State budget restores funding to Unionville

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Board of education faces choices on saving, cutting taxes, saving jobs or a mix of all three after some $827,000 restored

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

Gov. Tom Corbett is expected to sign a new state budget of $27.15 billion that comes which much smaller school funding cuts than expected for Unionville-Chadds Ford.

Finally, some good news from Harrisburg, at least for the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District.

The state House of Representatives followed the state Senate and passed the 2011-12 state budget, a budget that Gov. Tom Corbett is expected to sign Thursday — and while the new governor got what he wanted in broad terms, the $27.15 billion budget comes in under his ceiling of $27.3 billion and calls for no new state taxes, the deep cuts in state education funding he called for in March were not preserved by the legislature.

Still, for the first time in nine years, the state budget is done before the deadline of June 30 and represents a spending cut across state government. The cuts are spurred, in part by the end of federal stimulus funds, intended to jumpstart the economy during the recent fiscal crisis. Republicans, who managed impressive solidarity, lauded the move to what they said was more responsible spending.

“This is a remarkable break from past budgeting decisions,” said state Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-9), who represents the southern five towns of the Unionville school district and is the state Senate Majority Leader, and played a key role in negotiating the final budget provisions. “In prior decades, the first instinct was to raise taxes, not to make the difficult decisions necessary for government to live within its means.”

Democrats, virtually all of whom opposed the budget, decried the cuts to education funding and social services. State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-19) who represents Newlin and West Marlborough, expressed concerns about the new budget’s impact, but felt the legislature’s version of the budget was less damaging than what the governor proposed.

“Even with these restored funds, school districts will still be hurting, but they won’t be devastated as they would have been under the governor’s March budget,” Dinniman said. “I am very happy that the legislators want to increase funding for education over what the governor wanted to spend, because every dollar in increased state funding means one less dollar in property taxes.

“I’m not saying this proposed education budget is perfect; I’m not saying it shouldn’t include more state funding,” Dinniman said. “But it sure is a lot better than what we started with.”

That means that a roughly $1.1 million cut in state funding to Unionville has been slashed to less than $300,000, as about $827,000 of the funding was restored in the new budget. Most of the money comes in three categories: keeping the payroll-tax matching rate at 50% — which could have meant a loss of some $612,000; and a restoration of some basic education funding and some accountability block grant funds makes up most of the rest.

The payroll tax matching was a priority for a number of southeast legislators, State Rep. Steve Barrar (R-160) said. Barrar, who represents Chadds Ford, Pocopson and Birmingham in the Unionville school district, said that cutting that match unfairly penalized schools that already get an unfairly small amount of state aid.

“Southeast suburban legislators fought very hard to keep that in there (the budget),” he said.

Although the Unionville budget, given final passage on June 20, does not have a spending target for these funds, it did incorporate them as unspent reserve, allowing them to be used if the budget process played out as school officials expected. It did, so now the Board of Education and administration will need to decide how much — or whether — to spend the funds.

Earlier this month, with the prospect of these funds coming to the district after the budgeting process was complete, the board considered options — including setting funds aside to cope with expected increases in contributions to the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS), restore some of the cuts, including, potentially, 10 support  personnel laid off effective today and other options.

“Obviously, there are 3 major possibilities — return it to the taxpayers; save it to offset future expenses (such as PSERS); spend it responsibly,” said Keith Knauss, who chairs the board’s Finance Committee. “I’d like to see a combination of all three.”

With the board not scheduled to meet again until August, it’s unclear when those decisions will be made, but the school district’s administration and Superintendent of Schools Sharon Parker are currently working on various options for the board to review.

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9 Comments

  1. Daniel Block says:

    I just had the chance to read this spirited debate/discussion. To quote a favorite band of mine, King Crimson, “It’s all talk” (“Elephant Talk” from the album Discipline). I like Scott Litzenberg’s opening salvo about moving forward – that sound less like talk and more like developing a plan of action. Ray, you don’t get it, period. I have come to know Scott through my years of watching him teach and conduct my two sons in marching band and jazz band – selfish??? Never. You took his comment way out of context. I usually don’t agree with most things Keith Knauss has to say, but his ending above: “As David Brooks said in his recent NY Times column – ‘teaching is a humane art built upon loving relationships between teachers and students.’ We understand and have observed first hand the emotional connection.” – strikes to the very core of what needs to be done. He appropriately registers the importance of the teacher-student relationship which, through my experience, has been for the most part decidedly positive and productive in all the years I and my family have lived in this district. Fail to get the contract ironed out and we will see the beginning stages of erosion of the very critical relationship noted above. Allow that to erode, as it inevitably will when the very human emotions of resentment, disgust, resignation and possibly hopelessness take hold, and we will have front row seats as witnesses to our own future demise. If we don’t continue to provide the high standard of education we have often taken for granted in UCFSD, then those very individuals upon whom we may rely in the future to be making decisions on our behalf as well as for their own children may very well not be as capable as they could/should/would have been. As before, my compliments to Mr. McGann for providing a collegial forum for the members of our community to talk about current and pressing issues in our school district.

  2. Keith Knauss says:

    Steve,

    You make some excellent points. However, you missed the mark with this one phrase, “To the board and taxpayers, the students are numbers in enrollment and test scores.”

    Certainly as directors of education at UCF we have to look at enrollment, test scores and dollars. But please recognize that every board member has or has had their own children attend UCF schools. And if you look at your neighbors, the taxpayers, you’ll find much the same. As David Brooks said in his recent NY Times column – “teaching is a humane art built upon loving relationships between teachers and students”. We understand and have observed first hand the emotional connection.

  3. steve says:

    Interesting that Mr. Litzenberg is said to be selfish by Mr. Farrell, all because he wants the teacher’s contract settled. Obviously, Ray does not know anything about Scott and what and how he teaches. I think selfish is about 180 degrees of what Scott is all about. Scott could be the Unionville teacher model…how he transformed the marching band and music program after he came here…how he is out in the sun in August at band camp, evening rehersals and marching in cold weather…getting our kids excited and enthused about the music program. How he finds compromises in scheduling for students with conflicts, without making it a “life and death” situation like some teachers do. I even give him a pass for using, as Keith says, an emotionally charged phrase, because for Scott, like most all the Unionville teachers, emotion DOES play a part in their life daily as they interact with our kids. To the board and taxpayers, the students are numbers in enrollment and test scores…these adults get “emotional” when numbers and costs are crunched. Only a student’s parent and their teacher get emotional when a student succeeds, or does something above what they thought they could achieve, or even when a student fails. THAT connection fosters education,and this community would be wise to remember that

  4. Keith Knauss says:

    Ray, Scott,

    Thanks for the spirited discussion. Here are a few thoughts –
    .
    The deliberation concerning how to use the additional $800K+ that was collected from the taxpayers by the state and distributed to our school district will occur in the August/September time frame and will be open to the public. Please attend the August and September work sessions and board meetings. Let your opinions be heard either during the public comment period or via email to board members.
    .
    I think using the emotionally charged phrase, “on the backs of the teachers and employees” is counterproductive and clouds the issue. In response, one might use the phrase, “on the backs of the taxpayers” and it is equally counterproductive. Bringing the budget into balance requires either raising taxes or cutting spending. And since employee compensation makes up over 70% of our budget, any reduction in spending unfortunately affects employees. This board has asked for shared sacrifice from both employees (salary freeze & furloughs) and taxpayers (tax increase).
    .
    I would not put my full trust in the people around the bargaining table – either side. Visit the district’s and the union’s web site for negotiation updates. Become familiar with the issues. Call or email your school board members and/or union leaders. Let us/them hear your thoughts. Ask pointed questions.

  5. Scott Litzenberg says:

    The spewing is referring to you jumping down my neck for making a reasonable comment about trying to get things to move forward. I don’t speak to anyone that way and would expect more decorum from a person who care s as much about our district as you do. But maybe I expect too much.

    It might take some pressure off of other areas of need and allow an offer to be made that doesn’t put all of the blame for the districts financial situation on the backs of the teachers and employees. I know that to some people, we are the main reason for all of the problems in the district/state/nation, so that is a tough sell.

    That’s all – I’ll leave the rest to people who are trusted with making those tough decisions – on both sides of the table.

    Scott

  6. Ray Farrell says:

    Scott,

    Wanting to balance the obvious inequities in our school system’s finances is not “soapbox spewing rhetoric.”

    O.K., specifically how would you use this newly discovered funding to “settle the teachers contract”?

    Ray

  7. Scott litzenberg says:

    Ray,

    Read my first sentence and get off your soapbox. Would it shock you to find out that we probably agree more than you think?

    Bus as long as you want to just spew rhetoric, you probably will never see that…

    Scott

  8. Ray Farrell says:

    Scott,

    How selfish can you be?

    The ink on the state budget isn’t even dry and you are already elbowing your way into line to help yourself!

    Here’s a few better ideas:

    1. Put some of the money in the bank for future fiscal emergencies.
    2. Re-hire the 10 support staff that were fired due to this budget short-fall.
    3. Restore some of the pay/benefits to our bus drivers that was lost.
    4. Replace a portion of our aging school bus fleet.

    Since you mentioned it, here are a few ideas to resolve the UCFEA union contract impasse.

    1. Teachers contribute more into PSERS.
    2. Teachers contribute more for their health care plan.

    Ray Farrell
    Pocopson, PA

  9. Scott Litzenberg says:

    I agree with Mr. Knauss, but I’d like to see part of it go to help settle the teachers contract. And yes, I am both a teacher and resident of the UCFSD.

    This is a great district with great people working there. Let’s find a way to turn the page and move on with the contract.

    This bit of good news is very welcome in this tough year of budgets and finance issues!

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