Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Things could be worse

Certainly we're not having too much fun in Neshaminy these days as we are trying to come to grips with our budget deficit, but for those of you who think things couldn't get worse, all you have to do is face east to see just how bad things could be.

The following excerpt is from an email sent to me by a reader who is a New Jersey educator:

"Things are getting very tight here in NJ. Today the governor offered districts an increase in state aid if the teachers agree to a wage freeze. In our district we are cutting one kindergarten teacher, custodians, paras, and Spanish. We are going from 11 buses to 6, doing away with courtesy busing. We have cut all field trips, afterschool and evening activities. All of our classroom supplies budgets have been cut in half. We are outsourcing food services as well. Even with all those cuts, we are still looking at raising the average homeowner's taxes about $1000 for next year for school taxes alone. Now we vote on our budget here. If it doesn't pass, we will be forced to cut more."

To summarize the education situation in Jersey - State aid has been slashed, wages could be frozen, student programs could be cut, and property taxes are still skyrocketing. This is why we must deal with our financial problems now rather than putting them off any further. If we don't do it, somebody else will.


JS said...

I can't imagine what district that is, because even the town I grew up in had close to 20 buses (and we were not a huge school).

I'm guessing that it is an extremely small district which has very little tax base, thus the reason for property taxes to go up $1000.

My parents still live in NJ and their taxes are going up little if anything. I can't imagine how mismanaged the District in question finances are.

Face said...

First of all, William, I am extremely grateful to you for running this blog. It is a real service to our community and you are to be commended for it.

I have followed your Neshaminy political arc with great interest because even before this blog you were an extremely well-informed member of our community who attended almost every meeting with your wife and "broke it down" afterwards on a much less sophisticated site. I appreciated it then as I do now. As such, I was thrilled to see you run for the Board and pleased to have the opportunity to vote for you. My instincts tell me that you are the last best hope this current board has of caring about ANYTHING remotely to do with educating our kids beyond the current contract stalemate.

As I see new people cropping up on this board I am heartened by it and have decided to join in as well.

To ACS: A few facts, if I may: There have been 299 blog entries so far in 2010. YOU are 72 of them. While I admire your verve, you do not speak for me at all. You represent 24% of all feedback on this site and I would hate for William to think that, in some twisted way, your scorched-earth thinking represented 1 in 4 of us. You see, I would like to continue raising my family here and I don't want the same crew that got us the "kind of newish" high school dictating the direction of things. The "zero percent tax increase" crowd is disingenuous at best because a) they have NO kids in the system and b) half of them bought their piece of the "Village" knowing what the taxes were. There is no reason you should feel ::cough:: "Ripped-off."

To everyone else: Did we seriously vote Dr. Spitz off this board? Is that where this community is going? Raise your hand if you even know who the other guy was. Exactly. I still don't know how to pronounce his name but I am going to try to use it in a Triple-Word Score. Let's say the Board, summoning all of it's diplomatic powers (and failing that uses a Jedi mind trick), gets the NFT to accept all of their terms, who is now in place to serve the kids? Oops.

On November 19th, 2007, William wrote about House Bill 1275 (your 2nd entry on the new site! Sigh... those were the days!). This bill explores a way to pay for education that does not involve...wait for it... property tax!!! No one commented. Ok, the site was new and he didn't have many followers. Fast forward 3 years to his recent post on No Child Left Behind reform. Again, no one commented. I have been silent on these things too. Sadly, it seems like we are all about one issue. An issue, by the way, that is likely to plague us forever until we fix the nature of the way education is funded. Or until, as ACS would want it, the NFT is brought to their bullying, public-intimidating, ugly polo shirt-wearing knees.

Again, thank you William for allowing people to exchange ideas. Also, thank you for being the ref when necessary. I do not agree with ACS at all but I respect his willingness to speak up and your willingness to allow it. I sometimes wonder what would this community have done if you were up for re-election last November... Fortunately, you weren't. Please continue to be a voice of reason for all of us, most of all, Neshaminy's students.

William O'Connor said...

Thank you for all the kind words of support, Face. I feel like I should send you money or something.

I appreciate your comments just as I do from all Neshaminy residents and employees, and that includes the blog regulars. Yes, I wish more readers would contribute their thoughts, but I am sustained by the increased visits to the blog. I know more and more people are being informed of what's going on, even if they don't post comments.

I would love nothing more than to change this conversation over to the need this district has for improved computer education in our elementary schools (that's sort of my issue du jour). Unfortunately improving that situation will cost us money that we do not have. So before I can ask the Board to support spending for that, we have to get our day-to-day operating costs under control.

I hope you will continue to stop by and comment from time to time. If nothing else, it will give ACS a good debate. It's been kind of quiet here since "Ivy League" stopped posting comments.


acs said...

Gee I have to wonder if "ivy" changed blog names....hmmm how tricky must be a "very very educated" author.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Long time reader first time poster here. Seeing the comments from RVN and FACE have encouraged me to finally say something. I don't envy you quite as much as FACE does. There are many times I disagree with you but I must admit this blog is a great source of info. I would not know half of what is going on if it were not for this website and there are many parents I know who feel the same way. They won't admit it but I know lots of teachers read it too.

I don't want people to lose their jobs and I don't want education to be cut. If it comes down to the two I am with you to err on the side of the kids. Good luck with making a tough choice.

Your website says more than 228,000 visits have come to it and facebook says you have 262 fans. There are so many people you have informed about Neshaminy and it didn't cost us a single dime. Well done!

William O'Connor said...

I don't think Face is Ivy League, if that's what you're thinking, ACS. IL never had too many good things to say about me.

Get said...

I don't like living in a world with such a despicable list of 28 cuts. 20 of them probably aren't realistic anyway. It's one thing to talk about a fee for extracurricual activities. It's a whole other to talk about cutting kindergarten or guidance counselors. Please William hurry up and outsource the jobs so we can clear the deficit and get back to educating our youth. This has gone on way too long for what is an obvious solution. Your words - err on the side of the kids.

abc123 said...

Yes, let's all just push William and the others into a decision with no regard to the employees, and without examining all the facts. William, I don't think your numbers quite add up. Why is it that our business manager is not reporting all the state funding that has been given to Neshaminy? Why is it that literature from our Harrisburg official proves that we received more money than the board is letting on?

Why William, WHY?

William O'Connor said...

ABC123, you're assuming the literature from our "Harrisburg official" is accurate. It isn't. It's overstated by at least $2+ million which is close to the amount of stimulus money given by Obama, not Harrisburg. That money was spread over two years, not one. And it was never intended for basic education funding as the Harrisburg official's literature stated.

Assuming this is the difference between the funding we received versus what was misleadingly reported in the lit piece, this money has already been applied to both the current year's budget as well as next year's.

If there is another $2.5 million in State funding out there we're not aware of, I hope our Harrisburg official can tell us where it is because we will be more than happy to apply it against our deficit.

JS said...


I would like to draw a point to an obvious accounting flaw in our "Preliminary Expenditure Budget" posted on the Neshaminy site.

On page 23 "Business Office Support Services". You will see that the first line of salaries for Cabinet/Directors/Budget Assistant was an actual expense of $184,134. The budgeted amount for 2010-2011 is $389,053. A 210% increase. I realize I rail on the Business Manager alot, but such an increase is bound to draw attention. At second glance though the 2010-2011 number seems more accurate for 4 positions than the 2008-2009 actual. Maybe those positions were consolidated from elsewhere.

Here's the problem. Even if they were moved from elsewhere they would have to be accounted elsewhere. The Certified Staff Developer and Wellness Director were reclassified and you see evidence by lower salary totals for where they were and higher totals for where they are now included.

So let's look at that salary line again.

2008-2009 shows a total of $184,134. Well our Business Manager made $138,000 in 2009 and our Director of Financial Services (why do we need both of these by the way) made $87,000. That's already $40,000 over and there are still two positions (probably $120,000 combined) unaccounted for.

$160,000 in salaries magically appears in the 2009-2010 budget in the Business Office expenditures.

Now the only adjustment of Administrative positions that I know of was when the Director of Secondary/Director of Elementary Education were combined (stated as such on page 17) and the "savings" in salary were touted. Ok, I see $80,000 less from 2008-2009 to 2009-2010. I guess when you eliminate a $132,000 position, but give your new Superintendent a $26,000 raise ($16,000 more than the previous one) and the new Director of Education a $15,000 one (which actually seems low for now doing two jobs, makes me wonder how much we were overpaying for what those two positions did before) you only get $80k in savings.

Still that doesn't account for the missing $160,000 in the Business Office list. Maybe Mr. Paradise doesn't want us to know something, or it really is an omission (60,000 doesn't seem all that insignificant)

Again we have a Business Manager making $140k a year (plus his car allowance), and a Director of Financial Services making $90k you would think they could make sure all the salaries are accounted for.

I know I unfairly pick on the man for his new Jaguar, but something easily seen like this can't help but draw attention.

I wonder what else might be "accidentally" omitted from the budget?

C said...

JS, how about grounds mechanics salaries in the grounds budget, and again grounds mechanics listed in the transportation budget looks like a double dip to me maybe thats how you get what Mr. Minotti calls soft money.
William, THANK YOU for your reply on the golf carts the way he drives around the campus that old cart seems good to me, those other items I saw in there seem unnecessary in these tight times Keep digging you'll find more.

srodos said...

JS: If you know that you unfairly pick on a man based on the car he drives, why do you do it? If you are that concerned about the car and other items, just get up at the next meeting and ask your questions. Based on my experience I am sure that you will get an answer. The answer may not satisfy your preconceived ideas regarding the budget but the response will always be respectful,concise and on point.

JS said...

It's not the car, it's the fact that a person making $140,000 a year has a "car allowance".

If he needs a vehicle to perform his job functions in the district he can use a municipal vehicle like Mr. Minotti does. (It's a whole different debate whether either need to use a vehicle that way or not).

And C, I also posted a response directly from the trainer on the thread below this concerning the golf cart.

I would be curious as to what Mr. O told you (secrets secrets are no fun :) ) and if it's different from what I heard.

Bored of Ed said...

I'm getting tired of all these distractions. Who cares what car Paradise drives? It has nothing to do with it. Why are we obsessing over a golf cart? It's irrelevant compared to $32 million in outsourced services. Is admin overpaid? Yes but even a 10% salary cut of all of them wouldn't reduce our deficit more than a few percentage points.
The board should not let itself get distracted over smaller details when there is such a huge white elephant in the room. Take care of the big item now and outsource the support jobs. Then next year the board can worry about admin salaries, jaguars and golf carts.
Don't get distracted William. Keep your eye on the ball.

William O'Connor said...

I think C is confused about the golf cart comment. That belongs to JS, not me. I haven't had any secret conversations with C.

JS said...

Darn, secret conversations bring the best information. :) (Bit of levity, wheres Nostradamus when we need him)

acs said...

Bored, First GREAT screen name! Second thanks for chiming in with a supporitng comment to what have I have said for months. No "bored" member can honestly walk away from a $32M in savings because that says they support gutting more NSD education quality. There is no option C! I certainly hope the rumors of sellouts to unions and politics are not true.

William O'Connor said...

ACS, you've made me curious about the rumored sell-outs. Send me the specifics of what you've heard. I won't publish them, but I'd be curious is they're similar to things I have heard.

William O'Connor said...

ACS - Yep, that's it.

JS said...

Oh, now there really are secret conversations.... and with ACS none the less. Who'd a thunk it.

C said...

JS Iam sorry I thought that was William's info on the golf cart it seems you and I have looked over some of these unnecessary budget items and wonder why their there.
William, I am sorry I want nobody to think we have secrets this forum is open with it info because you care about the District I should have read the post heading more carefully.

William O'Connor said...

Feeling left out, JS? You shouldn't. I sent you an email earlier today chock full of goodies.

Nothing to apologize for C as it was an innocent mistake. No harm, no foul.

GerryG said...

My wife knows a bunch of teachers and they were telling her last week that the business manager was hiding over $2 million in the budget so the district didn't have any money to negotiate a settlement. Now I know where that number came from. Thank you for clearing up Farry's misinfo. Can't wait to tell my wife.

My compliments on this blog William. I saw it on FB and clicked over and I've been hooked ever since. You are very committed to your views but I'm impressed you would include a link to the NESPA website. That shows your willingness to share all important info even if it doesn't agree with your own opinions. This blog should be required reading for all Neshaminy residents.

csld said...

I have to ask what are the secrets,we all want to know.

William O'Connor said...

Didn't mean to tease y'all with secret messages. No more. If anyone wants to hit me up with any confidential info, you've got to email me.

acs said...

GG, I love hearing the smoke and mirrors propaganda. It is frankly very amusing to see how it ramps up when they realize how bad they look to the community in not settling.
Do you think for one min our BM could HIDE 2M in a mere $160M budget from William and the board just so he can outsource????? That is totally absurd and in a public setting with so much scrutiny no less.
William has shut down many of the falsehoods spread by both groups of workers and for that we should all be grateful. Enough people read this blog including the employees that the lies never get a chance to fester.
Also I certainly would never believe a thing that politician says when he is just trying to get reelected after a year of doing zilch for Middletown.
Tell your wife to tell the teachers to join the real world on their pay and benefits and settle and stop attacking the board, individuals on the administration staff and the community because you want to maintain your greed.

JS, Not sure what your remark about me pertains to. I do not think there is much light between William's beliefs and mine. You may be surprised.

Redskin Alum said...

I know this is off topic but it is so hypocritical that our senior citizens complain about higher taxes for education and having a "sustainable economic model" (using your words). How about cutting social security? It's unsustainable because people get more out of it than goes in. Who pays for that? Taxpayers do! I'm not defending the free insurance our teachers receive as that should change but seniors should stop complaining about being bled by something when all they do themselves is ask for more, more and more from taxpayers. If we are supposed everything that costs us too much money, why don't we cut back on social security benefits?

KClarinet said...

To Redskin Alum:

In an important way, you've hit the nail on the head, but it isn't just seniors complaining about school taxes. Americans complain about taxes and over-sized government all the time (it's been going on since Jefferson and Hamilton competed for Washington's support). The trouble is, whenever you ask a really vocal complainer which services he/she wants to sacrifice so that taxes can be lowered, the answer is generally something the complainer isn't getting anyway.

People who have genuine difficulty with their taxes - that is, people who genuinely need to choose between paying either taxes or basic subsistence expenses - should be given help.

People who complain loudest about taxes ought to be willing to say what, of the services they actually benefit from, they are willing to forego before they begin to carp about services that benefit others.

acs said...

KC, "in an important way" YOU have hit the nail on the head on what the difference is between progressives and conservatives. One wants pervasive government involvement in every aspect of our lives thus leading to increased government size and therefore higher taxes. This is a fundamental loss of individual freedom and liberty attacked by Jefferson til the day he died.
To me this is much too high a price in taxes and personal freedom to pay, but sadly to many the nanny state is what you crave, need and will surrender all you have for. America has taken a turn for the worse in the past few weeks and if it is to be stopped we need to start challenging this locally before our tax rates start to make Europe look like a bargin.

KClarinet said...

It's getting late, and I may post more tomorrow, but for now I must say I don't see quality local public schools as "pervasive government involvement" nor see what maintaining the school system has to do with "increased government size." We aren't talking about healthcare here, we're talking about the local schools. The only way to uninvolve the local government in public schools is to simply eliminate them. I've already suggested that a couple of times here and, for good reason, no one seems to have taken the idea seriously.

If we're going to provide schools, then we should provide high quality. That list of cuts the board is considering does nothing but lower quality.

acs said...

KC , You are the one that through Jefferson's name out.
The fact is proven many times over that $$$$ does not equal quality education. NSD is a prime example. We are among the highest per student cost and teacher compensation and at best middle of the road result output.
Principled opposition to government waste starts at the lowest level...the township local taxes. Fact: We have not gotten the return on our years of investment in NSD for Teachers or Support staff vis a vis other top PA SDs. Now they are asking for even more.

GerryG said...

While you are fixing the nespa collective agreement William maybe they will let you fix their website too. OMG it is HORRIBLE just one really long column with different quotes and comments. I also see that they report facts about the negatives of outsourcing yet they don't provide anything factual to back it up. They should have outsourced their web design!

KClarinet said...

Eliminate MS Sports/Co-curriculars
Eliminate ELementary Guidance Counselors
Eliminate Elementary Librarians
Split principals in Elementary/Middle school complexes
Eliminate Instrumental Music
Eliminate Special Subjects teachers for each building (this has already been done to an extent)
Eliminate Sophomore Phys Ed
Eliminate Kindergarten

I've only picked the most egregious ones - there are a number of others about as bad. More money may not in itself equate to better education, but these cuts would, in my opinion, certainly equate to gutting it. This is not a question of eliminating waste. Whatever waste is truly left hasn't anything to do with most of what's on the list these items came from. This is not principled opposition to government waste. It's simply opposition to higher school taxes for any reason. And once these programs and positions are eliminated, the waste will still be there! But by then it won't matter. Anyone who can't afford to send their kids to private school will just have to put up with second class education.

That the teachers have disappointed you so badly has nothing to do with this list. The labor contracts are an issue over which the board has limited control. But the items in that hit list are all under the board's control. And so, ultimately, is the choice to support or abandon them if the revenue is available.

I ask again - what government-funded programs that you actually benefit from are you willing to sacrifice to reduce government waste and lower local taxes?