The Octorara Finance Committee and Board of Directors met on Monday, May 16, 2016. Seven members were in attendance. Hank Oleyniczak and Samuel Ganow were both absent.
The Finance Committee discussed the 2016-2017 Budget. While there was an effort to get everyone’s opinions overall, most of the discussion seemed to revolve around the percentage of the tax increase, the traffic officer position, and the K-6 Librarian. It appears the total amount of cuts has again gotten smaller. Last week the number was $537,000. This week it dropped to around $512,000. This means the deficit will increase to something closer to $468,000.
The change comes from adding the traffic officer back into the budget. Anthony Falgiatore argued that his experience suggests the armed security officer and traffic officer positions could be successfully merged. However, he did not change enough minds to keep it within the list of reductions, and it looks like it will remain in the budget.
There was a good bit of discussion about the K-6 Librarian. Many Board Members seemed swayed by the online discussions, emails, and phone calls over the last week. Nonetheless, not enough support was created to keep it. As of this moment, the K-6 Librarian position will be eliminated.
I did ask Dr. Newcome, why the K-6 Librarian and not the High School Librarian? It would seem that a Librarian is more important to the lower grades, and high school children should already know how to use the library and do research. His response was that the High School Library is going through a transition to a “21st Century vision.” The HS Librarian is necessary for the conversion. In a few years, that position will no longer be needed.
Finally, the tax increase with the most agreement is 3 percent. The support for the lower 2.5 percent, suggested by Lisa Bowman, was soft. At the end of the day, even with the larger tax increase plus the cuts, we can expect ongoing future deficits. Added costs from the contract, PSERS, and health care have tightened the budget and, according to Mr. Curtis, more accurately reflect actual cost as compared to the past.
Mr. Curtis, as he also mentioned at the Board Meeting, shared his 5-year financial projections. Depending on what the Act 1 limit is and relying on taxing to that limit, the District will continue to have deficits for as far as the eye can see. It has been my opinion since the beginning of this year’s budget process that we were not doing enough. We need larger cuts and need to stop protecting sacred cows, to actually get the budget under control. This year’s budget reductions only delays the financial crises predicted by Mr. Carsley a couple years ago.
A Slightly Off-Topic Point
If you watch the Board Meeting on The Cube or Youtube, you are missing about 95 percent of the budget conversation. You missed Anthony Falgiatore strong arguments for consolidating the traffic and armed security officer positions. You missed Brian Fox making statements against armed security. You missed Linda Bicking arguing against deficit spending. You missed the conversation about the K-6 Librarian and the statement that if Reading scores drop even further, people will point to this Board as the cause.
I have long supported the idea of greater transparency. While committee meetings are public, the way they are handled feels like back room deal making. I see no legitimate reason not to broadcast committee meetings like we do board meetings. I see no legitimate reason not to include committee meeting minutes with a board meeting minutes online. I also believe moving these meetings out of the Administration Offices and into the Multi-Purpose Room makes them more welcoming to the public. Don’t you agree?