The following was submitted to Radnor Patch for publication by Radnor resident Dan Webster.
This letter is submitted in response to Lisa Borowski’s “Opinion” piece titled, “Planning for the Future of Radnor Schools.”
am simply stupefied that Ms. Borowski, a sitting school board director,
could be so completely wrong and misleading in her assessment of the
surplus situation. Readers should also know that Ms. Borowski is also
the co-chairperson of The Democrats’ campaign. [Full disclosure: I am
supporting the Republican candidates.] It’s also helpful to note that
the Board is currently comprised of six Democrats and three Republicans.
It would be nice if political affiliation didn’t factor into the
management of the District, and I have no doubt that our school board
directors want the best for our students and our schools, but there are
philosophical differences. Those differences aren’t the subject of my comments; the misinformation in Ms. Borowski’s editorial is.
Let’s go down the list and attempt to separate fact from Ms. Borowski’s spin.
Ms. Borowski begins with the completely inaccurate and inflammatory statement that she is “concerned about the anger being generated and directed at our schools.” I have not once, ever, read any angry comment directed at our schools. The anger has been directed at the way this Democratic-controlled Board has been managing the District.
Ms. Borowski continues to hang onto the thoroughly disproven notion that the surplus just reported for FY 12/13 was $3.2 million. Her own auditors reported it was $4.7 million just 10 days ago. It’s now on the RTSD website under “Audit.” Her analysis of where the surplus comes from continues to reference a thoroughly discredited analysis from the October 8 Finance Committee meeting—an analysis which also misstated the surplus as $3.2 million. Healthcare savings were not a function of the new healthcare consortium; that didn’t kick in until the current year. The reported $1.5 million in lower benefit costs are largely, if not entirely, the result of persistent over-conservatism in the budgeting process, something I’ve pointed out to the board many times. I’m not going to dignify the rest of her analysis of where the surplus came from because the information has not been provided in any reliable form, at least not to those of us in the public. I requested it, but was told something like, “One step at a time, Mr. Webster,” which I think means, “Let’s wait until after the election.”
Ms. Borowski says, “The Board has elected to put this money aside for various upcoming obligations.” The Board didn’t “elect” to do that. If the surplus results in an Unassigned General Fund balance greater than 8% of expenditures, the excess MUST be moved to other accounts. It’s a state law. The Board has discretion where to move it, but not whether to move it.
Ms. Borowski says, “[The surplus] is a win for the Radnor taxpayer because this money is being redeployed toward obligations for which we will not have to tax in the future.” As a taxpayer, I say to her I would be happy to pay my bills when due and not in advance so you can figure out how to spend my hard-earned money, perhaps irresponsibly since there’s so much sitting around. Surpluses have equaled $20 million over the past five years.
Ms. Borowski implies that last year’s surplus will go toward “state-mandated pension obligations.” While that probably would have been a prudent allocation of those funds, not a dollar went for that purpose. The full amount of $4.7 million was socked away for capital projects. This year’s projects were already funded by the FY 11/12 surplus. Now, this year’s surplus has funded $1.6 million for FY 14/15 capital projects, with $3.1 million left over! That’s so much left over that it will fund the capital projects for FY 15/16 and FY 16/17, as well, and still leave $670,000 left over. Unless Ms. Borowski and her allies find some pet project to spend it on, of course.
Ms. Borowski’s fear mongering, a hallmark of the Democrats during this election season, continues in the same paragraph with “This community has already invested millions in district facilities and curricular programming, so why would we not save to ensure their continued viability?” To be accurate, the community has invested HUNDREDS of millions of dollars in our school, and the annual budget is $83 million. Does Ms. Borowski really believe that, say, an $81 million budget, as proposed by the Republican directors in May but rejected by the Democrats and termed “blood-letting” by candidate Rob Armstrong, will condemn our schools to self-destruction.
Readers, please stick with me as I move past her paragraph 5…
Ms. Borowski does get her facts straight when she notes that the tax rate over the past four years has averaged 1.7%, and I appreciate the fact that she also notes that last year, the Board (by a 6-3 vote on party lines) increased taxes 3.21% ($2.1 million). What she doesn’t note is that that tax increase was wholly unnecessary, evidenced, in part, by the $4.7 million surplus generated for the same year. For those who like surpluses AND low taxes, that means we could have had a 0% tax increase and still had a $2.6 million surplus.
Because I’m only half way through, let me summarize just a couple more things and let others weigh in as they see fit.
Ms. Borowski refers to taxing and spending before her tenure “without a long term viable strategy.” Such a strategy still does not exist, no matter how many times Ms. Borowski and her colleagues say that it does. These surpluses have been unplanned, as evidenced by the fact that “saving for the future” items have not been included in the annual budgets. “Unplanned” does not mean “unanticipated.” Some of us know the game being played here and have argued against it. Unfortunately, the Board majority calls the shots.
Ms. Borowski refers to the full-day kindergarten program. Interestingly, the Democrats ran a half-page ad in this week’s Suburban saying the Republicans are against FDK. As a long-time observer, I tell you this is simply a lie. The Republican candidates (and, actually, in an early vote, Ms. Borowski) are simply for a thoughtful, data-driven process to determine whether FDK is right for Radnor. Others on the Board will tell you they voted in favor for FDK because it was “part of my platform.” They didn’t know the cost and other implications then, and they still don’t know now. Yet they voted to approve FDK back in November during an informational session that wasn’t televised and wasn’t advertised to the public as an action item (vote). That’s just poor process and poor stewardship.
There have been some positive things occurring. There seems to be some movement toward finally creating a written curriculum. Financial reporting, although still terribly opaque, at least shows a glimmer of improving. Public comment is also improving.
I’ll stop there. If you like the sound of the spin and the way things are being run, by all means, re-elect Mr. Armstrong and Ms. Solomon. If you think Radnor deserves better, vote for the Republican candidates. But please do pay attention. And if you’ve read this far, you probably are. Thank you for that. There’s a lot at stake.