Monday evening began with with the Finance Committee and a short Budget Discussion.
At present, the 2013-2014 Actual Costs is expected to be roughly $46 Million. This will be $1.49 Million less than was budgeted. Revenues are also expected to be around $46 Million, or $439,000 less than expected. There was $1 Million of Reserve Fund money used to keep taxes flat last year, and depending on final numbers we could see the District have to tap into those funds.
There has been no changes to the 2014-2015 General Fund Budget, which is $49.2 Million. It is a 3.5% increase over the 2013-2014 General Fund Budget, but represents a 6.9% increase over the 2013-2014 Actual Costs. Keep in mind, the current Rate of Inflation is the U.S. is just 2%.
For a full list of items voted on, please go to the Octorara Area School District website for the official minutes when it gets posted.
Six members of the Board voted to approve the 2014-2015 General Fund Budget. Shawna Johnson and myself (Timothy Alexander) voted not to approve the $49.2 Million in expenditures. Leon Lapp was absent and did not vote.
Six members of the Board voted to approve a resolution establishing a real estate millage rate of 36.6 mills in Chester County and 26.43 mills in Lancaster County. Shawna Johnson and myself voted not to approve the real estate millage rates. Leon Lapp was absent and did not vote.
Five members of the Board voted to authorize the administration to develop a job description for an armed Campus Security Officer and prepare the process for the hiring of such position. Sheri Melton, Shawna Johnson and myself voted not to authorize. Leon Lapp was absent and did not vote.
Explaining My Votes
My votes really should not have been a shock to anyone, but I will repeat here what I have previously mentioned either in this blog, in Committee, or at Board Meetings.
We are in a bit of a bind. Last July, Philly.com did a report on the rising cost of education in the counties surrounding Philadelphia, and how area school budgets have consistently exceeded inflation for more than a decade. Octorara was one of the districts singled out for having the highest rates of increase.
Based on all the information I have seen, doing nothing to cut spending, the budget I would have expected to see would have been somewhere in the range of $46.96 Million to $47.38 Million. Last year, I warned for “Octorara to avoid an estimated budget of $48.7 Million in 2014-15, with an estimated tax rate of 38.2 mills, you must begin to make your voices heard starting [July].” The Budget we received is $49.2 Million, which both greatly exceeds the rate of inflation and what I estimated last year using the District’s own budgetary trends.
Over-Budgeting: The current 2013-2014 Budget vs Actual Costs shows that the District aggressively over-budgets, but we know that from the past. This year, that over-budgeting looks to be to the tune of $1.4 Million. The argument in favor of this is that the District is not allowed to over-spend their Budget, and there must be enough funds to cover unexpected costs. However, even with this years’s unexpected and record breaking healthcare costs for the District, we see that Actual Costs are well below the overall budget.
Debt Payments & Enrollment: This is a drum I have beating for a long time. We are paying, and will continue to pay for the foreseeable future, $6 Million a year in debt payments. Much of the debt is related to campus building & expansion programs over the last 10 years for expected students that never appeared.
Dr Newcome reported in September that there were 2,502 students enrolled for the 2013-2014 school year. This number is 148 students less than the 2004-05 school year, and 691 students less than speculated more than a decade ago. Moreover, the Pennsylvania Department of Education is projecting continued declines in our enrollment through the end of the decade.
We also need to consider the fact it is already being discussed that the JR High School, because of age and condition, will need a $25 Million renovation within the next 5 years. This will only add to the amount we will be paying in debt service.
The issue of enrollment must be addressed.
We are going broke: Daniel Carsley, Business Manager, has projected if we continue to use the Reserve to balance the Budget, the District will be at a negative Reserve Fund balance within 5 years. Keep in mind, the 36.6 mill tax rate being charged to Chester County should legitimately be around 38.5 mills. The continued use of the Reserve Fund to keep taxpayers from feeling the pain is a ticking time-bomb. One day you will wake up to a massive property tax increase if something is not done soon.
Armed Security Vote
Thanks to this issue, I know more about school violence, violence against children, and violence in America overall than I have ever wanted to know.
I understand how some people cannot understand how rare and unlikely school shootings are when there is no shortage of news organizations, politicians, and security firms willing to exploit these tragedies for their own ends.
Last week, Mr. Stephen Spoto, of Parkesburg, spoke to the Board and tried, as I have tried, to place these incidents into perspective. Unfortunately, there are too few of us calling for reason, and the exploitation of fear is coming from every direction.
Mike Weaver, of Atglen, spoke this week stating an armed officer would make him feel less safe, explaining that violence is circular, and also feared the criminalization of school discipline issues. Mr Weaver believes like attracts like, and having a man with a gun only invites violence into our schools.
Chief Wilmot of the West Fallowfield Police Department, when he spoke to the Board, explicitly stated the greater emphasis should be on issues of Student Mental Health, Bullying, Drugs, Anti-Violence and other issues that contribute to violence. Moreover, Chief Wilmot stated that armed security is no deterrence, and the evidence shows that a shooter will plan for it.
There are a lot of reasons why I agree with these points of view but, with all the statistics out there, let me give you one number…
The number 267, as reported by the CDC, is the number of children just between the ages of 10 and 14 years old that commit suicide every year. Think about that… 267 children only between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. The number far exceeds shootings at K12 schools many times over.
Young children are literally being Bullied to Death, but they don’t capture the headlines. Why? Because it is not sensational… it is not spectacular… it does not capture the attention…it is not “news worthy.” The reality is the vast majority of kids that crack don’t bring a gun to school, they end themselves.
Prevention doesn’t focus on a hypothetical number saved, in a possible difference of 1 or 2 minutes, in a scenario that ALL the experts agree is unlikely and improbable in the vast majority of schools. Prevention’s goal is about working to save every child.
For the future, I will continue to focus my efforts on Student Mental Health, Bullying, Drugs, and Anti-Violence.