To the editor:
I would like to express my appreciation to the East Penn School Board Directors for the 6-3 vote to approve the 2012-2013 Final Budget. This budget maintains the high quality of education provided by the district while keeping the tax increase at a low 1.3% (just over a $40 yearly increase for the average homeowner).
It is important to understand that this budget was passed during a very difficult economic climate. Like all public schools, our district continues to feel the effects of the nearly $1 billion in state cuts from a year ago. School districts across the state are laying off staff, cutting programs, and raising taxes at an alarming rate. Nearby Parkland just passed a budget that increases taxes 3.67% despite measures that include a teacher salary freeze, using over $3 million in reserves, and reducing staff by 60 through attrition. Easton, who also implemented a teacher pay freeze, will be shedding nearly 100 staff positions including active teachers and will still have a tax raise of 2.2%. Other nearby districts with tax increases include Bethlehem at just under 5% and Salisbury at 4%.
Here in East Penn our community has been spared from larger tax increases and spending cuts due to the prudent financial management of the district. Superintendent Thomas Seidenberger has taken measures such as negotiating an employee wage freeze, reducing departmental spending, bond refinancing, downsizing staff through attrition, energy savings, and implementing a district cyber school.
Something that I was glad the district did not approve was the idea of using additional money from the district fund balance to achieve a 0% tax increase. Having a healthy fund balance is important. At the school board meeting on June 11th the managing director of Public Financial Management, Scott Scherer, gave a presentation on refinancing district bonds. In recent years we have saved $9,805,150 by refinancing and will have the opportunity to save an additional $305,823.94 through additional refinancing in the near future. East Penn is able to successfully refinance bonds because of the AA2 Moody’s rating. Scherer clearly indicated that one of the factors in that rating was the budgetary reserve. In addition, the Government Finance Officers Association recommends having a budgetary reserve for two months of operating expenses. We already go well below that mark in the budget that was just passed. The Pennsylvania School Board Association recommends keeping a 5-10% budgetary reserve. The budget that was just passed will result in a fund balance approximately only 4.76% of the budget. Clearly, the school district should not further spend down the fund balance which would endanger future budgets.
School board decisions to raise taxes, even at a small rate, will never be popular. However, upon full examination of the facts of the matter, I believe the 6-3 vote was the correct decision. We need to think beyond one year and work to maintain the quality education we have come to expect from the .
John Boyle, Emmaus