Octorara’s $2 Million Deficit, Budget Cuts, and Tax Increases

Octorara's $2 Million Deficit, Budget Cuts, and Tax Increases

The Octorara Finance Committee and Board of Directors met on Monday, March 21, 2016. Eight members were in attendance. Linda Bicking was absent.

2015-2016 Budget Updates

There was an update regarding the 2015-2016 Budget. Local revenue is projected to come in at $186,760 above the budget. Revenue from Federal sources is expected to be short $288,748, We have no idea what is going on with the State.

We have received some funding from Pennsylvania thanks to a spending bill earlier this year, but there is still no budget. The State will hopefully, at the very least, pass another spending bill to help schools. However, it is not out of the realm of possibilities for Octorara to end the year short $3.8 Million.

I made sure to ask at the Finance Committee Meeting about the impact to Octorara. I wanted to make sure I knew, and could convey to the public, our unique situation. The Octorara Area School District is technically “safe” for now. In the off-chance we receive no more money from the State, there is enough in the Reserve to cover us until the end of the year.

This will completely erase the unassigned portion of the Reserve. Even so, property taxes will begin to come in for 2016-2017. We should be good for next year, even if the Pennsylvania budget issues continue. After that, all bets are off.

This scenario is highly unlikely. It is unimaginable the State will not pass an additional spending bill if the budget impasse continues, but we just don’t know. All that said, they could pass a budget that will actually plug this year’s deficit, and we could end the year up. It is all speculation, though.

2016-2017 Proposed Final Budget

In April, the Board will vote on the 2016-2017 Proposed Budget. It will look like this:

  • Expenditures — $52,405,602
  • Revenue — $49,484,879 (before any tax increase)
  • 3% Tax Increase — $964,727
  • Deficit — $2,005,996

On the revenue side, the State funds were calculated at a zero increase over 2014-2015 numbers. Last month there was speculation we could get an increase of $422,344. We just don’t know.

The Board is being asked to pass the Proposed Final Budget with a $2 Million deficit because cuts to the original Draft Budget have not been approved. The $2 Million deficit is what we would end with if cuts are not done. We needed $2.9 Million to balance. The tax increase up to the Act 1 limit only raises $964,727.

Budget cuts will continue to be discussed and debated up until the final budget vote in June.

Potential Budget Reductions

The Facilities Committee had a lengthy discussion on budget cuts, but a lot more work needs to be done. Last week we discussed that Dr. Newcome’s “Potential Reduction” list was generally separated into two categories: those that may affect programs and those that will affect programs.

BLUE: Those that may affect programs included roughly $548,000:

  • Administration Office Reductions
  • Reduction of Building Budgets
  • Substitute Teacher Reductions
  • Secondary Assistant Principal/Athletic Director Reorganization
  • Reduce Athletic Coaching Staff
  • Not replacing a 7-8 Health and Physical Education Teacher
  • Not Replacing a First K-4 Retirement.Resignation
  • Not Replacing a Second K-4 Retirement/Resignation
  • Replacing 50% of a 7-8 Spanish Position

YELLOW: Those that will affect programs amounts to over $5.3 Million.

  • Eliminating In-School Suspension (ISS) at OAHS
  • Reduce One Instructional Assistant at Secondary Level
  • Eliminate or Reduce Security Guard Positions
  • Not Replacing a Spanish Teacher
  • Not Replacing or Reducing a Special Education Teacher
  • Eliminate All Instructional Technology
  • Eliminate Athletics (from the General Fund)
  • Eliminate Non-Athletic Supplemental Contracts
  • Reduce One Reading Specialist Between OES and OIS
  • Eliminate Library K-6 as a Unified Arts Class
  • Reduce One Music Teacher on Campus
  • Return Kindergarten to Half-Day or Eliminate Altogether
  • Eliminate Bussing

Only three items seemed to have a general consensus:

  • Administration Office Reductions — $30,000
  • Reduction of Building Budgets — $60,000
  • Substitute Teacher Reductions — $50,000

There was significant discussion about what other cuts may look like. For example, not replacing a K-4 teacher would not be the elimination of an actual K-4 teacher. One would be taken from the higher grades. The impact to class size would be, most likely, at the Jr. High level.

Dr. Newcome did say that the label of what will and what may affect programs is debatable. As I am writing this, I want to know how he defined will and will not affect. Someone remind me to ask him that question. Does “will affect programs” mean simply not having the same quantity or does it mean an actual reduction in the quality of services?

My concern is focused on the impact to academic achievement and growth. So, for me, there are many items in yellow that should be cut or reduced first.

  • Eliminating In-School Suspension (ISS) at OAHS — $14,000
  • Eliminate or Reduce Security Guard Positions — $25,000 to $90,000
  • Eliminate SOME Instructional Technology — $180,000 (iPad lease)
  • Eliminate Athletics (from the General Fund) — $250,000
  • Eliminate Non-Athletic Supplemental Contracts — $138,000
  • Eliminate Library K-6 as a Unified Arts Class — $75,000
  • Reduce One Music Teacher on Campus — $63,000
  • Return Kindergarten to Half-Day — $150,000

These items total $960,000, which is well beyond the Finance Committee’s goal of $420,000. Putting aside that I believe this goal is too low, ask yourself about your priorities. Octorara struggles with reading, writing, math, and science. In my opinion, everything else is secondary.

The He Said, She Said

I want everyone to know I am writing this from memory. So, feel free to fact check me on The Cube or YouTube. Maybe, in the heat of writing this, I missed something.

At last night’s meeting. Mr. Stoltzfus read from a written statement challenging my blog entry about the track last week. His initial concern seemed to focus on my opinion that “there is still a persistent push from the Field Development Task Force and some Board members.”

He explained that the request to bring the issue up came from him… keep in mind, he is the Committee Chair and goodness knows why he needed to go through Dr. Newcome. He stated that certain things need to get done at certain times, and the track needed to move forward to hit those timetables. He was also concerned that I left people with the impression the Board was changing the original terms.

My response was that there is no sense of urgency or timetable that needs to be met, other than the artificial June 2017 deadline. The original vote was the Board would not approve movement unless and until Field Development has cash-in-hand. Also, Dr. Newcome clearly stated the request to begin moving forward came from the Field Development Task Force, believing they would have the funds by June of this year.

At this point, Mr. Norris and Mrs. Bowman challenged my memory, and Mr. Stoltzfus agreed. They stated the discussion was never about breaking ground and moving forward with the actual project, just about obtaining bids. Now, my recollection of what was said by Dr. Newcome was that the Field Development Task Force had reached out to him.

Newcome stated Field Development has $80,000 of the initial $134,000 required and believed they will have another $45,000 by June, with the balance needed in other donations. Based on this belief, they wanted to ask the Committee if the project could start moving forward. Mrs. Bowman agreed that was what Dr. Newcome said. Dr. Newcome stayed completely out of the conversation… neither confirming nor denying what was originally stated or intended.

Ok, let’s stop here for a second. We now agree what Dr. Newcome said to the Facilities Committee. It is a matter of the perception of what was really being asked. After Newcome made his statement, Norris started to argue we should move forward, especially with oil prices as low as they are. His opinion, from the way I remember the conversation, was that we “know” the Field Development Task Force will come up with the money, and we should not lose the opportunity to get a discounted price on the project.

Moving on… another point of contention was if the track renovation was actually planned for financially. Lisa Bowman pulled out the 5-year plan developed in 2013 and stated it was in there and planned for. She claimed my statement it was not planned is inaccurate.

So, here are the corrections I will and will not make:

A persistent push from the Field Development Task Force and some Board members. — I stick with this statement. Even Mr. Stoltzfus’ claims last night tries to create a false sense of urgency. There is no timetable that must be met except for the Field Development Task Force raising their funds. They have 15 months to accomplish this goal. The track team has lived with away meets and events for years. There is no urgency… period.

The Board just voted in September, and nothing has changed…. but some people still want to talk about track. Keep talking… keep persuading… keep pushing… we have a new Board… let’s try to get things moving faster. Right? Wrong!

The Task Force asked that the District move forward with renovations before meeting the terms of the original vote. — I have replayed that conversation in my head, and based on what Mrs. Bowman agrees Dr. Newcome stated, I don’t believe he was clearly articulating all that was being asked for was bids. That was what was settled on as the conversation progressed. I still remember it that way.

However, Mr. Fox stated that his memory was the conversation was only about obtaining bids. For this reason, I will concede I may have misunderstood what was being originally asked. This one concession does not fundamentally change my overall opinion.

In fact, Mrs. Bowman made the statement the Committee did not have the authority to approve construction without funds. If bids came in, and the Committee wanted to move forward without all the funds collected. it would require a Board vote. That really seems out of place if all that was being talked about was bids. Don’t you agree?

The Track renovation was not included in the 5 Year Plan from several years ago. — After the meeting, I asked Mrs. Bowman to see the 5 Year Plan she held up, and where the track renovation was listed. I clearly remember Mr. Carsley telling me that the track renovation was not in the document and I am certain it was not included in the first draft of the upcoming 10 year plan.

What she showed me was a line item for a track renovation costing $100,000. This was Mr. Carsley’s projection in late 2013, which may be why he stated it was not within the document when I asked about it later. The numbers the Facilities Committee was receiving, well after that document was created, was well north of this number, eventually settling at $420,000.

It is obvious Mr. Carsley was not planning for the upgrade the Field Development Task Force eventually proposed. The price looks to be just replacing the existing asphalt track, with no other improvements. My position is my original comment, one I have repeated often, is generally accurate. The amount the Board agreed to pay ended up being more than twice what Mr. Carsley projected to be the total cost, which is $320,000 more than was planned.

The Task Force asked that the District move forward... — Did all this come from the Task Force? Last night, Mr. Stoltzfus took responsibility for asking to bring the issue up. No one else seemed to dispute that Dr. Newcome originally stated the request came from the Task Force. Mr. Stoltzfus is the Facilities Committee Chair. So, if he is the Chair, why would he need to go through Dr. Newcome? I’m just asking here.

Now, where did the actual request to discuss the track come from? Who the heck knows?! Someone does, but it is not me. I know what Dr. Newcome said last week. I know what Mr. Stoltzfus said last night. I don’t know which is true. Was last night’s confrontation caused, in part, because there was blowback from the Task Force for dragging their name into the debate? Your guess is as good as mine.

Call to Tape Committee Meetings

This “He Said, She Said” bull has really gone on too long. One of the most blatant examples was the budget vote last June. Fortunately, that all revolved around the budget, the Finance Committee, and statements I made at Board level meetings. Sam Ganow stepped in and disputed the claims made by Mr. Norris and Mrs. Bowman.

In the past, I have called for Committee meetings to be recorded, just like at Board level. This is important for two reasons. First is most information and discussion occurs at the Committee level. People don’t see much discussion at Board Meetings because we have pretty much said everything there is to say most of the time.

The second reason is to stop the “He Said, She Said” about Committee Meetings. If there is a Board Member calling to increase the tax rate to 5%, we can always go to the tape to find out if it is true. If a Board Member wants to arrogantly say he doesn’t care because he won his election, we can go to the tape. If a Board member flip-flops his position after people read it on this blog, claiming I misrepresented him…. well, we watch the fricken video.

I am also tired of the short memories. An auditor tells the Finance Committee that deficit spending needs to end, the Reserve needs to be protected, and the Board needs to actually plan for long-range capital expenditures by replenishing the Capital Fund. Yet, the further we get away from that meeting, the less some people remember or want to talk about it. Don’t listen to Tim; he always talks like the sky is falling. Isn’t that right?

One More Rant…. this Blog.

I have gone out of my way, and much more that I probably needed, to make it known this is only my blog. This is how I communicate with my constituents and other members of the Octorara community. It is not the official blog of the Octorara Area School Board, nor is it the official minutes from meetings.

There are eight other Board Members who all have the opportunity to put their opinions and point of view in writing for public consumption. There are many free blogging websites, like WordPress, they can use. I don’t tell one person one thing at Dutch-Way, someone else something slightly different at the diner, and say something else to someone somewhere else.

My perspective and opinions on issues are all right here. If my point of view evolves, that is here too. People can ask me questions. They can share their opinions. They can tell me they think I am wrong. People don’t come to meetings, and very few watch the videos. Nonetheless, regular Board Meetings, in most cases, will give you no real idea what is going on. As I mentioned before, most discussion is at the Committee level.

This isn’t directed at all of my colleagues, not even most of them, but any Board Member who wants their point of view or a topic “accurately” represented should write their own fricken blog…. end of story. Feel free to set the record straight. Feel free to stretch your neck out so that every person in the community knows your precise position on every major issue facing the District. Feel free to put it in your own words and in writing for the world to see, and we can all stop playing games.


9 thoughts on “Octorara’s $2 Million Deficit, Budget Cuts, and Tax Increases

  1. Thank you Tim, and thank you for sacrificing your time to bring us all the truth. You have made an incredible impact on our district by giving us transparency and a clear view of how the board is handling our tax dollars.

  2. Tim, I must confess that I feel embarrassed for your lack of commitment for fair journalism and heartfelt commitment for our school system.. I am humbled by the amount of time and effort by my fellow members of The Field Development Task Force, both past and present, who have selflessly worked to enhance the possibilities for our student athletes. Words are equally inadequate to express my gratitude for the people of this community who have supported our students through the purchase of tickets on our corvette raffle, Illusion show, Rainbow Run, event dinners and donations. People in our community have stepped up and have lent us their talents in construction, entertainment, and organizational know how with charity events that should not be under minded by careless characterizations recently published in your blog last week. I take exception to your notions that “The Field Development Task Force is aggressive and persistent. They have a narrow focus, and just do not understand the financial issues facing the district.” Perhaps you don’t fully understand that we do recognize the financial strain. It is not difficult to save by cutting programs in athletics, music, laptops and teachers to balance a budget. It is also not difficult to disenfranchise children in our community who benefit from these equally important resources. It is sometimes more difficult to listen to your better angels and lend your support with your time and talents to raise money to support our programs.
    An additional clarification is also need in your blog. The Field Development Task Force does want the School Board to be aware of our progress and to be coordinated with respect to anticipated time of construction, getting bids, and seasonal difficulties with this construction. Dr. Newcome has had discussions with us at our meetings concerning this. It comes as little surprise to me that Dr. Newcome or Mr. Stoltzfus inquired about getting bids to reduce further delays per our wishes. As a committee we constantly think ahead due to the complexity of this project.
    Lastly, in the spirit of well intended persistence, I am aware that you have not purchased a corvette
    raffle ticket. I firmly believe that this car can improve anyone’s image. Tickets are available at the district’s homepage.
    With Kindest Regards,
    Thomas Stickley

    • Thank you for taking the time to add your comments and opinions, Dr. Stickley.

      First, it should be noted this site is not an extension of any news organization, and I am not a reporter. This is my personal blog for the purpose of communicating with my constituents and other members of the Octorara community. This is where I share my opinions and point of view on the topics facing the District. I have also made it a place where people like you can respond and give feedback. There is no standard of journalism. It is all slanted to my point of view, as it should be.

      I wish Octorara had a comprehensive athletics program like West Chester, Downingtown, and the wealthier districts to our east. I wish the district also had a more comprehensive arts program. However, what I believe is more important is having a school district that is not failing at science, which we are.

      A few months ago we received the auditor’s report. There are several things he stated we needed to do to preserve the financial health of the District. We needed to stop the deficit spending and protect our Reserve. We also had to stop simply spending down the Capital Fund. We need to create a long-range plan for Capital funding and start putting money into the fund, If it goes to zero all Capital expenses will be paid out of the General Fund.

      The Facilities Committee was just told we have $1.5 Million in the Capital Fund. We are still waiting for the CCIU report. So, I am going to use some hypothetical numbers. If we need $2.5 Million for capital projects over the next 5 years, we have 2 choices. We can budget $200,000 every year to place into Capital, or we can wait until the Capital Fund goes to zero and try to find $500,000 every year after.

      The first option means we have enough to make repairs to our schools. The second option means many things may not get fixed when the time comes. Right now, we have no plan. Jeff Curtis recommended that if we end the year in the positive, we should place that surplus into the Capital Fund. That is our plan right now… hope.

      Octorara is a low population area, where the majority of the land is dedicated to farming. Because they receive a tax discount, more than $6 Million of property taxes are shifted from farmers to other property owners. We do not have the industrial and commercial properties that exist in other areas. We don’t have the tax base to support the debt and new spending that has grown over the years.

      So, when I say that the task force has a narrow focus and does not understand the financial situation, that is not just rhetoric. The District just does not have the money to do everything everyone wants. The cuts being made this year are not because anyone doesn’t have a commitment to the school system. The cuts are being made because there is just not enough money.

  3. Thank you Tim for the updates. Do we not teach kids to learn from.past mistakes? Remember the projected influx.of student population that called for us to build a new building? Yea, that didn’t happen and so our budget is in trouble. So why would the board ever even.tnink about moving forth with the track project in hopes the task force will potentially raise the remainder of the funds? What would be the point in obtaining bids now, material prices will change? Should we even discuss the kdg situation? Most of us were not in favor of all day to begin with. Against my own personal math computations, I was led to believe the splitting of the AD/Assistant principal would save us momey. If the board is revisiting this, I guess my salary computations may have beem.correct?

    • Thanks for adding your comments, Carole.

      I probably should have added the Secondary Assistant Principal/Athletic Director Reorganization as a consensus as well. This has already been implemented. It is considered a reduction of next year’s budget because has not been changed within the preliminary budget.

      On the surface, it does not seem changing one position into two would save money. However, it includes personnel changes to ISS. The amount is not significant, only $11,000, but every dollar counts. We save even more if we eliminate ISS altogether.

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