Octorara 2016-2017 Budget Passes 7-2, Taxes Increase

Octorara 2016-2017 Budget Passes 7-2, Taxes Increase

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.

Blaming PSERS

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.

20 thoughts on “Octorara 2016-2017 Budget Passes 7-2, Taxes Increase

  1. I watched it. What a joke. I have always been a supporter of you and appreciate your blog. Mr. Stoltzfus is s joke. I signed the petition at the PLC fair. I am so appalled at these people. By the way, keep writing your blogs. Mrs. Bowman get a life!!!!! Any time someone has a opinion they are rude, condescending and just a joke.

  2. Btw, you really hurt their feeling by posting your views on your blog😦 will get off before I post some bad words.

  3. So again, we keep paying for traffic control, homeland security academy (that the students cam take for FREE through the County) and armed guards? Yup, we’ll keep those! Don’t mind the paycheck, but this school is a joke!

  4. I hope the people on the board live in this school district so there taxes go up and have to sell their home to retire. You think you pay all these years to retire in the home but that’s a very big joke.

  5. Do these people even acknowledge that most of the tax paying residents of this district are on fixed income. The other homes are rentals (Section 8), so we are footing the bill. So many homes are up for sale and it mainly due to the taxes, so can’t afford to live here. Parkesburg has gone down the tubes, no businesses to speak of; the few we have are struggling. You would think it was a thriving metropolis with the tax rates. We struggle to keep our homes and this school district just turns a blind eye…so disgusted with it all. Most likely will have to put my home up for sale and take a loss just to sell it, again because of the taxes..Would love to vote them out, but no one ever runs except these people. I’m not qualified, wish I was.

  6. I was someone who asked others to sign the petition to save the librarian and I signed it as well. Unfortunately, it was done so after I asked someone who I knew would be truthful about it. “The library is not being eliminated, just the librarian position. The kids will still have the same experience they have had for the last 5 years. There will still be book exchange. One will oversee all the district libraries and make sure book exchange continues just as the kids have had it for the last 5 years. There is quite a bit of misinformation out there in regards to this decision the district is being forced to make because of budget constraints. The good thing is that no one has lost a job. People have been moved around, but everyone is still employed.”
    I felt horrible for having this petition and didn’t want to turn it in.
    I do agree though that our taxes are out of control. My husband and I have good jobs, not BIG paying jobs and yes it’s a struggle to support our family at times. I don’t know that moving out of a district we have both called home since we were kids, is the answer. I’m really torn and don’t know how we’re going to manage.

    • The District pays Signal 88 around $70,000 a year for armed security. I don’t know how much the guard is actually making. The purpose of the guard is to protect the District against an “active shooter.” One guard for five buildings. So, in my opinion, the point of him is to provide a false sense of security for a highly unlikely event in which he would be ineffective at defending against.

  7. I see all across PA how the pension is a big cause of people losing their homes and I’m in fear of this even though I don’t live in this district. My question is when all the home owners are gone where are they going to get money for schools? Someone better look at the big picture quick or they will be snagging your home that you have worked your entire life to own is not yours!!!😦

    • Pennsylvania’s defined benefit retirement plan is a big problem. That is why those things are almost nonexistent in the private sector. Private sector unions learned that they could not ask for more than a company could afford and expect the company to survive. Businesses can’t just raise their prices because people would just choose not to buy the products. Public unions don’t care. Taxes are not a choice, and their opinion is we should just keep raising taxes.

      That said, retirement is not the only factor for Octorara. There were bad financial decisions made that got us here. We are a small community with a limited tax base. So, we were always going to have a slightly higher rate than some other districts. However, bad choices made things significantly worse.

  8. I’ll never sell my house now!!!! Who’s going to want to live in a house where the school tax alone is approaching $6000/year? It’s not even a big house! The PA Legislature needs to quit patting themselves on the back for their new funding formula that’s not going to help us one bit and FIX SCHOOL FUNDING PROPERLY!!!

  9. Since 2004 when millage rate was 22.5 there has been a staggering increase of 75% in millage rates. INSANITY ; “Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.” Einstein

  10. I awoke this morning to learn that the result of yesterday’s referendum vote in Britain was to leave the European Union. I wasn’t surprised. For weeks and months the polls had been saying it was too close to call. All over the media today it was saturation coverage: why did the vote go as it did, and what does it all portend?

    Well, the talking heads seemed to be in general agreement on two basic points: (1) nobody really knows what will happen; and (2) the reason the vote went as it did is because a majority (a slim majority to be sure, but nonetheless a majority) of everyday, hard-working, commonfolk Britains registered this displeasure (read: disgust) with their own leaders, and even more so with having more and more of their national life dictated by a bunch of largely unaccountable bureaucrats at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, forcing things down their throats that they didn’t want, trying to tell them what was good for them, treating them like children and making them eat their brussels sprouts (pardon the pun). So yesterday a majority of Brits said screw the EU…we don’t need to be part of any stinkin’ club that refuses to hear our voices, ignores our interests, expects us to overlook the failures and forgive the inadequacies of other members, and in short treats us as though we don’t have minds of our own. In my humble opinion, yesterday’s ‘Brexit’ vote was another opening shot in the gathering rebellion against smug, smarty-pants ‘elites’ who deign to think they have the answers but who really don’t know squat, who are dismissive of the legitimate concerns of the people they are supposed to represent, who make it hard for commoners to register objection in any meaningful way, who almost never speak publicly outside of official meetings and speak only in a circumscribed way within meetings, and who, generally speaking, behave much like the elitists who the little people of Britain rejected yesterday.

    Just like yesterday’s Brexit referendum, and presumably this country’s election in November, Tim Alexander is 100% correct when he says that the only solution to the problem of entrenched elitists is to ‘vote them out.’ Of course that presupposes opposing candidates. Who will step up to the plate?

    Me? Maybe if I was 20 years younger, even ten years younger, and almost certainly if I had any kids or grandkids in the district’s schools, had any real roots in the community. But I have no such roots. I came here, alone, only six years ago, just seeking a peaceful place in which to grow old. And I’m almost officially old now, nearly 70. And having moved here only six years ago, whereupon I promptly became engaged in various roles and activities, I feel as though I am pulling my weight, perhaps even a bit more, as a responsible citizen. Besides which I don’t think my temperament would fit in well with any committee unless a majority of members were flat-out determined to bring about real, substantive change and measurable progress. Up against a liberal/progressive/unrealistic pie-in-the-sky and damn-the-financial-torpedoes group (cabal?) like the majority of members currently on the OASD Board, and lacking the patience and political skills, the forbearance and forward-looking long view that Tim Alexander surely has, it would make no sense for me to run for a seat on the Board, because my presence there would only be disruptive, so disruptive as to be almost always called out of order. So I am not a good candidate for the Board. But what about you. Why not you?

    Indeed what amazes me is the low, almost microscopic level of citizen involvement hereabouts. And what involvement/engagement there is, is largely due to folks over 50, if not certifiable oldsters like me. Hello! Are there no twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, and forty-somethings who care enough about their community to do more than occasionally show up at meetings and gripe about things, who are willing to join some official body or unofficial group which is trying to make a difference, to make these parts better for all of us? Think about that before you hang your flags on the Fourth of July. Conspicuous displays of faux patriotism have never been a substitute for the genuine article. The Founders clearly intended that citizens should be actively engaged in the running of their government, particularly their local government. Are you doing your part? And if not, why not?

    Several years ago Tim Alexander ran for a seat on the OASD Board. It wasn’t easy, took a ton of guts. No sooner than he announced his candidacy that the long knives of the entrenched local interests came out in force against him. And they threw everything they could dig up against him. Horrors…Tim Alexander had once worked at a tattoo parlor! Double horrors…Tim Alexander did not subscribe to any mainstream religion. And when those mud-slings failed to register, the stop-Alexander-at-all-costs forces resorted to putting up a puppet, has-been, write-in candidate who had ‘elitist’ written all over him. Tim Alexander handily dispatched that opponent.

    And since then, since his election to the OASD Board, Tim Alexander has done nothing less than promised. He promised to question every questionable expenditure, and he has. He promised to vote against every unjustifiable and unaffordable expenditure, and he has. He promised to be transparent about his votes and the thoughts behind them, and he has done that in spades, through frequent communication with his constituents, and all others, on this blog, wherein he not only posts the facts about what has recently transpired, but adds his own commentary, invites questions and comment from readers, and then answers each and every question and comment in a thoughtful and polite way. Whatever your political leanings might be, whatever your opinion of the OASD, its Board, and the product/performance of OASD students, there can be no denying that Tim Alexander stands head and shoulders above all the other members of the OASD Board. Whereas all the rest apparently believe that their responsibilities stop at the tightly-controlled and poorly attended confines of official meetings, Tim Alexander uses those meetings as a means to try to jump-start a community-wide discussion of what’s really going on.

    Question: when was the last time any taxpayer heard bupkus from any board member other than Tim about anything? Oh wait, several days ago, on this very blog, Brian Norris deigned to weigh-in and advise some reader about what it takes to register to run for a seat on the Board. Thanks Brian, good to hear that you are still alive and sentient, and capable of penning a thought or two without the presumed imprimatur of your Board boss.

    Look, bottom line: Aren’t we all sick to death with elites, and with the big government programs they endlessly spawn? Aren’t we all exhausted by it all? Up to here with the holier-than-thou, smarter-than-you, ego and hubris of smarty-pants people who, in a Jeopatrdy contest geared to ten year olds, I suspect would not fare all that well.

    It keeps coming back to elitists who think they know everything, and the people who think they don’t know s**t from Shinola.

    Tim Alexander has challenged the establishment, the elitists. He hasn’t won yet, he remains a lone wolf, a voice in the wilderness. Will no one step up and join him?

    C. Vail

    • Thank you for your sharing your perspective, Mr. Vail.

      I have thought long and hard about the “microscopic level of citizen involvement” and I really believe it comes down to living in a bedroom community. In Octorara, there are no jobs, no shopping, and certainly no entertainment. Our population center, Parkesburg, is a one light town that has made no investment in itself. As a result, there are very few people who truely feel connected to this area.

      Many people who own a house within the OASD actually live their life in Downingtown, West Chester, or Exton. That is where they work, shop, and go to enjoy themselves. Even people who think they are staying local are going to Jennersville, Oxford, or Gap, There is very little here, for anyone, even the kids.

      I spoke to one of the organizers of the Library and Literacy Team about running for the Board. She doesn’t see herself here for another five years. The taxes, the decline of the District, and the overall decline of the area has her considering moving. So, the local aristocracy gets to stay in power and pat themselves on the back for their “selfless service” while Rome burns.

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