In a shocking development at the Radnor School District Board meeting last night, the Board reported a $4,700,000 surplus for the fiscal year.
A little background might be helpful:
1. In May, 2012, the Democratic Controlled Board voted for a 3.21% tax increase ($2,100,000).
2. In May, 2013: the Democratic Controlled Board voted for a 0.4% tax decrease based on a $1,500,000 forecasted surplus. Susan Michaelson and Pattie Booker’s proposal for a significantly larger tax decrease in recognition of the persistent surpluses was voted down by the Democratic majority. Rob Armstrong suggested it was like “the medieval practice of draining blood from a patient”. Lydia Solomon suggested “it was reckless”. Now, we know they were just wrong.
3. In September, 2013 at the last Board meeting, the District’s business manager indicated that we could expect a surplus of $1,500,000 to $3,200,000.
4. At the October 8, 2013 Finance Committee meeting, the surplus appeared to be $3,200,000. But the numbers did not reconcile and in a two hour meeting, Mrs. Michaelson and members of the public kept asking questions to which there were no satisfactory answers.
5. And last night, thanks to Ms. Michaelson and Ms. Booker’s persistence, we finally learned the surplus was really $4,700,000.
At Tuesday’s Board meeting, Mr. Armstrong looked in pained shock, which is understandable. He had suggested that questioning the numbers “was fear mongering” and that he was comfortable that “the cycle of unplanned surpluses was now turning the corner.” Now we know that was entirely untrue. Ms. Boroski, Ms. Rapoport and Ms. Doherty said nothing. Ms. Solomon largely missed the point of the presentation but did ask questions. Mr. Zajac looked frazzled but, to his credit, genuinely appeared to be trying to get to the bottom of what has become a total mess for the Board and Finance Committee he chairs.
Mr. Armstrong and Ms. Solomon, who are running for re-election to the School Board on November 5th, have consistently and repeatedly argued in debates and at Board meetings that these surpluses (now $21,000,000 over five years) have been part of a multi-year strategy but, when asked if this surplus was part of that strategy or if, in fact, there ever was a multi-year plan, they declined to answer. By the end of the meeting, Mr. Armstrong suggested to the new District superintendent, Dr. Michael Kelly, “that a multi-year plan that addressed an appropriate fund balance would be helpful.” It is now totally clear that there never was a plan and that these surpluses were, in truth, completely unplanned.
On this point, candidates Armstrong and Solomon have seriously mis-led the public, and they owe the public and their fellow Board members an apology. Mr. Armstrong and Ms. Solomon are running for re-election in part on a platform of accountability. Now is the time for them to honor that commitment and be accountable.
I have argued for quite some time that the Democratic majority on this Board is seriously underpowered from a financial perspective and that could not have been in more stark and clear evidence last night. This may never have come to public light without the perseverance of Ms. Michaelson, Ms. Booker and members of the public who were all steadfast on this. Mr. Armstrong worked hard to undermine them and question their motivations, but in the end, he could not have been more wrong and they more right.
The School District has an $83,000,000 budget that requires Board members who will be responsible stewards of the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. It is now obvious that the current Democratic-controlled Board has badly failed Radnor families and taxpayers in this basic, fundamental responsibility.
I am running for the School Board with Dave Falcone, Jim Link and Susan Michaelson. Together, we will bring an end to this irresponsible over taxation and ensure an excellent education for all Radnor students, paid for in a responsible, right-sized way.
We will insist that the Board make disciplined, responsible decisions governed by a strategic and operating plan that ranks priorities and keeps both the Board and the School District focused on the most important priorities.