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‘Fiscal Cliff’ for Upper Dublin School District?

The district will likely face 'broad and comprehensive' cuts, as well as a 3 percent tax increase.

 

The words “difficult,” “storm” and “cuts” were scattered all over yesterday’s Upper Dublin School Board meeting. In fact, Upper Dublin Superintendent Michael Pladus sent a letter to parents on Friday informing them of the district’s “own version of the fiscal cliff.”

First, the budget.

The district’s proposed 2013-14 preliminary budget is up about $1.8 million over last year’s — a 2.1 percent increase — to $87.2 million. Revenue, according to the proposed preliminary budget, is slated to come in at $84.6 million. To cover the gap, the school district is proposing the use of $2.6 million in fund balance (which would leave just over $8,000 in fund balance at the end of the fiscal year) and a 3.04 percent real estate tax increase.

The current millage rate is 28.7847. With the proposed tax increase it will be 29.6597. In real terms, a homeowner with a house assessed at $150,000 would pay $4,449 annually, or $131 more than last year. A homeowner with a house assessed at $200,000 would pay $175 more per year.

Local revenue, about $71.2 million, accounts for about 84 percent of the 2013-14 proposed preliminary budget. The state chips in $13 million (about 15 percent) and the federal government contributes about $385,000. (Bray called the figure “paltry.”)

Bray said the biggest hurdle facing the district is its mandatory 16.93 percent contribution to the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System, which is up from last year's 12.36 percent. Bray added that the contribution will likely jump to 21 percent next year, and to 25.8 percent the following year. From the PSERS website: 

Total employer contributions of $2.3 billion are estimated in FY 2013‐2014. The Commonwealth reimburses school employers for not less than 50 percent of the total employer contribution rate.

PSERS is also funded through investment earnings and mandatory member contributions. Next fiscal year, members of the pension fund are expected to contribute an average of 7.43 percent of their salary to help fund their retirement benefits. Total member contributions of over $1 billion are expected in FY 2013‐2014. See the whole press release here.

So the proposed preliminary budget is balanced by using $2.6 million in fund balance and calling for a 3 percent tax increase, right?

No. The proposed preliminary budget assumes the district can find $2.75 million worth of items to cut.

From Pladus’ presentation:

“…The school district is required to consider a number of cost reduction options for 2013-14. The criteria used in brining these options forward are, first and foremost, least impact on students, followed by least impact on overall faculty, administration, and staff. A conscious effort has been made to have reductions across the board so as to promote fairness and equity to the extent possible.”

Here is a list of items that could be cut, from Pladus’ presentation:

Elementary reduction options

  • Reduce teaching assignments via demotions of all elementary specialist positions
  • Eliminate (through furlough and/or reassignment) math coach positions
  • Modify board policy on class size, eliminate (furlough) six to eight additional elementary school positions

Middle school reduction options

  • Eliminate through furlough and/or reassignment, two writing lab positions
  • Reduce through demotion teaching assignments in music to 0.8, with pending cuts in other special areas also under consideration
  • Eliminate teaming in grades 6-8, resulting in the elimination of two sixth-grade positions through furlough and/or reassignment, and four full-time equivalent positions through furlough and/or demotion in grades 7/8

High school reduction options

  • Eliminate driver’s ed. (Pladus said Upper Dublin is the only district in Montgomery County to still have the program.)
  • Reduce teaching assignments in art, music, business technology and family and consumer sciences
  • Reassign department heads to teaching full class loads, resulting in demotion of 0.2 in social studies, math, science, English and world language
  • Reduction in elective classes to allow for an additional reduction of two to four full-time equivalent positions through furlough or demotion
  • Modify board policy on class size to allow further demotions and furloughs.

Other reduction options

  • Reduce after school extra-curricular spending by $100,000
  • Eliminate or reduce current funding for the after school and evening SAT prep program.
  • Investigate imposition of student activity fee, which would bring in an estimated $50,000
  • Freeze the salaries of the superintendent and the assistant superintendent

“These items would be discussed possibly at the work session in February,” Bray said after the meeting, “and Dr. Pladus said we would work on them in March. I indicated that there may be additional meetings — all of which would be publicized.” 

The next work session meeting is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 4 at 6 p.m. in the Upper Dublin High School Cardinal Room. 

Frank Butch Rocco January 15, 2013 at 08:33 PM
Upper Dublin should look and see How Many Graduates are Killed in Driving Accidents ----More people are killed in cars then any other way of DEATH up to the age of 55!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Doctors,Teachers,Lawyers,Nurses,Politicians,Electricians,Chemists etc--all died!!!!!!!!
Paul Pender January 15, 2013 at 08:52 PM
Unbelievable that this School Board has put the Residents in this postion in the First place. You have given us a beautiful white elephant of a HS. Big Deal. Pathetic. Its all about power. This School Board should rRESIGN and that includes the Superintendant.
Curmudgeon January 15, 2013 at 11:38 PM
Look at the photo in this article. That is all you have to know about this School Board. This was suppose to be a High School, the cafateria looks like The Mirriam!!!
qdogPa January 15, 2013 at 11:56 PM
How about soliciting students from neighboring communtiies, set a tution level below the private high schools in the area, i would think you might find a revenue stream by doing so
Mischa Arnosky (Editor) January 16, 2013 at 12:41 AM
You're right in that the high school is new and that the district is paying millions in debt service, but the superintendent and the business administrator were very adamant about saying that the new building is not affecting this budget.
danny roturra January 16, 2013 at 01:49 AM
why weren't these line items cut last year? why weren't they cut two years ago? why weren't they cut three years ago?....however, taxes were increased EVERY year...religiously. cut everything to avoid burdening taxpayers already assaulted by every other taxing authority. if parents desire extras for their children they should feel free to pay for them. if they can't afford it, let the tax and spend liberals on the school board pay for it from their pockets...after all they always use the children as human shields. there is nothing on the list that could be considered essential. it is time to demonstrate fiscal restraint and responsibility.
Curmudgeon January 16, 2013 at 01:21 PM
The problem with the statement that the new school does not affect the budget is not true!! The debt service is consderably higher than the maintenance costs would have been had we not built the school. The debt sevice would be lower if they had built a high school to fit the student population. This increase in debt service goes directly to the tax burden!! Every time they raise taxes, they raise it on the basline of the increases for the new school. Mischa, if you are going to comment on the statements, why don't you go to an independent source to confrim their statements.
UpsetUDTaxpayer January 16, 2013 at 01:38 PM
I find it very interesting that they are willing to cut teachers, increase class size and reduce art, music, business technology and family and consumer sciences but yet NOTHING is said about ELIMINATION/REDUCTION OF SPORTS. I find it sad that our school board appears, according to their choices, to hold athletics in higher regard than classroom instruction. Let the kids interested in sports join one of the seemingly incalculable club teams that are accessible locally and let's get back to the job of educating students.
UpsetUDTaxpayer January 16, 2013 at 02:06 PM
Since the kids go to public school, and would be attending another public school, the funding would come to UD through the neighboring district that the student should be attending. This is done at the "average" or fair market rate for education in the state. Due to the cost of living in UD vs. the middle of the state, our cost is higher than the average. Therefore, if we allowed what you are suggesting, we would effectively be losing money on every enrolled student. For example: This is the case with St. Mary's students. UD back charges the districts that the St. Mary's student is a resident. However UD can only back charge at state mandated levels. Since our cost per student is higher than the mandated level, we effectively pick up the tab (a few thousand dollars per student) that attends from St. Mary's Villa. As an added bonus, once the student is enrolled in UD schools, if the student needs to be removed and attend an "alternative education school", the Upper Dublin assumes the additional cost (Over $40,000 per student in some cases). These additional costs are not sent back to the "home district". UD also has to "float" the money for the student to attend, then charge the "home district" at the end of the school year. It is my understanding that Philadelphia currently owes UD HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS in overdue, delinquent payments!
tex January 16, 2013 at 02:35 PM
Lemme guess--you have no kids in school? Sure, cut all but the essentials. Let's become a mediocre school system. Good luck on your home resale price when that happens.
Curmudgeon January 16, 2013 at 03:09 PM
@Tex: Over 70% of the residents in UD DO NOT have children in schools. (I have had 3). I am tired of hearing about resale prices. Purchasing a house has many factors, two of which are the PRICE and the TAXES. COMBINED they are the major factor in the cost of housing. If taxes are too high, prices fall, as the "NUT" to carry the home is the bottom line. All suburban school districts are "award winning" according to the distrcit. The bottome line is that we have had a reduction in the "GROWTH" of revenue, with little reduction in the growth of spending. We can blame those who built a larger than needed High School, signed a teachers contract, early with overly generous compensation, or we can figure out where we go from here. I recognize that taxes in UD are reasonable, but you have to understand that the increase of almost 100% over 10 years, puts pressure on those on fixed income, who have live here for 30, 40, 50 years. A fairer way to tax the residents would be an increase in the EIT.
Phillip Green January 16, 2013 at 09:53 PM
Driver's Ed. is a luxury, not a necessity in a public school. If parents want their kids to have it, they can pay for it themselves and take lessons through a private agency. And if this is really Frank Rocco, who was a Driver Ed. teacher at UD......you retired years ago. What does it matter to you? And those statistics of graduate deaths you cite are really a reflection upon YOU.
Adam Young January 16, 2013 at 10:02 PM
The taxes in Upper Dublin are out of control! There should be NO MORE increases. They already have a palace for a high school that we're going to be paying for forever. I think all of the superintendent's cost-cutting options should be implemented.
Don M January 16, 2013 at 11:15 PM
The proposal included the non-renewal of stipends which are paid to certain head and assistant coaches so this was included and, arguably, deeper in magnitude than marginal reductions to arts/music/consumer. Dr. Pladdus also suggested a participation fee may be considered. I'm a proponent of school athletics but am in support of the fee and I hope booster clubs are formed to help raise money to offset these expenses and fund new equipment needs, coaching costs, etc. Do this for everything: make them available, not free. Charge for guitar lessons, sports, etc.
UpsetUDTaxpayer January 16, 2013 at 11:42 PM
Don M: I too am a proponent of school athletics, but the massive amount of money that goes to them aside from the stipends coaches are paid is staggering: 1) Bussing to games 2) Insurance for games, travel, etc. 3) maintenance of facilities as well as cleanup cost after normal hours ($50,000+ astroturf field they put in this year) 4) security / police / administrators on site for games 5) increased utility costs for lighting fields / gyms /bathrooms, etc. 6) Uniforms for athletes The list just goes on and on. We need these athlete's parents to help shoulder this burden at a minimum. Pay to play, boosters, etc are a MUST in this day and age!
David Plasket January 31, 2013 at 05:12 PM
Is there a chance we can hold off the cuts long enough to elect a new governor of the state that supports education? Just an idea. Just for the record I am Pro music and arts As far as cost savings goes. How much does it cost to have the lights on at sparks fields? The other day they were on so a couple of kids could play soccer in the snow. Dave Plasket
David Plasket January 31, 2013 at 05:20 PM
Something else I just thought of. Instead of the cuts to the music programs why not tax the people who benefit the most from the athletic programs. Models and Dicks Sporting goods. D Plasket

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