Friday, March 26, 2010

Getting Trampled by the Push-Me Pull-You

Guess who is getting trampled in the grass?

Posted by: Noel Jones

Last night's Easton Area School Board meeting, focusing largely on the budget and the proposed tax increase, was held in Easton High School's auditorium.  Our carload of residents drove first to what appeared to be the front of the school, but the first thing we saw was door after glass door marked ATHLETICS ENTRANCE, which only served to reinforce my impression from comments on my recent post Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport, calling for an end to the prioritizing of athletics in schools, especially with regard to spending our tax dollars. But I digress...

Remember the movie, Doctor Dolittle, and his pet Push-Me Pull-You?  It was a stubborn creature made of two animals conjoined at birth, who were forever wanting to go in two different directions, and ended up getting nowhere. If I could add anything to the picture above
to sum up my impression of the progress so far on meaningful concessions that will relieve taxpayers from the proposed 11.85% tax hike, it would be a cartoon of a taxpayer, getting trampled beneath their feet as they stumble back and forth.

I would also put jerseys on the Push-Me Pull-You. One would say "Board & Administrators" and the other would say, "Teachers Union," because the board and administrators, when criticized over spending, point fingers at the teachers, demanding they re-open their contract, and the teachers, when criticized for not re-opening their contract, shout back that administrators should take pay cuts and that the board has been mismanaging taxpayer money. As covered in the Morning Call article below by Christopher Baxter, I and other residents spoke up to let both sides know that taking paying cuts on both sides is something that should be negotiated immediately, while the board works on cutting wasteful spending. We are not impressed by the arguing, because we know, ultimately, that we're the ones in the middle, that get stuck with the bill.

Superintendent Susan McGinley, after residents comments, made a speech that reiterated the need to work together and make sacrifices, but notably did not offer to make any sacrifices in administrative pay yet. At this point, both the administrators and the union need to know, residents are watching actions closely--not words, but actions--because there is a big difference between agreeing that we need to work together, and actually offering a sacrifice. Resident are already strapped from losing their jobs, taking pay cuts and struggling not to lose their homes and health care. Any tax increase in this depressed economy will be a sizable sacrifice from taxpayers--we want to see what the union and administrators are willing to sacrifice. It's time for everyone to put their money where their mouths are. In the meantime, we can only hope that the superintendent's speech was a preamble to administrators taking salary cuts themselves.


Anonymous said...

hey, didnt the school admin discuss some bond refinancing last night? i dont see it in your post or the above news story, but i heard it could save the district $5 million over a couple years. if thats true that could save some money from the debt service in general budget, so at least thats SOMETHING

noel jones said...

yes, they did--we're looking into that--i'm not going to pretend the poet has wrapped her brain around that one yet, but what i believe i did catch, was that the school district is looking into selling bonds, with a call-back option, that would cost us $250K in fees but end up freeing up $1.5 million that could be applied to the general budget.

if that's the case, then with the $2 million in cuts already proposed, and the money released from the bonds, we would have figured out a $3.5 million solution so far to a $15 million budget gap--or, would be $3.5 million closer to the school board's promise not to raise taxes above the state cap of 3.6%, which requires $11.1 million--but i agree, it's health start. i'm planning on learning more about the bond aspect and posting about it later. thanks for posting! (and if i'm wrong about the $1.5 million and it's actually $5 million that can be applied to the general fund, please post again and let us know--thanks!)

noel jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

the problem with the bond refi is that it is once and done. What do you do next year? That means you are already behind that amount in two years. Easton needs to bite the bullet. Layoffs and wage freezes-no other choice.

Anonymous said...

No, if the bond is being refinanced at a lower rate of interest than the savings are for the life of the bond. They could also extend the bond terms for additional years when they refi. For example, if they have a current bond with a $5 million balance with a term of another 5 years at a rate of 8% they could refinance the bond at a lower interest rate for the 5 years which would save money becasue the district would get a lower interest rate in this market - probably around 5% and to save more money each year they could extend the bond for another 10 years instead of 5. The payment per year would be lower but they would be paying twice as much in interest. Not a good solution for the financial health in the long term but certainly additional savings in the short term.

David Caines said...

Hi all,
We've been trying and somewhat failing to follow this whole school board mess for a while now, gods what a boondoggle.
My best advice here would be to see if we can get people to petition the state to take over the schools and be done with it.
If it were just teacher salaries, well...we'd support the tax hike and just deal with it. However obviously something here is rotten at the core.

And unlike the Mayor and EPD this doesn't seem likely to change. This issue seems systemic. In fact barring some "supperstar" comming to call next election we'll probably be voting for Sal, couldn't have said that two years ago. And for those that have been following us on the blog, we've become quite happy with EPD.
Saddly, not so the schools, nor does that even begin to appear as a future possiblity. Though it was for me, Julie's comments that shifted the balance.
Such practices simply can not be allowed...period.
I liked your comment (Noel) about dragging Easton into the future kicking and screaming if need be. We've been doing quite alot of that here.
We get the you aren't from here, what do you know ?nonesense...pretty regularly. And what I know is that I'm an American, and I have an expectation that changing towns shouldn't mean that I am now somehow entitled to less. Nor are we willing to accept less. I've got a DD-214 in the drawer and an "Honorable Discharge" on the wall that tell me I've earned the right to be an American, and expect to be treated that way (for those of the America love it or leave it crowd).
Personally I'm happy that we're bringing Easton into at least America's present.
As to EASD if someone wants to start a pettition to have the state take over we'll sign it.
We just don't see this getting worked out locally.
David and Jeanette

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

Trying to reduce debt by refinancing a bond is like asking your mortgage company to reduce your interest rate so you can clear up more money to go on a spending spree. You are not fiscally sound if you pay for new debt with the money you save from refinanced old debt.

All I could think of at the school meeting was "Why didn't they refinace the interest payments on their old bonds in September 2008, when the market for bonds was picking up? To do so now, two years later when the bond market is slowing, just goes to show you that the school administrators aren't steering the boat.