The Octorara Finance Committee and Board of Directors met on Monday, June 20, 2016. All nine members were in attendance. Brian Norris attended the meeting electronically,
The Budget Vote
In a 7 to 2 vote, the Octorara Area Board of Directors adopted the 2016-2017 General Budget Expenditures in the amount of $51,893,470 with a deficit of $1 Million. The shortfall includes a $350,000 budget contingency, $340,000 of debt service that will receive a credit from refinancing, and $316,000 in anticipated use of Fund Balance. The budget represents a 2.3 percent increase over the 2015-2016 school year. The two dissenting votes were Anthony Falgiatore and myself.
Mr. Falgiatore stated his vote was motivated because of the K-6 Librarian position. As Lisa Bowman (President) pointed out, the conditions I placed on my vote back in August or September determined my no-vote. I was willing to vote for a tax Increase up to the Act 1 limit only if the budget remained flat at $50.7 Million. This would have required additional saving measures of roughly $1.1 Million.
Samuel Ganow (Treasurer) addressed Falgiatore’s vote favoring the K-6 Librarian. He stated that even if the Board saved the Librarian position this year, it would likely be cut next year. In his opinion, the need for additional cuts means that saving the Librarian today will not remove it from the chopping block.
The tax increase on Chester County homeowners to 38.63 mills, and Lancaster County to 28.73 mills passed 8 to 1. I was the lone no-vote.
If you watch the video of last night’s board meeting, you will notice there are Board members firmly pointing the finger at the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System for the District’s financial problems. The original Draft Budget showed benefits increasing by $805,820 (retirement was actually $912K but was offset by other benifit changes) and salaries by $662,383. However, the state reimburses the District 50% of their PSERS contributions, essentially reducing benefits cost increases to only $330K.
Are you glazing over from the numbers yet?
Anyway, they point their finger at retirement costs because, in 2008-2009, the District’s contribution was 4.76 percent of salaries, but today the cost is 30.03 percent. Retirement is growing faster than any other area of the Budget. Moreover, if you look at this year’s budget with blinders on, a person can make the argument that retirement is the main problem. Is it? Is it, really?
The auditors revealed the District ended the 2014-2016 school year with a deficit of $240,000. Where did that come from? Retirement? No! The iPad program cost $210K at the time. Remember, this was the second year of the program, and its first year also pushed the District into a deficit. The Board also initially passed the armed security guard position in the 2014-2015 school year knowing it required deficit spending. Depending on the day you ask, armed security costs $70K per year.
So, the entire 2014-2015 deficit is attributed to new spending. Those items are not suddenly funded because they have not had a major year-over-year cost increase. This year, we needed to find money for salary increases, benefit increases, and these unfunded, nonmandated programs. Salary and benefits are known and highly predictable. So, why would you go out and spend money you don’t have? We need teachers, but we want iPads.
Devaluing Community Petition
Nelson Stoltzfus felt the need to challenge the signatures collected by the Octorara Library & Literacy Team, who attempted to save the K-6 Librarian. He said that when he reviewed the list, he found a name that surprised him. He confronted this personal acquaintance, and apparently the individual stated that if they had known the whole situation, they would have never signed the petition. Mr. Stoltzfus asserted that the Octorara Library & Literacy Team had collected signatures illegitimately because they were not giving, what he considers, all the facts.
He did not claim the group lied to people, just that they were not giving people enough information. I aggressively challenged this idea. Stoltzfus’ friend signed the petition knowing it was to save the Librarian from budget cuts. Did they not have any responsibility to ask questions of the person collecting signatures?
Apparently, Mr. Stoltzfus believes the Octorara Library & Literacy Team should have said, “Please sign our petition to save the K-6 Librarian. But before you do, here is a list of reasons you should not.” Mr. Stoltzfus pushed the idea people who know him, who did not pick up the phone to ask him for information about the cuts or budget, were somehow fooled and tricked. Seriously?
Go watch the video. There was no shortage of Board members jumping on this idea stating, based on the way the petition was worded, they would have signed it too. The implication being that all the time and effort meant nothing. Now, I’m sure I will be criticized for “putting words in people’s mouths” but maybe certain board members should start to think about how their actions and words are perceived by the public.
If you are thinking I’m feeling some kind of way about this attack on the Octorara Library & Literacy Team’s credibility, I am. Here is the link to my 2013 Octorara “Cut School District Spending” petition, before I was on the Board. I heard the same kind of garbage, from almost the same Board members, attempting to devalue the 162 supporters of that effort. Keep in mind, the Octorara Library & Literacy Team’ more than doubled the signatures I received, in a shorter amount of time, and did it all in-person and face-to-face.
Smug, arrogant, condescending, self-important… this is how some Board members are perceived by many in the community, and it is not without cause. There is only one way that changes. Vote them out.