Revenue hits make for challenges on UCF budget

Wide range of options, opinions on approach for 2012-13 budget

By Mike McGann, Editor,
EAST MARLBOROUGH — Although the economy in general has shown signs of life in recent months, the last few months in the Unionville area — especially when it comes to real estate transactions — have been so weak, that Unionville-Chadds Ford School District officials find themselves with a bigger revenue hole than expected and a tough choice: raise taxes above the state’s Act 1 index or slash spending again.

One option appears to be off the table: taking the budget to a voter referendum next April.

Although final adoption of the budget won’t happen until June, 2012, and will be impacted by various other outside factors, including the state budget, at this point it appears that the tax increase in Chester County will be somewhere between the 1.7% state limit and 3.89% (because of differences in the overall county property values, the tax rate for Delaware County is expected to actually decline).

Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Sanville introduced a proposed preliminary budget Monday night — what he termed a “maintenance budget” — a 2012-13 budget that neither cuts nor expands program or staff. And while such a budget would, as recently as September, fit in under the Act 1 limits, (at least for the Chester County portion of the district) the collection of transfer and interim taxes has been so low since then, that the budget is more than $700,000 over that number.

The Board of Education does have options — and choices — to make over the coming months, starting in January. According to the district’s Director of Business and Operations, Robert Cochran, the district can apply to the state Department of Education for an exception to the Act 1 limit relating to pension expenses of $632,338. Assuming that exception is granted, that leaves a hole of about $75,000, which district officials said they felt could be found.

And while there was general agreement among the board on two issues, finding the $75,000 in cuts to bypass a referendum and seeking the pension exception, there appears to be a wide spectrum of opinion as to where to proceed from there.

Member Keith Knauss asked for the administration to prepare tiered cuts, as has been done in the last two year processes, to enable cuts to allow the increase to fall below the Act 1 index. But member Gregg Lindner asked for a list of the staff and program cuts made over the last two years so the board could better assess the impact of cuts to date before seeking additional ones. Such a list has been prepared, but was not released, pending administrative review.

Other members expressed some reservations about rushing to make more cuts, while others expressed hope that the exception wouldn’t be needed.

“I’m in agreement that a maintenance budget is a goal,” Kathleen Do said. “We’ve had a lot of cuts over the last two years, had a lot of hardship and it’s been difficult on the district and on the staff for the last year.”

“Our goal should be not to use it,” member Jeff Hellrung said of the exception. “But it might be debilitating (to the district) not to use it.”

But with the state funding numbers still an unknown, even if the tax hike remains in the upper range — assuming the pension exemption is approved — cuts may still be needed as the process unwinds during the spring of 2012.

“When push comes to shove, we’re going to have to make some tough decisions about exemptions,” member Victor DuPuis said.

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  1. Sean C. Rafferty says:

    Dr. Price brings up some very interesting points. Why would we purchase a bus when we can lease one for a fraction of the cost. The airlines do it all the time. I am not sure what the added dental benefit cost, however it may have needed to be upgraded anyway. The truth of the matter is that it is hard to comment on something without seeing all the facts. If raises for support staff were higher then agreed upon, there should be some explanation as to what is going on here and why Spending more money doesn’t make our district great. There are plenty of studies that show this to be the case. It is the parents, children, teachers and other support staff that all contribute in making our district one of the best in the state. I remember reading in one of the Kennett papers that one of our new school board members wants to tax us to the maximum. Well, I can assure you that mindset will enrage the voters in the UCFSD. Spend wisely folks.

    • Get ready for huge property tax increases from the newly elected Board members.

      The last paragraph of the preliminary budget (from Business manager Bob Cochran) says it all…

      Using the maximum exceptions (for pension contributions) will allow the Board to tax well above Act One index levels without the need to ask taxpayers for their consent.

      PSERS contribution rates are scaling up to about 28% of payroll over the coming years and this Board is doing no planning for anything other than major tax increases.

  2. The previous UCFSD Board chose to forego substantial savings from outsourcing transportation and/or building and grounds.

    They unilaterally renegotiated (UPWARDS) support staff contracts to pay more than was required under the terms that had been previously agreed upon and that were already in effect.

    They voted to spend about $100,000 above previously budgeted expenses when buying multiple new school buses.

    They gave substantial raises for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years to all professional staff.

    They DOUBLED the maximum yearly dental benefit.

    The weakness in the real estate market was known long ago and was discussed at virtually every Finance committee meeting over the past few years. It started hitting hard in 2008.

    Now the Board seek to raise taxes by the full Act 1 index (PLUS about $800,000) to cover all the unaffordable labor expenses, above budget spending and foregone savings.

    More than the entire amount in question went right to the UCFEA members to buy labor peace at the expense of all district taxpayers.

    Unless personnel costs are tied to a set percentage of total revenues they will continue to crowd out all other spending.

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