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VIDEO: Remaining Notes from Dec. 7 B-W School Board Meeting

An elementary choir performance, fund balance approved and looking ahead to 2012-13 budget.

After a  for the Baldwin-Whitehall School Board wrapped up on Wednesday night, the newly constructed board conducted a regular monthly agenda meeting.

Some of the highlights of that meeting are as follows:

Preliminary Budget for 2012-13

The board discussed the possibilty of raising millage rates for the 2012-13 school year on Wednesday.

District Superintendent Dr. Lawrence C. Korchnak described the proposed tax hike—as much as an approximately 1-mill increase—as being a "worst-case scenario."

Korchnak said that, in light of economic uncertainty, approving a measure that would give the board the authority to raise taxes is necessary as a precautionary measure.

In no way does the board approving the ability to raise taxes constitute an actual tax raise, Korchnak stressed.

"We want to create the greatest (financial) flexibility," he said. "In order to do that, we have to a pass a proposed preliminary budget that would allow us to increase taxes should it be necessary.

"This is worst-case scenario. It's not committing anything ... 

"We need that latitude, because we don't know, in the first week of February, what the governor (Tom Corbett) is going to come out with."

"If you don't do this now," board President John B. Schmotzer said, "then, our hands are tied. We have no options if we don't do this."

Korchnak said that he would not expect, even in a poor scenario, for the increase to be as high as 1 mill.

The board will vote on the precautionary measure at a later time.

Elementary Students' Choir Performance

Elementary-aged students from the district surrounded the school board to sing three different holiday songs.

music teacher Megan Kraus led the choir.

(Watch the video accompanying this article to enjoy part of that performance.)

New Fund Balance Approved

The school board did act on one item during Wednesday's agenda meeting—Policy 627, Fund Balance—which was approved unanimously and put into effect the next day.

The purpose of the school district fund balance is to be fiscally responsible and to preserve the financial integrity of the district.

"The school district will strive to maintain an unassigned general fund balance of not less than 3 percent and not more than 8 percent of the budgeted expenditures for that fiscal year," Policy 627 details.

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Brian Rampolla December 09, 2011 at 01:00 PM
These are questions for Bob Healy because I could not make the meeting. Did Dr. Korchnak discuss the legal limit on a tax increase without a voter referendum? A 1 mil increase is about 4.3%, but I believe the district is permitted only about a 2% increase, perhaps up to 3% with state approval. Did he present any update to the 5-year plan presented in May that showed a $2.8M projected deficit for next year even with an approximately 3% projected increase in real estate revenue? Did he discuss the potential need for service cuts because of this deficit? Did he discuss when the 6/30/11 audit results will be released? I hope the board moves to videotape future meetings so the public can easily obtain such important details if they can't be there.
Robert Edward Healy, III December 09, 2011 at 02:44 PM
Brian, we will get back to you asap.
Robert Edward Healy, III December 10, 2011 at 02:13 PM
Brian, great, great questions. Here are some answers: I've learned that, if the board ever wants to surpass the limit on raising millage (1.8 percent, according to William McKain), it would have to go to a referendum (public vote) in order to do so. However, procedure-wise, a preliminary budget must be adopted before a referendum could occur. John Schmotzer did mention an expected projected increase in real estate revenue but said that the board’s preliminary millage increase is necessary even accounting for that increase in revenue because of its precautionary nature. In other words, since state funding and real estate assessment have not been finalized yet, the board must plan for a "worst-case scenario" (state funding being abnormally low). Lawrence Korchnak did mention a $2.8-million figure but called that a “windfall” (good fortune) from the high school renovation project. He did mention that some service functions are seeing deficiencies in funding but not that anything specific is being cut yet. Perhaps service cuts could come in the future after the district receives word on state funding (my opinion). Then again, raising millage might prevent that. I did not hear a discussion on audit results.
bd December 11, 2011 at 04:52 PM
Mr. Healy - What McKain told you may not be entirely true. Act 1 regulates the rates at which each school district can raise property taxes in Pennsylvania. Districts are not allowed to raise taxes above that index unless they allow voters to vote by referendum, OR THEY SEEK AN EXCEPTION from the state Department of Education. I suspect that the B-W school board is opting for the later: asking for the Dept. of Education to grant them a waiver to go up to the 1 mill Schmotzer is drolling over. I do not believe that this school board would trust the voters to give them a big millage increase nor do I think that this school board believes they can honestly justify a big increase to the voters. Plus, that would take some honest work by the school district and it is easier for them to take the DOE (Dept. of Educ.) route than face the voters with a referendum. Do you think that a group of educators like the DOE will NOT approve a waiver? When Schmotzer says "our hands are tied", I think he means that the voters will tie the school board's hands. That is the way it is supposed to work. School boards hands need to be tied to stop them from unnecessarily spending our money on things that do nothing to improve childrens' education. Scholastic results in this district have fallen but the budget keeps going up.
Robert Edward Healy, III December 11, 2011 at 06:00 PM
bd, Thank you for the information and the clarification.
Purple Power December 11, 2011 at 06:40 PM
BD should sit on the board and speak for Schmotzer since it is obvious that this person knows exactly what Schmotzer means each time he speaks. What a joke! Things cost money, deal with it!
bd December 11, 2011 at 08:08 PM
Thanks for the offer to serve on this disfunctional B-W school board Purp but seeing this group in action over the years leaves me cold. Yes things do cost money but it is the waste of that money that needs to stop. Wasting money on a PR person who never did his job other than act as tour-guide at the high school was a good example of waste. That is just scratching the surface.
Purple Power December 12, 2011 at 03:11 AM
Agree that there is a lot of waste, but it seems that no one in administration really cares. What about the Human Resources and Payroll Departments. The HR Manager is an idiot all together and Payroll hasn't been managed well for years. These departments, because they generate zero revenue, need to be run by qualified people, which is not currently the case. The new board should open these positions and get people with real qualifications to fill them.
bd December 12, 2011 at 12:44 PM
I do not disagree with you on that one, Purp. However, it is not just the fault of the school district adminstration. The fault for the waste of taxpayers' dollars that you and I pointed out ultimately falls on every member of the present and past school boards that allow this to go on. Instead of cutting costs, it is easier to simply raise taxes and mouth silly platitudes like, "it's for the children."
Billee December 12, 2011 at 03:16 PM
Dear Purple Power, I agree with you that a business should be run in an efficient manner. I also agree with the opinion that at times others don't seem to care. I disagree with you calling the HR manager an idiot. Times are already toxic and stressful enough! In my opinion we don't need to make things worse. Whoever you are - Merry Christmas Purple Power and peace be with you and yours.
Purple Power December 12, 2011 at 03:44 PM
BD, it seems we are not as far apart on our thinking, but the administration does make the recommendations on hiring, at least in the official documentation. Billee, that was the nicest word I could come up with for someone who is so unqualified. The "sins of our fathers" or in this case previous board decisions, led to unqualifed hires and mismanagement of the departments that can ill-afford to be run that way. A Merry Christmas to you as well.
Brian Rampolla December 13, 2011 at 07:19 PM
Thanks Bob for following up on the financial issues, and BD you are right regarding the exceptions, although they may not equal a full mil (about 4%). We’ll know more from the preliminary 12-13 budget, which is on the agenda for the 12/14/11 board meeting to be released for public review. According to the agenda item the budget is $62.4M, which is $2.3M or about 3.8% more than the current year. I question the statement from Dr. Korchnak that the $2.8M from the high school project, which is included as revenue in this year’s budget, is a windfall. As best I can determine, this amount started in the 09-10 budget for the auditorium as part of the fund balance, then in June 2010 was moved into the 10-11 budget as general revenue for the auditorium. But, in March 2011 it was undesignated because it was determined there were sufficient remaining funds in the construction fund to cover the auditorium. However, instead of moving this money back to the fund balance, it appears it remained in the current 11-12 budget as general revenue. So, it sure appears to me that fund balance money was used to balance this year’s budget. If this year’s budget was unbalanced, then there should have been a specific board vote to use the fund balance to make up the difference, or make budget cuts. As to scholastic results, everyone should reveiw the district Report Card on the web site. Look at the decrease in math scores from elementary to the high school - what's going on?.
bd December 13, 2011 at 09:10 PM
Brian R. - What is going on indeed? Are you saying that money originally borrowed for a specific project (high school construction) is instead being used to balance a budget? With all of the state approvals necessary to allow the borrowing of money for the high school, I would not think that the money could simply be used to balance a budget. Wouldn't the district have to get approval from a state agency (DOE) to use the borrowed money for something other than what it was originally borrowed? Is this what you are suggesting they are doing with this borrowed money?
Brian Rampolla December 13, 2011 at 10:59 PM
Bd: The primary issue to me is apparent use of the fund balance to balance the budget without specific board approval. If fund balance money is intended for a specific project it is I believe first set aside in the fund balance and then brought into the general fund as additional revenue in the budget year during which the project will be completed. In cases such as the auditorium for which alternative sources of funding become available, it seems to me the money should be moved back to the fund balance. Using the fund balance to balance a budget is a serious issue, and should only be done if every effort is first made to reduce expenditures to match revenue. It is difficult to follow exactly what happened regarding funding of the auditorium since it was first introduced in May 2009, but this is my best conclusion based on pretty detailed review of the budgets and board meeting minutes. I’m sure someone from the administration will correct me if I’m wrong. Now, I know nothing about DOE authorized use of borrowed money, but I am concerned by the statement by M. Schmotzer at the end of his last meeting that the auditorium renovations were funded by a combination of left over money in the high school construction fund and accumulated interest in that fund. It seems to me such interest perhaps should go to debt service, not to capital projects. I submitted a Right to Know request asking the administration to confirm this statement, but they refused to answer.

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