Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Boyertown Board Meeting is All About the Money

It's hard to keep track of all the major issues with which the Boyertown School Board dealt last night, but nearly all of them had one thing in common -- spending public money.

Let's take a survey of all the issues on which they voted:
  • The $118 million budget that raises taxes 5.4 percent;
  • Tearing down Memorial Stadium and building a new one;
  • Lowering the student activity fee;
  • Preserving the per capita tax;
  • A one-year teacher contract;
  • Spending more than $300,000 on upgrading school security;
  • The extension of the interim superintendent's contract;
  • Extending the contract for the district's public relations firm.
Here's the short version, they were all approved, some unanimously, some by 6-3 vote and one by a 7-2 vote.

Let's walk through them one by one, starting with the big one -- the budget.

Surprisingly, there was less board comment on spending $118,669,893, then there was about lowering the activity fee from $200 to $100 -- with a $300 cap per family instead of $400 -- a teacher contract that will cost an additional $1.2 million; or even spending $6,000 more on public relations.

It will raise the millage by 1.35 mills and taxes by $136 for owners of a property assessed at $100,000.

What comment there was on the budget came from board member Clay Breece who, as he has done before, referring to public schools as "a government monopoly."

"The plan of some board directors is to simply raise taxes," said Breece, arguing the board had not done enough work on the budget to reduce costs. 

"We don't have anybody who wants to make tough decisions. I don't think most of the people here wouldn't know a tough decision if it was staring them in the face," Breece said of his fellow board members, warning "they will raise taxes again if we keep electing the same people."

Breece, was joined by board members Ruth Dierolf and Christine Neiman in casting the three votes against the budget.

No one voted against, or spoke about, a one-year contract with the teachers union, the Boyertown Education Association, which will add $1.2 million in costs to the budget the board adopted the same night.

The contract makes no changes to benefits, increases by 1 percent pay for co-curricular salaries and adds $1,500 to each step on the salary schedule effective the fourth pay in the 2019-2019 school year which begins July 1.

But there will be no step movement in that year. The contract has already been approved by the union.

Similarly, the vote to spend $355,649 on security upgrades at all the district's buildings -- the first of several phases -- received unanimous support from the board.

Breece said he looks forward to the policy discussions over the summer for the coming phases of the security upgrade, saying he favors inviting armed veterans and off-duty police officers to patrol the halls.

Those people "will squash the threat in seconds, not in minutes," he said.

In terms of cost, the next most costly item would probably be the tearing down of 32-year-old stadium and replacing it. They have tentatively been estimated between $1.5 million to $2 million, but, as Neiman noted before the vote, the motion the board was asked to approve -- and did unanimously -- contained no cost estimates whatsoever.

Not to worry, said Solicitor Jeffrey Sultanik, the motion is more of a "directive" for the administration to get started, and no bids or plans could be set into motion without further approval from the board.

The board also voted 7-2 on a last-minute motion to save the per capita tax of about $14 on every resident of the district over 18. In 2013, the board voted to phase out the tax on July 1 of 2018, but Dierolf said she had continually asked to revisit the issue.

If the board did not reverse the 2013 resolution before July 1, the only way to get it back would be by a district-wide referendum which, said Breece, is what the board should do.

"Let the people vote on it and board will get a lesson in civics," said Breece. "This thing will go down like a Japanese zero into one of those aircraft carriers during World War II."

But in the end despite the fact that in previous years it has cost 40 percent of the revenue it generates to collect it, only Breece and School Board President Donna Usavage voted to let the tax expire.

After expenses, it will net about $160,000 for the district.

It was not immediately known how much extending interim superintendent David Krem's contract for another year will cost. With the withdrawal of its top candidate this spring, the board, while hoping to have another candidate by the start of school, seems to be covering all possibilities.

Krem's contract, by which he is paid $800 per day, was unanimously extended to June 30, 2019.

Krem noted the fact that he is not paid for days he does not work and said the total days he did not work this year will cover the increased cost of renewing the communications contract with Kultivate, a Gilbertsville firm that has one employee -- Kristine Parkes.

He was strongly defending the recommendation to renew that contract for another three years, saying the $6,000 increase in cost was more than covered by the money he was not paid on the days he did not work.

Neiman questioned whether any other firm had been contacted for a price, and even made a motion -- which received no second -- to cancel the contract. And Krem's response was forceful, to say the least.

"In all my years, I have not sat in any meeting where you have degraded any professional contractor they way you have degraded Kultivate, just because its a one-man operation," said Krem. "I don't want to have this conversation with you again," he said, noting he does not "have the time to keep up with what's on Facebook and Twitter," adding mostly every statement that appears over his name was written by Parkes.

The contract, which costs $3,600 per month, was approved by a 6-3 vote, with Neiman, Dierolf and Breece voting no.

The item generating the most discussion Tuesday night was the vote to reduce the activity fee paid by students who participate in extra-curricular activities.

As a result of the 6-3 vote, the fee will be reduced from $200 to $100 per student and a cap of $300 per family, down from a cap of $400 per family.

Dierolf, Neiman and Breece all voted against the reduction, asking where the revenue lost would be made up.

"Where will that  $100,000 come from?" asked Dierolf. "We're buying Underarmor socks, getting laundry done, paying insurance. Soon enough we'll be paying students to play," she said.

"If I thought for one moment that $100 was keeping anyone from participating in an activity I would change my vote," said Dierolf.

"This is more of a political payback, inside joke with a pinch of contempt for the public. It's fake virtue," said Breece.

Brandon Foose said the money represents "one-tenth of 1 percent of our budget. It was a mistake when it was instituted and when it was increased it was a mistake. We must find ways to generate revenue in ways that do not create barriers to kids getting involved."

"When students connect with their school and activities, they are less likely to have animosity toward that institution," said Foose. "Activities helps develop the whole student. The community benefits from us having well-rounded students."

I think that's everything. I have faith if I've missed something, you folks will let me know. Otherwise, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

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