts to about $4,000+ a year), and possibly goes to a night class to finally get at least a bachelor's degree. (Something a good deal of the people who will be outsourced actually have). All the while never once has taken any accountability for the "Business" state of the district.

C said...

Where is energy saving on this list no one has addressed the fact that the electric bill for the high school has tripled compared to this time last year. This is a new building still using oil for heat. What will happen when all the air conditioners are turned on this spring was there no research done as far as energy savings when you designed this building has anyone in administration ever heard of Geothermal energy or were you in to much of a hurry to get the building done before the tax payers found out you were in over your heads.

acs said...

JS, I will respond to all of your post but will take awhile so here is one quick reaction..I don't focus on admin for the following reasons 1. they took the board's offer. 2. you could gut admin and not get close to the savings from outsourcing 3. I looked at admin costs and personnel and we are not that top heavy;sharing principles is not productive 4. NFT is where the real waste ($3-5M annually) and that has to be addressed or we will still have deficits after we outsource. 5. settling the SS union contract barely saves NSD anything so that is not an option anymore since as William confirmed there is not current offer available for the union to acceptsince they made the mistake of formally rejecting it(the next offer they see will likely be last right of refusal to match the subcontractor bids).....I have to drive home now get to rest later.

acs said...

Oh PS, Seems like those "pennies" in support staff cost JS mentioned majically turn into multiple millions $$$ quicker than anything else the board touches so I do not get your point...this is all about eliminating ongoing deficits for taxpayers while keeping student eduction quality palthat is it period end! not more complicated you have to go where that savings is quickly.

Angie said...

I am very sorry to see kindergarten on the list. With a 4 year old daughter, this really make me not want to stay in this district. My husband and I are looking for a new house and are contemplating staying in the district. Why does the board want to hurt the youngest students in the district? They already took away the mid-day bus runs.
I have much more to say but I don't have the time to type it all up now. I will write more later.

KClarinet said...

JS said, "Even the lowest paid teacher will be getting a bigger paycheck if they sign this offer. The reason? Because even though pay increases and step increases have been frozen, they will jump back in when they sign the contract."

Just to be clear, only the teachers who are below the top of the salary schedule will benefit from these bumps. The teachers who are already at maximum will, last time I calculated it, lose money from their paychecks. The lowest paid teachers who have also taken classwork (they need 24 credits in their first 6 years just to keep their certification) will benefit the most, but they are in a decided minority among the overall teaching staff.

KClarinet said...

How much of a tax increase would be needed to cover the deficit that these cuts are meant to make up? Just for information's sake. (Please - spare the lectures about taxes' being too high - we've covered that ground already and I know the goal is 0% increase).

William O'Connor said...

This blog received 822 unique visits yesterday, shattering the old one-day record of 574. I hope this means that this issue has gone viral in the Neshaminy community and people will start getting involved.

I would love to address all the points and questions you guys have raised but it's budget time at work and I have to lock myself away for the next few days. So please continue without me and I'll jump in when I can.

A few observations . . .
* To the blog regulars - I applaud you on the way you defend your views. Even when you post on the Courier blog, you stick to the facts and avoid the insults. Way to represent, y'all!

* To Angie - I get your frustration, but why is it that when economic conditions threaten our schools, the people who want no tax increase will flock to meetings while the people who care about education take off for the hills? Fight the good fight!

* To all - regarding this list of 28 items, it is important that you take the list seriously but not necessarily in panic mode. There are a number of these items that don't stand a chance of being cut, but they are on the list because they are a few of the things that we have some control of. They will be vetted over the next few months with other cost-cutting ideas, and some will fall off the list while others will be considered.

Instead of throwing in the towel, come to the meetings and help the board work towards the most responsible decisions it can make.

acs said...

Fascinating-822 and only 7 opinons. I do know your counter couts every time your blog is accessed so 822 may actually only be 400 individuals but even so that is great play....this is the best blog for community communication and expresion(venting) on this major issue. We need more involvement because the stakes have never been higher for this community.

JS said...

KC, I will admit that the top step may not take home a great deal more money.

The current top step for a teacher with just a Bachelors is around $72,000. The average for medical premiums is around $14000/year. 3% of $72,000 is $2,160 and 15% of $14,000 is $2,100.

As you move to the right on the step scale (degrees + credits) that $2,160 number would only grow, allowing for more take home. Even if you assume $21,000 in medical premiums it would only take 1 year to then move ahead. I'd like to point out that the one year would have happened already if the NFT had signed the offer.

I don't believe the "24 Classes" is the appropriate term. 24 classes would give them credits automatically moving them up the pay scale. That would mean that there would be no teacher in the first two columns. I must not be following you on this.

C, the high school building is a massive sham, shoddily and hastily built to be "on time and on budget". 99% of the building only had 1 year warranties, which conveniently ran out for 2/3 of the building before the project was completed. Extended warranties were not sold back (as previously rumored), they were never purchased in the first place. I believe many of those currently in charge of taking care of the High School will be glad to talk at a board meeting if they are outsourced. (I have had at least 3 tell me they will)

ACS, you seem to give the Administrators credit for "taking" a contract they had no choice to "take". The Administrators are not a Union, they are a bargaining unit. As such, per PA law, as long as the offer presented qualifies as "fair" the District could have forced it on them anyway. They could have made it 2% raise and 20% medical contributions, still the Administrators would have had to take it. It's the same as taxes and ACT 1 guidelines. As long as the increase follows state law, we either have a choice to pay the taxes or move. It's not like we "accept" the terms.

I also don't know how sharing administrators isn't productive? I don't know how many assistant principles there are at the elementary/middle school buildings, but I'm sure it's on par with other buildings have, and they all only have 1 principle.

If you take 1 administrator from those two sites and eliminate the 1 overseeing 60 students at TLC and you can save about $350,000 in salary, $35,700 (avg $14kx85%) in medical, and $28,000 in pension contributions (at 8%, when we hit 30% we'll save $105,000). That's a total savings of $413,000 - $490,000. And that would be per year and continuous.

I realize it's not the $ millions from outsourcing, but why not do all the cost cutting that doesn't affect education as we can now. If you haven't noticed as of now that pension problem is still waiting to happen and we can save money (gosh maybe even LOWER taxes for a year or two), why not do it to give us a cushion for 2012-2013 when those 28-33% contributions kick in.

You seem dead set against everyone on the NFT or NESPA, why not the Administration? Odd.

William O'Connor said...

ACS, those 822 hits represent unique visitors. There were over 1,000 total hits yesterday, and yes many of those were repeat visitors during the day.

The influx is a result of the presence on Facebook. There was only 1 fan as of Tuesday, and now there are 80 FB fans. Some people are leaving their comments on the FB page; one person even slimed me :-(

But that's ok because I'm trying to get the word out and that's what matters.

KClarinet said...

JS, my information is that premiums are a few dollars over $1800/month, or $21762/year. The lowest salary on the top level of the schedule is $82,000 (I don't know how a teacher could be certified after 6 ears with only a Bachelor's degree - I'll get to that further down). Using your calculations, 15% of $21,762 is $3,264. 3% of $82,000 is $2,460. So a teacher making $82,000 under the current salary schedule would lose $804 per year or $67 a month. The salary for a senior teacher with a Masters plus 40 credits (a dissertation short of a doctorate at some universities) is $96,000. A 3% increase is $2,880, which is still short or the insurance increase by $384 a year. And you can't really be sure that the differences would have been made up in year for the same reason the board is struggling so hard with this - premiums are unpredictable except that they will certainly go up, and the board's demand of teachers includes a rising percentage in addition to the increases that will come from the insurance companies themselves.

None of this is meant to defend a position of asking the district to continue to fund the teachers' insurance at 100%. I just think everyone should be looking at the same figures, as long as we've begun to throw real numbers into the discussion. I'd be very happy to have still more accurate corrections offered by anyone who has actual knowledge of the insurance premiums that are currently being paid.

As to the 24 credits (I did write "24 credits," in my post, not "24 classes"), there is a state mandate for new teachers to continue their training beyond the Bachelor's degree they graduate college with. They graduate (from an education major) with a Bachelor's and a Level I teaching certificate. To achieve a Level II ("Permanent" - a misnomer, but that's not germane to this discussion) certificate, the teacher must successfully complete 24 credit hours (normally 6 3-credit courses) of graduate study within 6 years (it's actually, I believe, within 3 years, but an additional 3 year extension is easily available). So, a teacher starting at Step 1-Bachelor's must at the beginning of his 7th year have reached Step 7-Bachelor's + 20 (the increments are for blocks of 10 academic credits). If not, his teaching certificate is no longer valid. For the same reason, a teacher at the top (11th) Step with less than a Bachelor's + 20 is, I think, not possible, and less than a Bachelor's + 30 (my $82,000 example) unlikely.

C said...

Lets see if you have the guts to cut cost, do what they did in Rhode Island, and Kansas City fire all the teachers in June and let them reapply on your terms with lower salaries and benefits.Its been two years now with no contract thats long enough to be considered a fair bargining period. Now that would be taking control of the situation, just like outsourcing NESPA, remember the administrators get what ever the teachers get so you can save by adjusting their benefits to the new teacher terms.

acs said...

William, that is great. I was going only by your counter so you have a way of counting each unique one. What other secrets do you know about all of us?? :)

Maria said...

Stop cutting positions from education that are vital to our children that make us a competitive school district. This is something that in turn only reduces our property value too. Parents do attend meetings but these decisions are made well before these meetings. Come on people, SETTLE THE CONTRACT and teachers need to pay health benefits. Suck it up everyone else pays a heck of a lot more than is being expected. Don't reduce the teachers just make them pay health benefits.

JS said...

Then why even bother to specificly define those columns above that point? It seems to me a bit odd.

Also, I believe the $1,800/ month is for a family of 4, not the average across the district. The average (as reported by the District, and I would tend to believe they would inflate rather than deflate that number) was somewhere around $14,000/year. If you want to say that teachers with 2 or more kids might lose some take home pay, ok, I'd buy that. The problem I have with having ANY sympothy for that is find me another place where they will pay $80,000+ after only 11 years experience and only make you pay $205/month for a top level family medical plan. I'd have some cheese ready for them.

To speak on the "24 credits", I'd like to know why we give greater pay for credits they have to take just to keep their certification. Everyone else in the country mostly gets a raise(besides COL) in pay for two reasons, an incentive to voluntarily increase your training or as a result of exemplary performance. Not because if they hadn't they wouldn't be able to keep their job. Keeping their job seems to be the reward, shouldn't automatically get a bonus.

I got a peek at a teachers "contract book" for NFT, who now works in CR, for this next part.

That means a teacher with only a Bachelors who completes 24 credits of graduate courses (not in anyway required to be towards an actual masters) would have gone from:

$37,155 in 2002 (Step 1)

to currently making (since rates were frozen at the end of the 2007-2008 year)

$54,609 That's a 46% automatic pay increase for doing what the State requires them to do to remain certified and not getting fired by the school district.

Under the old contract that same teacher (which has basically done nothing more than not be fired or lose their certification), would have been entitled to another 5.15% raise for 08-09, 11.55% for 09-10,
10.85% for 10-11. That means they would have ended next year at $71,302. A 91% pay raise for 8 years of work and doing nothing more than what is required of them.

Wow that would be a shame if they took $67 less home per month. If that was too much they could take two voluntary grad classes for 6 more credits and take home an extra $6,000 a year by moving to the next step.

$77,000+ isn't bad for only having 8 years of experience.

JS said...

Um, Maria, they are trying. What should we do until then? The budget needs to be lowered, but the teachers refuse to sign.

If they have to have positions cut they can look at themselves for not being willing to sign a contract that for 99% of other jobs in the country is a MORE than fair one.

acs said...

William, Suggestion: Maria asks good questions that I am sure losts of novices in this have. Of course all of us regulars are wonks and know the answers that are more complex for the person is is not glued to this. Since the issue is redhot and you are getting so many hits have you thought of putting a section on blog the explains the situation and high level what the board can and cannot control with teachers. I think that would be a great service to do for community to show just how much the teachers union is out self serving and out of touch with the reality the teachers are with the district financial situation. I think too many people think teachers dont make enough and dont understand that programs, bus runs, school closing etc etc are primarily due to ACT 1 and the greed of the NFT that wnats moreforthem and less forstudents.

William O'Connor said...

Maria, you will find it helpful to visit the Board's Negotiation Website for some history on what the expired teacher's contract was, and what each side is looking to accomplish with a new agreement. Here are 3 specific articles you might find helpful:

1) Highlights of the expired contract -

2) Summary of the district proposal -

3) Summary of the union proposal -

Just paste those URL's into your browser and the articles should come right up. Hope you find them informative.

srodos said...

No matter which position is eliminated at the high end of the pay scale the only person who is laid off is the teacher at the low end. Since everyone else will bump down until the most recently hired person gets laid off. The salary savings would be that of the lowest paid person.
I am under the impression that every item in the contract is negotiable down to and including where an employee would be placed on the step schedule at the beginning of a new contract.

KClarinet said...


All of what you point out is why, if there is any kind of sea change within the NFT, it will most likely come from the less senior members of the staff, who are the ones actually losing money (in some cases substantial amounts) during the current impasse and would have the most to gain with a settlement.

Brian W said...

I am also concerned that kindergarten is on the list. I have four preschool children, and early childhood education is important to parents like me.