This Final 2017-2018 Budget Showdown Is About to Begin

The Octorara Board of Directors held their Facilities and Policy Committee Meetings, and the Work Session Meeting on Monday, May 8, 2017. Seven Board members were in attendance. Hank Oleyniczak and Nelson Stoltzfus were both absent.

Final 2017-2018 Budget Vote Countdown

Typically, by this point of the process, there is a level of certainty with the budget. The Octorara Area School Board has already voted to present to the public a 2017-2018 Budget that includes $54 million in expenditures, a 3.2% property tax increase, and a $563,000 expected use of fund balance. In years past, with the exception of some minor updates, that would be the Budget the Board would vote on come June.

However, the very evident public anger over another property tax increase calls this into question. Regardless, the proposed cure may cause more problems than it fixes. We have all seen those pharmaceutical commercials trying to sell you a drug to cure some affliction. But, then comes the list of side effects at the end… may cause insomnia, suicidal thoughts, kidney failure, problems with memory, tremors, nausea, increased appetite and weight gain, fatigue, high blood pressure, and risk of heart attack. Is a cure for toenail fungus really worth all that?

Taxing Less and Spending More

Well, the idea placed into the discussion last month by Brian Norris, and supported by Lisa Bowman, is to have a 2 percent property tax increase, rather than the full Act 1 limit increase of 3.2 percent. The change in the Budget would cause an increase in deficit spending from $563,000 to over $940,000. Moreover, the decrease in revenue, without corresponding budget cuts, will have a compounding effect going into future budgets. This could dramatically impact the financial health of the District. We will start the next budget process with a large revenue deficit before even one new dollar is added for just regular and predictable cost increases.

Using Savings to Pay the Bills

Currently, there is no majority support for making spending cuts. However, William Kloss stated, referencing statements I have made in the past, if he were to vote for the lower tax rate, it would require a commitment that we look at cuts as early as possible within the next budget. It is just a budgetary fact that using savings to pay your bills is unsustainable. The Reserve Fund is a finite amount of money and when it is gone, it is gone. The fasted way to cause our District to implode is to continue allowing the costs to grow faster than revenues.

Why No Cuts This Year?

The whole argument for taxing less without corresponding cuts is predicated on the idea that “other districts” use their reserve fund all the time to balance their budgets What it does not consider is the actual financial situations of those districts compared to our own. Other Chester County school districts do not have as much farmland, the limited commercial and industrial properties, the massive tax shift to other property owners, the declining enrollment, or many of the other financial challenges unique to Octorara. If we continue to try to spend like¬†Tredyffrin-Easttown, we will tax people out of their homes and still go broke.

Ultimately, taxing less but allowing the budget to grow is the easy political answer, but it is not a sustainable long-term solution. I believe it is only an attempt to lessen public outrage. It would seem some would rather save the cuts for a non-election year, but the cuts are coming. The only question is… Will those cuts come from the regular teaching and support staff or will the Board finally look at building consolidation and program cuts?

Security Guard and Use of Firearm Policy Only a Possibility

Most readers will remember the backlash over the killing of a raccoon by our armed security officer. Some parents and community members expressed concerned that the District does not have a formal policy defining the security officer’s role, nor do we have a policy defining the appropriate use of a firearm. This issue is now being discussed in the Policy Committee.

Dr, Newcome provided the Committee with examples of policies used at other Districts. These were provided for review, and could possibly be used as a guide for creating our own. However, developing a well-defined policy is not a forgone conclusion. Other outcomes could include updating the security officer’s job description or even doing nothing. There was obvious aggravation from at least one Board member that this is being discussed. Conversely, I am at a loss to understand why defining the security officer’s role, and the appropriate use of a firearm, causes anyone any heartburn.