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News Next Door: Upper Dublin School District Could be in Trouble

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 education. (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. 

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