FAQs and Additional Ideas for Budget Planning
Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs) from Community Budget Forum
1. Why aren’t you freezing salaries for administration and teachers?
As Dr. Wright referenced at the Budget Forum, discussions are taking place. A representative group from our Teachers Association are discussing options available to us.
2. Why aren’t you reducing benefits for administration and teachers?
All full-time employees in the district, working more than 7 hours per day, receive medical benefits. The employee contributions for medical benefits are described in the collective bargaining agreement and the Act 93 agreement and determined by the School Board for support personnel. All employees contribute to health care. The percentage of premium is different for different groups. Contributions range from about 5% of premium to 12% of premium.
3. Why can’t you eliminate pensions?
School Districts and District employees must participate in the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System (PSERS). The certified PSERS employer contribution rate for the 2010-11 school year is 5.64%. For the 2011-12 school year, the rate will be 8.65%. Projections are 12.19% for 2012-2013 and 16.69% for 2013-2014. The rates are actuarially determined and the district is required to contribute the certified employer contribution rate. School district employees also contribute to the system at 7.5%. Since this is a mandated expense, we are unable to eliminate the PSERS contributions.
4. Since personnel costs comprise the majority of Northwestern Lehigh’s budget, why can’t you eliminate teachers in the same way corporations do?
Section 1124 of the Pennsylvania School Code states that a district may only decrease the number of teaching staff if there is a substantial decrease in pupil enrollment or if a curtailment or alteration of an educational program occurs that is first recommended by the superintendent, concurred by the School Board, and approved by the Department of Education, as a result of substantial decline in class enrollments or to conform with standards required by law. More specifically, enrollment in a class must have decreased by at least 20% from the school year five years prior or the enrollment of a given course must be less than 10 students. The district may not furlough teachers for economic reasons.
We are, however, carefully analyzing each retirement or resignation to determine if the position needs to be replaced. We are also analyzing class sizes and enrollment history and projections to determine the appropriate allocation of staff to meet the student’s needs. As we said during the Community Budget Forum, we have reduced teaching staff by five percent, administrative staff by more than 15%, secretarial support staff and custodial staff each by more than 15% since 2009-2010.
5. Has the district been scrutinizing expenditures in light of the economy?
Our staff has done an outstanding job of controlling costs wherever possible. We have reduced administrative staff by fifteen percent, teaching staff by five percent, secretarial staff by fifteen percent, and custodial staff by fifteen percent. This represents a total savings of approximately $1,344,000 since 2009-2010. In addition to staffing reductions, the district has reduced overtime costs, and substitute costs across the district. The district participates in consortium purchasing for diesel fuel, heating oil, electric, and general supplies. Consortium purchasing allows the district to obtain better pricing through quantity discounts as well as savings on advertising and other administrative costs associated with preparing bid documents.
6. Why do teachers get vacation days when they get all summer off?
Teachers do not get vacation days as part of the collective bargaining agreement. Teachers’ contracts include the total number of days each teacher works. Our teachers work 191 days. Teachers are paid for the number of days they work. Their annual salaries for working 191 days are divided across 26 pay periods. So while teachers receive paychecks during the summer months or during holiday periods, their total salary compensation is for the actual contracted number of days which is 191.
7. Why were staff paid bonuses to be at the Community Budget Forum?
Administration, teachers, and staff were not paid bonuses for attending the Community Budget Forum on April 5, 2011. The district has not provided bonuses to any employee during Dr. Wright’s tenure.
8. Have you eliminated benefits for ALL part-time employees?
As of April 14, the board will have made the decision to eliminate benefits for all part-time employees working less than 7 hours/day. All full-time employees will continue to receive medical benefits with the employees contributing to their health care.
9. Can you eliminate staff meetings, trainings, and IU programs that require substitutes?
The district has nearly eliminated monies dedicated to professional development including trainings and IU programs. The district has also reduced substitute usage, across the district, by fifty percent. There will be some required trainings in which the district participates. Whenever possible, the District sends an individual who then returns to the District and trains staff.
10.Can parents pay for kindergarten like we do for preschool?
This is certainly an idea that we might consider in future budget years since kindergarten is not a mandated program. However, it is our hope that parents are not required to pay if they would like to send their children to kindergarten at this time. Kindergarten provides a foundation for students in the areas of math and reading literacy, critical to children’s success in learning to read, write, compute, and problem solve.
11.Can you eliminate some of the extra curricular activities at the middle and high school level?
We consider each expense very carefully. We compare the cost vs. benefit to our students before making any recommendations to the school board. There is a possibility of some curricular opportunities that are offered partially during the school day to become entirely extra-curricular in the 2011-2012 budget. In our effort to continue to produce well-rounded students, we will consider the impact of any decision on all current and future students.
12.Can you consider parent volunteers to run clubs and some extra curricular activities?
The district utilizes many parent volunteers across the district in classrooms and libraries. If you wish to volunteer your time, please contact your building principal.
13.Will you consider refinancing debt into fixed rates?
The district has two variable rate bond issuances. The District in conjunction with Public Financial Management, our financial advisors monitor the market to determine if it is more favorable to refinance any of our bond issuances. To date, the district has experienced favorable variable interest rates, and has determined that it is not cost effective to refinance.
14.Can you eliminate funding for dual enrollment?
All funding for dual enrollment is expected to be eliminated from Governor Corbett’s budget. Currently, families pay 100% of the cost for a child to participate in dual enrollment courses and are reimbursed a small amount of the cost through the state dual enrollment grant. The district does not pay for any dual enrollment courses. With the elimination of the grant dollars, the district will no longer reimburse families.
15.Why are there advertising fees in the budget?
Section 106 of the Pennsylvania School Code includes requirements for advertising for school districts. The district is required to advertise certain items, such as public board meetings, requests for bids for the acquisition of services and products above a $10,000 threshold. Additionally, some jobs must be advertised to insure applications for certain jobs. Not everyone uses individual school websites when searching for jobs. We have decreased the sizes of our advertisements to save on the expenses and direct people to more information on our website.
16.Why aren’t we doing ACCESS billing for our special education services?
The district is participating in the administrative time study portion of the School Based ACCESS Program, which gives the district reimbursement for administrative time providing services to special education students and families. We will continue to seek reimbursement for services for special education students through the School Based ACCESS program.
Additional Ideas for Budget Planning
Eliminate or Reduce Items
Eliminate the district calendar
Remove LCCC funding
Coordinate calendar to eliminate unnecessary transportation costs with early dismissals
Reduce tech education and home ec at the middle school
Reduce the number of coaches for each sport
Lessen the number of buses for away games
Eliminate high school instrumentals
Eliminate band and chorus as credit bearing classes
Have students bring supplies (paper and paper towels)
Reduce to 1 band and 1 band front director
Only replace trash bags if necessary
Reevaluate bus stops and make students walk further to their bus stop
Eliminate sports with fewer than 30 participating members
Limit field trips to one per year at elementary
Cost Saving Ideas
Utilizing LCTI for services for the school
Students auction art items
High School student volunteers for elementary
Registration fee to help pay for computer/library fees
Create electronic copies of paper documents such as the athletic code
Instrumentals beginning in grade 5 rather than grade 4
Make all teacher assistant rates consistent
Make all teacher assistants part time and eliminate benefits
Make sure all computers are shut down before they leave
Require car-pooling for trainings (by staff)
Make sure the psychologist doesn’t change forms too frequently
Develop our own PSSA prep rather than commercial brands
Code photocopiers to track teacher usage
Revenue Generating Ideas
Assign points to sports/activities for a pay to participate option (fundraise to buy more points to participate)
Electric power suppliers investigation
Advertising on school buses, in the stadium, on the marquee
Alternative energy options (solar panels, windmill)
Alternative revenue generation
Increase financial support from booster clubs, alumni, and PTO/PIE