Category Archives: Around the State

Abington School District update

Over on Community matters, there was some reference made to Abington’s budget process — somewhat with envy it seemed.  It’s always good to learn more about other districts — but perhaps a point of pride is in place for me about Tredyffrin Easttown School District.  I really want to separate the District from the decisions of the sitting school board.  I did my time on the board so I am not about to scrutinize their decisions individually, but let’s just say that there have been several things they have done over the past 5 years I would have opposed.  But I’m not on the board anymore — and when I was, I struggled to get the public at large interested in anything we did.  It’s constituency-driven politics — not squeaky wheel exactly, but certainly absent any scrutiny of their actions, sometimes the decisions are as “real world” driven as they should be. I have said before — I believe this economy will cause a “market correction” and salaries, benefits and bonuses — things like “retention bonuses” especially, will be a thing of the past.

The sitting board also knows that I believe that the taxpayers and district were not well served when I left the board and the members who continued and those who were new rejected any efforts or  input from me before they did the next teacher contract. I had personally negotiated the terms of the expiring contract, and had completely orchestrated the administrative compensation plan.  I believe their lack of interest in accepting feedback damaged the continuity of the process — as they made changes to things they had no history of.  I’m not saying they were not earnest in their efforts, but having reviewed the documents since my departure, there are a lot of gaps in the thinking. I believe would have helped in continuity.   The Union meets in Hershey every summer to develop a state-wide strategy for negotiating.  Board members rarely ask for advice — and don’t even talk to other boards in most cases.   Such a deal….it sounds like I think I was irreplaceable -and I absolutely do not.  My phrase then — no matter how big the boat, it doesn’t create a hole when you take it out of the ocean.  I believe that.  But I do think that history is critical in negotiations — and the negotiations that followed Carol Aichele ‘s and my departures were done with a new solicitor (our previous solicitor had died in an accident) and without benefit of background.  So I do think some of the personnel costs that are under attack cannot be adequately explained much less defended.  But they are what they are.  I would be happy to address any details that I am aware of.

Anyway — there were references to Abington and their commitment to keeping curricular issues and programs intact — a reference made to a quote that they only look to cut “stufff” — as well as the revelation that their Superintendent was selected Superintendent of the Year.  Congratulations to Dr. Amy Sichel, the ASD Superintendent and  winner of one of 10 awards for  National Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award.  

Here are details: eSchool News, a national monthly publication specializing in educational technology, notified Dr. Amy Sichel that she is a national winner in the 2010 Tech-Savvy Superintendent competition.  The Tech-Savvy Superintendent program honors K-12 educators who have displayed exemplary vision in the use of technology to further the goals of educating today’s students and equipping them with 21st century skills.  Six hundred applications were received by eSchool News, and only 10 winners from across the country were named.  The headline proclaiming her status as Superintendent of the Year may be a bit hyperbole — but the award is certainly wonderful for Dr. Sichel and brought with it grant money and more.

I bring up this particular district because even referencing it in our budget discussions seems incongruous with the issues at hane.  It is such an example of greener grass — as some posters elsewhere have included Inquirer information about how they go about their budget.  Last year, their millage actually “dropped.”  Actually, their millage for now is 27.09 mills, down from 27.29 the previous year.  That’s on property only.  One small point left out — Abington has an earned income tax of .5% — so you would need to look at their budgets, not their millage, to understand what their revenues were forecast to be.

 On SchoolDigger.com, TESD is ranked #6 in PA (NCES statistics)  Abington is ranked 128th.   TESD’s millage is 17.47.  Our CLR is .53 in Chester County and the Abington CLR in Montgomery County is .54 — so you can see my other tax calculations to figure it out:

On a house with a fair market value of $500,000 — the assessed value should be .54 of that number:  $270,000 (the same assessment as Lower Merion and Upper Merion on a similarly priced home)

The millage on that house would cost $7,314.30 plus .5% earned income tax.  Another house bargain discovered?  Remember that the 17.47 millage on a house valued at $500,000 in TESD has a tax bill of  $4629.55 .

Abington Info

Location
Northern suburb of Philadelphia in Montgomery County

  • Includes Abington Township and Borough of Rockledge
  • 15.2 square miles, primarily residential
  • Total population: 56,444District Organization/Enrollment 2009-2010
Elementary schools (K-6) 3,774
Junior high school (7-8-9) 1,739
Senior high school (10-11-12) 1,923
Total enrollment 7,436

 Personnel 2009-2010
Professional staff positions: 633.3       Supporting staff positions: 420.9
Budget 2009-2010

Budget Item Total Federal Funds
included in total
State Funds
included in total
Local Funds
included in total
Salary Items $ 71,946,518  $   472,927 $  10,703,364 $  60,770,227
Employee Benefits $ 23,368,932   $  155,230 $  4,921,407 $  18,292,295
Non-Salary Items $ 31,731,955   $    69,352 $  4,490,799 $  27,171,804
ARRA Stimulus Reserve $ 1,533,308 $ 1,533,308 $  0 $  0
Total Budget $128,580,713    $2,230,817 $20,115,570 $106,234,326

Taxes 2009-2010

Real Estate Tax:

  • The 2009-2010 tax rate is set at 27.09 mills. This means that for every $1,000 of assessed property value, $27.09 in school taxes is levied. The millage rate reflects a decrease of .7% when compared to the millage rate for the 2008-2009 school year.Earned Income Tax:
  • The 2009-2010 tax rate is set at 0.5%

Items in our budget over which we have little or no control:

  • Cyber and charter schools
     
  • Additional enrollment
     
  • Dramatic increases in fuel and utility costs
     
  • Increasing retirement/pension costs
     
  • Increasing medical insurance costs
     
  • Unfunded and underfunded mandated programs including special education classes and other programs and costs
     
  • Low level of state funding for education and decreasing federal funds
     
  • Increasing costs of textbooks, instructional materials, supplies and ever-increasing importance and costs of instructional technology

Future Plans of Graduates (Class of 2009):

  • Higher Education: 88%
  • Employment: 11%
  • Armed Forces: 1%

Once I am able to review their year to year budget, I will advise you whether cutting “stuff” really reduced their expenditure budget as some have claimed…anecdotally.  But please read their “things over which we have little or no control” as it’s pretty much true for every district in Pennsylvania.

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If it’s broken, it’s time to fix it – School Finances

Over on Community matters, some posters are concerned that these proposed budget cuts in TESD (they are happening almost everywhere, I promise) are going to damage the value of the school system — one poster said she would warn people not to move here.  I have answered in that exchange, but the comments would be far too lenghty for a blog comment — so I’m including my thoughts here as a Post. 

 I’m posting my research here –don’t want to dominate the CM comments.  There is a link to this blog on Communnity Matters – so folks can read here if they choose.  I’m not set up to be a “back and forth” commenting site  — so feel free to read it here as background and continue the discussion there.   I actually tried to shorten this to post it there — but it’s still too long..so here goes:

Point of Information:  This recession has cost the US 8.4 million jobs.   Only 1.5 million might return this year…

To Tredyffrin Easttown Parents

Please don’t worry about the quality and consistency of TE Schools.  This is a global economic problem, and it certainly is not limited to our district.  There should be some level of comfort knowing that TE has a history of high performance, and the leadership in our administration is seasoned, stable and dedicated.  Dr. Waters,  TE’s Superintendent has been in our district for more than 20 years, coming initially as the Principal at Conestoga.  He is in his 10th year as Superintendent.  TE is ranked as the 6th district in the state (the top 3 have less than 200 students; 4 and 5 have 2000 students) Source – NCES Dept of Education – summarized online at SchoolDigger.com   Presumably the talent that brought us this district is NOT abandoning a quest for excellence.   They were here in lean times and have been part of growth.  They know what works. Great teachers produce great results. 

 But lest you think TE is struggling to stay “afloat” as one blogger opined:

 Some facts about neighboring districts:

  • Radnor – in a contract year with teachers – Dr. Grobman is in her second year as superintendent, coming from Philadelphia. She received her PhD just prior to coming to Radnor.  Previous superintendents – 2 interim sandwiched around one 5-year contract (Cooper) that resulted in a resignation after 3rd year.   Multiple principal and administrative turnovers  during Cooper’s departure.  Radnor is ranked as #12 in the state.

The Inquirer reported this about Radnor at the time of Dr. Cooper’s sudden resignation:

Teachers’ contract negotiations last summer and fall were acrimonious, with a threatened strike, and some teachers, including the union’s leadership, said the superintendent’s attitude toward them during and after the talks was partly responsible for strained relations…..Since June, eight administrators either have left or will soon be leaving, and in recent months several residents, saying they thought morale was low among the staff, asked the school board to launch an investigation to determine the cause of the exodus.

  • Lower Merion –also  in a contract year with teachers.   Dr. McKinley is in his second year as superintendent.  Previous Supt.  Savedoff served one five-year contract – extraordinary renovation projects.  Left under a cloud of political attacks.   McKinley comes from running the  Delco IU for two years, and previously was Supt at  Cheltenham and held various positions in Philadelphia.  Lower Merion is ranked as #13 in the state. 
  • Great Valley –the board there has also declined to apply for Act 1 exceptions – so will live with the 2.9% cap on taxes.  16 year superintendent Rita Jones retired in 2009 despite being renewed for Aug 2008-Aug 2012.  Her replacement is Alan J. Lonoconus, who came to GV from Shikellamy School District (where his contract was to run through 2010).  Prior to that he was a Superintendent in Southern Columbia Area SD.  Great Valley is ranked as #15 in the state.  (Shikellamy district is ranked #420 in the state)  Great Valley Stakeholders just took a majority of seats in the most recent election.
  •  Downingtown – Dr. Mussoline began as the new superintendent this school year, replacing one-term 3-year Superintendent Sandra Griffin (previously at Lower Merion).  He comes to the district from Wilson School District in Berks County, a district with 6,000 students and ranked #57 in the state, where he had signed a 5-year contract in 2006.    Downingtown has approx 12,000 students and is ranked 28th in the state.   They have declined to approve requests for Act 1 exceptions. 
  • West Chester has also declined requests for Act 1 exceptions, and their Superintendent, Dr. Scanlon replaced retiring Alan Elko (after 8 years in the district) this past spring 2009.  Prior to this position, he was Superintendent at Brandywine in Delaware “for over 2 years” and spent 7 years as Superintendent in Quakertown Community School District, as district of 5,400 students ranked 75 in PA. Their website says that officials estimate that to avoid an Act 1 taxpayer referendum, the district must cut more than $6 million from its projected 2010-11 expenses.  West Chester also has an earned income tax.  Officials voted on Jan 25 to decline the request for Act 1 exceptions.   West Chester has approximately 12,000 students and is currently ranked 46 in PA. 
  •  Unionville Chaddsford has just renewed their superintendent Sharon Parker  for a second 4-year term – amidst public conflict over her compensation.  Ranked #11 in the state, UCFSD went to referendum last year to ask for approval for a major renovation of their high school.  The voters turned it down and the administration remains adamant that the plan needs to go forward.   Their budget has significant issues but since they cover two counties, I could not find any information about whether they have agreed to Act 1 limit. 
  •  Phoenixville SD continues their search for a new Superintendent. Ironically, their school board president is TESD’s retired teacher and  former Union president…they have an interim Superintendent who is the 3rd person in that seat since July 2008.  The turnover at the administrative level has hit most buildings and demonstrates how difficult it is to hold onto staff during tough times –so many districts are hiring administration (or trying to)  With 6 schools and approx. 3,300 students, Phoenixville is ranked 64th in PA. 

So – life is not easy anywhere.  I could go on to other neighboring districts – but I think the point  is that schools are facing  and  looking for ways to respond  to economic pressures.  Citizen Journalists such as Community…Matters Save Ardmore Coalition and the Great Valley Stakeholders sites are shining light on details that typically were taken for granted or ignored…because life was progressing and nothing was broken.  Times were fine and pressure to avoid strikes kept teacher contracts flowing.  With these new blogging analysts,however,  there are lots of concerns and questions.  It’s similar to buying a new car once every 10 years — you are shocked at how the prices have changed!  Now – we find that the financial system is broken – so it needs fixing.   The reason that many scrutinizing the system are parents of kids who have already or even long ago graduated from our district is that those same people – presumably 10+-year residents – have also seen the “value” of their homes double, but unless you are moving away, that is meaningless. They spent what they could — and now the market wants them to spend more.    Taxes are based on assessed values.  Newer residents are paying these higher prices and so their taxes represent a smaller (and no doubt escrowed) percentage of their house purchase price, which comes with high expectations. 

 It could be  a stand-off  if you don’t trust and support the process to address the obvious dissonance in the message.    Hopefully reading and discussing and learning will set an example for our kids and for our community — we are going to thoughtfully consider these problems — not just throw money at them.  Parents can talk about moving, or even independent schools — but those choices are not about solving problems. 

In all likelihood, these times will cause a market “correction” in salaries, benefits and the “race to the top” that drives and mesmerizes so many programs.   It is not a coincidence that the highest correlation to success in schools is parent involvement.  2/3 of the adults in this community have college degrees.  Ray Clarke makes the point about slowing down the pressure to offer more and more might actually benefit kids.  As long as the state continues to add mandates to the educational testing pile — more and more curricular time is going to be spent teaching to the test — which in many cases is built on standards lobbied for by special interests.  (For instance:  History standards are 1/3 world, 1/3 US and 1/3 Pennsylvania….??)  We can talk about that later.

Don’t let this budget process discourage you — and don’t let the final passage be your last interest in the be a  the system.  Schools are going to need more volunteers — won’t be all those paid aides making copies and cutting forms and doing mailers. 

But this budget is just a start.   It’s going to be harder going forward because of the state retirement system.  But THAT is a story for another day.  PSERS.  Check it out.  Click on the link for a copy of the presentation slide show that starts to outline the problem under “Hot News”