The Octorara Finance Committee and Board of Directors met on Monday, April 18, 2016. Seven members were in attendance. Hank Oleyniczak and Samuel Ganow were both absent.
Proposed 2016-17 Final Budget
The Board passed a resolution authorizing the 2016-2017 Proposed Final Budget, which is required for the display and advertising mandate. Districts must display their Budgets for at least 30 days prior to the final vote. Unlike last year, there was no misrepresentation that this vote meant anything other than that. There is no final agreement on budget numbers and tax rates, and the Board plans to continue to discuss these issues until the day of the vote.
These are the basics of the budget:
- Existing Revenue: $49,434,879
- Proposed Expenditures: $52,405,602
- 3% Tax Increase: $964,727
- Remaining Deficit: $2,005,996
The change will increase property taxes in Chester County from 37.51 to 38.63 mills, or an average of $139. In Lancaster County, the increase is more dramatic, changing the property tax rate from 27.20 to 28.73 mills, or an average of $230.
Paying for the Deficit
Here is what paying for this $2 million deficit may look like.
- Removal of Budget Contingency: $350,000
- Debt Service Savings: $340,000
- Increase to State Revenue: $521,736
- Proposed Budget Cuts: $420,000
This leaves a remaining $374,260 deficit paid from the Reserve.
State Revenue: We finally have a state budget for 2015-2016, but we don’t know exactly what we will get, but it will probably be somewhere between $240,000 and $280,000. This gives Mr. Curtis the confidence to add an estimate of $521,736 in additional revenue for the 2016-2017 school year. The District had been flatlining 2014-2015 numbers.
Debt Service: This is a final installment of savings from bond refinancing. The next opportunity to refinance is not until 2019, and only if interest rates remain at historic lows, which is unlikely. For planning purposes. we probably should consider this as no different than the $374,260 to be paid from the Reserve, which makes the deficit over $700,000 after budget cuts.
Budget Reductions: There was no real change from the discussions last week despite a bit of a push by leadership to get some kind of commitment. Keep in mind, Hank Oleyniczak and Samuel Ganow were absent, and both had vocal opinions at last week’s meeting. I also continued to state my concerns about cutting two retiring/resigning K-4 teachers. As I have repeatedly stated (and listed), I believed there are options with less impact on academics.
If this outline of reductions and cuts are close to what the final numbers will be, this means we enter the 2017-2018 budget discussions about $1.06 million in the red before any increases in spending…. a little less if we make removing the contingency a permanent reduction.
The District rents space to Freedom Life Church, which is going through some growing pains and needed additional space for Sunday services. Many community members became aware of this when they saw an advertisement for a guest speaker, former mafia boss Michael Franzese. During visitors’ comments, a concerned citizen spoke disagreeing with the choice of speaker, and hoping the Board would take steps to control what renters do on school property.
The comments sparked a conversation about the possibility of placing greater controls on renters. Here is my opinion, and I believe there are laws and case law to support it. The District rents space to various organizations and businesses to raise money, offsetting some of the costs to taxpayers. We can place reasonable restrictions, such as requiring insurance and not engaging in illegal activity. Nonetheless, we cannot restrict their liberty or engage in discrimination, which is what placing speaker and/or editorial controls would be.
If we are going to rent our facilities, those businesses and organizations have the right to use the space for their purposes. We cannot, especially as a public entity, exert editorial control over a religious organization’s message or limit who attends or speaks at their services. Moreover, we cannot discriminate by creating policies that are intended to target (either explicitly or implicitly) a protected class. We cannot infringe on their freedom of religion nor their freedom of speech.
It is true, that during the course of a school day, there are limitations placed on these freedoms… not specifically for the children, but for the adults. The basic reason for this is we all have a choice in attending Freedom Life’s services, but children do not have a choice attending school. Ultimately, it is the parent’s right to choose which religious and spiritual message to expose to their children.
Anyone who is offended by Freedom Life’s message does not have to attend or can leave their service. A student, if exposed to the religious opinions of a teacher, would not have the same options, which is why protections are in place, Make sense?
If the overwhelming support within the community is to restrict access and “offensive” speech, I am confident that the opinion of legal counsel would be there is only one way to resolve it… not renting to anyone at all. I understand why people may find Michael Franzese controversial and unsavory. My opinion of this speaker is not what is important. What is important is nondiscrimination and preserving First Amendment rights.