For what its worth, I attended the recent regular school board meeting at Patton middle school on May 17th and thought you might appreciate reading my observations and analysis.
First off, I must say that I was impressed with all members of the board. Several members seem to play the roll of the “bad cop” but that (in my opinion) is healthy and brings balance to the nine-member body and helps to counter some of the more confrontational audience members.
I had met several of the board members in the past and I read the school board web-site regularly but this was my first time attending the actual school board meeting. I came away with the impression that all of the members are dedicated, thoughtful, DELIBERATE, and 100% committed to giving our children the best possible education, while at the same time being fiscally responsible.
It was clear to me that the board also realizes that just as important as educating our children is the ability of future generations to pay for the decisions they/we make today.
To set the scene, the UCFSD basic budget is allocated approximately as follows:
71%: Personnel Costs (salary, health, retirement plan, etc.)
11%: Debt Service (principle & interest payments on loans)
18%: All remaining costs (books, supplies, programs, etc.)
As you can see, with a scant 18% of the budget remaining for discretionary spending, the school board has a fiduciary responsibility, and as part of their required due-diligence, must periodically look at all possibilities when trying to stretch the budget dollar. They look at everything.
To make this point, retiring school Superintendent Sharon Parker gave the example that they actually looked at selling the school system’s vast art collection valued at over $200,000 to make ends meet. In a sense they are looking under the couch cushions to find extra change.
Of the many topics discuss during the 3-hour meeting, I will address the three that I feel are creating the most controversy/alarm.
1. Superintendent Sharon Parker’s Retirement:
Despite what you may have read, Sharon Parker is not resigning, she is RETIRING. At age 64 (?), the long work weeks have become to much for her. Add to that the health issues associated with being a senior citizen (sorry Ms. Parker), and it is no wonder she wants to end her long, accomplished career, relax, and spent more time with her family.
At this meeting Superintendent Parker directly refuted some peoples notion that “the school board doesn’t support her, leaving her with no choice but to resign”. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It fact, the Superintendent and the school board went out of their way to emphatically reiterated their deep, mutual respect and appreciation for each other.
No retirement date has been set and Superintendent Parker said she will remain at her post until a suitable replacement has been found.
2. Elementary School Re-alignments:
> Not gonna happen,
Since the school board must be pro-active to keep future education costs sustainable, they must be realistic enough to look-at and plan-for worst case scenarios. Anyway…I guess at the last school board meeting the results of this feasability study was discussed or mentioned. Due to PA “Sunshine” laws and this boards’ great desire to be open, public, and inclusive, the disclosure that this nascent study even existed caused a deserved and corresponding panic.
Last night the school board said it is NOT even being considered and I believe it is just a remote doomsday plan. There is no vote scheduled or pending on this scary option and I believe it will be quickly put in a drawer.
The bottom line is, I think we can relax and breathe a collective sigh of relief on the re-realignment issue. Of course that is not to say don’t be involved, engaged, or part of the checks and balances that make our school system so great.
3. Privatization of the School District Transportation Department (our school buses):
> Possible but very unlikely.
Our school system is the only one remaining in Chester County that owns and operates It’s own school bus fleet (a point of pride for all of us).
Apparently privatization in the surrounding school districts has brought mixed results, dubious savings, and in some cases, deep regret for liquidating such a valuable asset.
There is more to it then this but in a nutshell: There were 5 proposals (bids) that were considered. The best bidder would save the school system the miniscule amount of approximately $146,00 a year over 5 years if we privatized our bus system.
What is great is that since the study to privatize the buses began, the drivers and administrators of the transportation department have found over $200,000 in savings by becoming more efficient and in some cases voluntarily taking less pay. Several of these employees testified last night and it was very emotional indeed. I get a sense that they love their jobs and love our kids even more. This is something you won’t get from a private for-profit company. Our experienced, caring drivers are an intangible resource that more than makes up for the scant savings associated with privatizing this capital asset.
With the exception of one board member (the bad cop), the board doesn’t seem to see the benefit of liquidating our great transportation department. One of the board members said it was akin to “selling your car to a dealer and then leasing it back from him”
Please support our drivers and tell them how much you appreciate them. They feel they are on the chopping block to the lowest bidder and want to resolve this issue asap. Make them some cookies too.
The board will vote on this issue as soon as possible and it should happen sometime before June 6. Please email the board members and ask them not to privatize our bus system. I believe they have already come to this conclusions but it won’t hurt to let them know how you feel.
I applaud the school board for putting all options on the table but I also thank them for making informed, fact based, and sound decisions.
The elephant in the room:
For 16 months now, the teachers union bosses and our school board have not been able to agree on a labor contract.
The school board is offering a generously averaged 3.5% pay raise each year for 3 years. Add to this the ballooning and unsustainable costs of the teachers union retirement plan (PSERS) and their exploding health care costs.
Our school district is approximately the 29th highest paid out of over 500 school districts in PA. The average salary for our 330 teachers is over $74,000 per year. 70 of the 330 teachers make the maximum at over $101,000 per year.
With national unemployment at 9% and our economy in shambles, why are the teacher’s union bosses demanding an averaged 5.6% pay raise each year for 3 years? (a 17% raise over 3 years).
Why are they NOT willing to pay more into their retirement system and health care plan?
I’ll tell you the answer: The teacher’s union bosses are trying to double-fist the 18% remaining in the school budget cookie jar. Like most public-sector unions, they always try to take more than their fair share and they don’t care where the money comes from (they just want more).
While these teacher union bosses sit on their hands, our school system is sinking into a sea of red, as everyone else (except them) is bailing water.
The contrast between the shared sacrifice of our school bus drivers and the teacher union bosses’ greed is astonishing.
Many militant supporters of the teacher’s union regularly attend/disrupt the school board meetings. They wildly agitate anytime someone approaches their bowl of gravy. I would strongly encourage anyone interested to attend these school board meetings to counter the generational theft being committed against our children.
Not many parents or taxpayers show up. They are open, inclusive meetings, and they allow public comment.