The following was submitted to Radnor Patch by Lisa Borowski, a member of the Radnor Board of School Directors.
I am writing because I am concerned about the anger being generated and directed at our schools as ongoing philosophical differences regarding funding rage on. The growing divide in the community between how we plan for the future of the “Radnor” education our community has come to expect is, I believe, detrimental to a community where excellent schools are a foundation, a source of pride, and an economic spur.
In a nutshell, for the FY 12/13, Radnor Township School District generated a $3.2 million budget surplus that has been generated solely by internal cost changes, and revenues not related to property tax revenue, including:
· An increase in real estate transfer tax (Radnor homes are being bought and sold);
· Special education reimbursements expected in previous years;
· Health care savings due to our membership in a new healthcare consortium;
· Legal fees not expended in amicable contract negotiations with five labor unions.
The Board has elected to put this money aside for various upcoming obligations. This 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.
When did saving for state-mandated pension obligations, upkeep of our capital investments, and implementation of new educational programming become an unacceptable practice for a school district? This community has already invested millions in district facilities and curricular programming, so why would we not save to ensure their continued viability?
In a recent Letter to the Editor posted on the Main Line Suburban, the writer referenced that how he had looked at his tax bill from ten years ago and was shocked to see how much it had gone up in that time period. Well, he is correct. During the period 1993 - 2009, prior to the tenure of most of the existing members of the School Board, the average school tax increase was 5.7% per year. In 2009, school taxes jumped 7%. A lot of us still remember that year. That was the year right before we were told that we had to "furlough" teachers and staff as a cost saving method.
Over the last four years, the school board has worked to control the taxation that occurred in prior periods when tax and spending occurred without a long term viable strategy. Over the last four years, the average tax rate has been 1.7% per year, a tax rate that is below inflation. This year, for the first time ever, there was a tax decrease.
No one plans a budget with a surplus and opinions differ on how to best deploy a surplus when it occurs. Most organizations reinvest the funds to benefit and improve the organization, or save for expected and unexpected expenses. Right now this district knows that we have:
· State-mandated pension obligations that increase $1 million per year over the next four years;
· Students in modular buildings at WES that should have been removed at least two years ago;
· Traffic and parking issues at RHS that need to be addressed;
· A commitment to implement a full-day kindergarten program that may require facilities improvements at all elementary schools.
Two years ago the Board did vote to raise taxes 3.2%. That revenue was used to:
· Begin saving for the implementation of a full day kindergarten program;
· Hire back a social worker for the high school and one to serve across all schools;
· Provide funds for the first meaningful, district-wide, professional development program for our teachers undertaken in years to improve instruction and engage our students;
· Hire professionals to help direct the first coordinated effort to align our curriculum K-12, partially because it was needed and partially to deal with the onslaught of state mandates from implementation of the PA Core Standards and the Keystone Exams.
Our schools are moving forward:
· We are two years into the process of writing a formalized K-12 standard curriculum, the first installments can be found on individual RMS teacher web pages.
· Our elementary schools are currently performing within the top1%-8% in the state.
· As a result of the recent math realignment, 100% of the students from Class of 2017 that have completed Algebra passed their Keystone Algebra Exam.
Do we still have more work to do? Yes. Do we need to keep evaluating our programming to make sure it is working? Yes, we do, we will, and we are already planning for it.
I challenge those who are making sweeping statements that say this Board has no goals. Any casual observer of the Board knows that goal-setting has become an annual subject of discussion at the beginning of each year. Every Committee sets annual goals and has been working hard to forward initiatives that benefit the entire district. These include:
· A 5-year capital plan that has been presented to the Facilities Committee and needs to be funded;
· Curriculum goals that focus on student achievement and the implementation of the PA Core Standards;
· School safety planning that has already been implemented and continues to be reevaluated;
· Planning to meet the PSERS obligation with money saved to help offset that cost over the next several years so it does not have a jarring impact on taxpayers. In fact, we used $1 million from the PSERS fund in this year’s budget which helped secure this year’s tax decrease;
· Creation of policies for academic standards, planned instruction, social media and technology usage;
· Planning for a full day kindergarten program with the expectation that those plans will be presented to the Board and vetted;
· Integrating technology into the classrooms, not just to provide students with hardware, but how to weave it into the curriculum;
· Implementation of a Government Relations Committee which has spent the past year working in a bipartisan way to engage our legislators and collaborate with neighboring school districts to address legislative issues such as student testing (Keystone Exams) and school funding;
· Successful negotiation of new contracts with the five labor unions represented in our district in the past year, resulting in respectful agreements.
Countless hours on the part of Board members have been spent working with our administration to ensure that there is a plan moving forward and that we have the supports in place to ensure future success. The Board that I have been part of for the past two years has made great strides in working to enhance the outstanding education offered at Radnor. It is my hope that this forward progress will continue.