June 6, 2016
The agenda has been issued for the Thursday June 9 School Board meeting. Included in the agenda is plan to approve the implementation of FDK in 2017-18 and the 2016-17 budget which includes the 3rd consecutive tax increase to the Act 1 limit. If you are concerned about the continuing trend of increased spending and taxation imposed by the Avon Grove School District please reach out to your elected representatives and let them know before the next meeting. Information about the board members and contact information is available here. Concerned community members are also encouraged to attend the School Board meeting this Thursday evening 7:30 pm at AGIS. There is a public comment opportunity early in the meeting on any of the agenda topics.
Full day kindergarten was not approved for implementation in 2016-17 when some board members still had outstanding questions and concerns about the program. The Administration has developed a cost analysis showing the program is “cost neutral” using funding redirected from Avon Grove Charter School through reduced enrollment. The analysis largely ignores the potential for significant numbers of students to join a free AGSD full day kindergarten program versus private programs costing parents in excess of $5000 annually. At a recent meeting Charles Beatty presented a projection showing that these students could result in additional costs approaching $1 million. If enrollment at AGCS is not impacted negatively then the taxpayers will directly bear much more of the more than $4 million cost of FDK and the new modular classrooms. The vote for FDK in 2017-18 is included as part of the consent agenda.
The spending increases in the 2016-17 budget require that a 3.1% tax increase be included in addition to using $2.68 million of our savings (fund balance) to cover expenses. New expenses include the addition of 15 new positions. The number has been reduced from the 18 that were originally requested to 15. At the last Finance Committee meeting in response to a question from Charlie Beatty the Superintendent gave a presentation to justify the added positions.
Finance Committee Recommends Board Vote on Financial Projection
The majority of the Board and Administration have not been supportive of a suggestion that a 5 year financial projection be developed to illustrate where the Avon Grove School District is heading financially and what will be required to support that direction. A projection of this nature is a common tool utilized by virtually any business and school districts so that initiatives can be prioritized and planned in such a way that they do not adversely affect the taxpaying community or the ability to sustain the core priorities at a high level. The Avon Grove School District faces many challenges such as soaring retirement costs (PSERS) and declining enrollment while still striving to develop and advance a wide variety of strategic initiatives like full day kindergarten. On the capital expense side the Administration has assembled a long list of maintenance items estimated at $20 million. Additionally the Administration and many Board members aspire to implement major renovations and/or replace the current high school that is reflected in many of their comments and the Gilbert Architectural Study last year. All these might be reasons to consider how they might be funded in the future but every time the issue has been raised the response from Superintendent Marchese and Board Leaders (Wolff & Gaerity) has generally been dismissive and evasive citing financial uncertainty and what they suggest is an exercise of limited value.
At the last Finance Committee meeting both Charlie Beatty and Patrick Walker voted to move the 5 year projection out of committee to the full board to vote on whether or not to direct the administration to develop a long term financial projection. The vote will occur at the June 9th School Board Meeting.
The topic of a 5 year projection has been raised at numerous meetings and public comments since late last year but the prospect of having a vote to generate one put Vice President Gaerity and the Superintendent into a near panic claiming there was not sufficient time to research and consider the objective, format and other details before deciding if something could be developed. Both were strongly opposed to moving forward and were obviously struggling to prevent a vote on the topic but the meeting closed with a recommendation to move forward though there is nothing indicated on the meeting agenda regarding a vote on the subject.
The Blame Game
The Administration and many of the board members have been recently attributing the majority of the increased spending in the last few years to rising costs of PSERS (retirement funding for teachers and other school employees) and increases in the funding allocated to Avon Grove Charter School. This theme is repeated at every opportunity where increased spending and taxes are discussed. Listen closely and you will hear it repeated over and over. Realistically every change plays a part in the financial picture including payroll, new initiatives, debt management, facilities and other elements that are outside the direct control of the AGSD. The board has a responsibility to the school and the overall community. To suggest that only elements outside direct control are responsible for tax increases to the ACT 1 limit every year is a method to deflect part of that responsibility. For every savings that has been achieved by virtue of restructured programs, efficiency or reduction in debt service (as debt is paid off) there has been an increase in discretionary spending to consume that savings rather than allowing it to help offset mandated costs.
PSERS is a statewide burden that is a function of the overall school employee benefits package versus an expense that has no direct connection to our school district.
Funding allocated to Avon Grove Charter School is scaled based on the cost of education, including AGSD, and the number of students attending AGCS. As the cost of education rises in all areas or more students attend AGCS the funding allocated adjusts accordingly. Unlike the main school system AGCS does not simply take a larger portion of the funding available to the AGSD. Reducing this allocation by attracting students away from AGCS is a primary objective of the new FDK.