I do want do make a special note that this post will only be highlighting the discussion of issues directly related to the budget and taxes. There was one gentleman who spoke passionately about the unfair advantages he believes charters, like Avon Grove CS, have compared to Octorara. He made some blanket statements which I believe deserve discussion, but I will leave that conversation for another post.
Finance Committee Meeting
Currently, the initial proposed millage rate is now projected to be 37.59 if no other changes occur.
A large portion of the Finance Committee Meeting presentation was a look at how costs have changed over the last 10 years. A point that the presentation was attempting to drive home was the cost of labor, as a percentage of the budget, has become lower over the last 10 years. This is where the average person may think the district has controlled wage costs. It is simply not true. As we have discussed in past posts, Octorara’s wages have been high longer than the 10 year snapshot, and wages have grown at a rate faster than many other districts.
Why has labor become a lower percentage of the budget? The Finance Committee Meeting presentation also shows many other costs have grown significantly, some by more than 100%. Therefore, it is not so much labor has been controlled, but many other costs have grown faster.
One point of note are costs associated with Bond Interest/Dues/Fees and Bond Principle/Trans. In 2003-04, these costs totaled $1.8 Million, while in today’s budget those costs are $6.7 Million (equivalent to 10 mills).
The presentation also included a graph showing per-student cost. They calculated cost by taking the total budget, minus tuition paid to charters and the CCIU. The calculated average per-student cost was over $15,000. Comparisons were made to other Chester County schools, plus Solanaco and Pequea Valley. Octorara was higher than all but 4 schools. Solanaco had the lowest, with a per-student cost of around $11,000.
There was effort by some board members to dismiss the per-student costs. However, four board members (Ganow, Lapp, Hume, and Stoltzfus) questioned why Octorara’s cost was so high compared to neighboring districts. Mr Ganow indicated that he has come across these numbers and comparisons many times in the past, and has yet to receive an adequate explanation. The answer to Mr Ganow’s question is labor and debt.
The end of the presentation examined different scenarios, and how they would affect the tax rate for this year. It does appear, the board is considering using the district’s “savings account” to fill this years budget gap, at least in part. Mrs Bowman mentioned looking at a list of previously “untouchable” programs in order to control the budget and taxes.
Regular Board Meeting
The meeting began with approval of the minutes from last week’s work session meeting, a reiteration of the information presented at the Finance Committee Meeting, and the Treasure’s Report. The Finance Committee Meeting presentation by the Business Manager will be made available on the schools website, and we will look at this in closer detail in future posts.
During visitor’s comments, I took the opportunity to inform the board there are school districts in similar situations, and they are finding innovative solutions. I referenced to York City School District, and their three options explored: Transformation (including restructuring teacher contracts), Charter Conversion, and Consolidation with other districts. I was not sure what option is best for Octorara, but there are school districts thinking outside the box to find solutions.
Visitor comments were followed by action items. The board moved swiftly through these items. The one vote which stood out, and received the most conversation, was the spending of up to $250,000 on stadium bleachers. Mr Hume mention that a stadium project was cut back in 2004, and seemed concerned about spending now. However, there was general agreement that the public-private partnership made the spending a value for the district, and something they would have had to pay to replace at some point anyway.
In final comments, Mr Ganow questioned Dr Newcome about the legality of the options York City School District was pursuing, specifically the possibility of converting the district to a nonprofit community charter school. Dr Newcome indicated he would research further, but he did not believe it was possible, except maybe the City of York received a special waiver because of their circumstances.
The York Dispatch article I referenced stated:
Charter option: Convert the district to all charters, preferably run by nonprofits. The advisory committee got a presentation on Wednesday about the Renaissance Model of charter conversions, used in Philadelphia. Meckley said Thursday the model takes poor performing schools and gets a committee to choose a charter company to overhaul it. So far, the academic and disciplinary results have been impressive, he said.
Under this model, the district would essentially just be a shell to levy taxes and make sure charters are living up to performance standards; sports teams would still be playing for the York City Bearcats, Meckley said. But by using the district’s own buildings, there could be savings that they don’t get when the district is paying charter tuition to its existing charters such as New Hope Academy or Thackston Middle School. (Read more…)
David Meckley was hired by the state to get the district out of “moderate financial recovery” (a law adopted last year aimed at intervening in districts experiencing financial difficulties) and oversee an advisory committee. Therefore, it may very well be that the state is the only reason this option is on the table. However, it does not completely take the charter option off the table.
The meeting concluded with Mrs Bowman, School Board President, stating she believes the solution to the budget and tax issue will be found in more public-private partnerships.