At the April 9th School Board Meeting, the community will receive the final report from Penn Project for Civic Engagement on the Tight Times, Tough Choices forums conducted in UDSD to address the $9.7 million budget gap for the 2013-2014 school year. The report will include an analysis of the values important to our community, as identified by the choices that participants made in the forums. The District administration has committed to considering this information in their decisions about the School District Final Budget. Although no questions or comments will be accepted as part of the presentation or immediately following the presentation, UDSD residents can make comment during the Public Comment portion of the meeting. UDSD residents who wish to provide public comment or preserve their right to make comment must sign in before the meeting, by 7:15 p.m. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in the High School Performing Arts Center.
UDSD residents can make comments…but must sign in before the meeting, by 7:15 p.m. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in the High School Performing Arts Center.
Also at the Board meeting, the School Board of Directors will announce the timeline for the budget process and how cuts to services or increases to revenue will be decided.
Finally, the School Board will present reports from the committees of the School Board. These are available via the District website.
Since last April, stakeholders in the District have become more vocal in questioning the fiscal state of affairs in the School District. Now more than ever, people are voicing their concerns about the high cost of public education and trying to become more informed advocates for the community. For many, the question remains: How did we end up with another multi-million-dollar budget gap?
The reality is that there are three main pressures, which stem from underfunded State and Federal mandates, which are driving the increased education costs, even without any increases to services:
- Underfunded Pension Liabilities
Contributions to State pension funds by school districts are mandated by the State according to a set formula, and a portion of District contributions are matched by the State. For many years now the State has been funding State pensions at a very low level. This was due in part to an assumption that the stock market would continue to grow at double digits. New governmental accounting rules established by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), which will go into effect after June 30, 2014, will significantly alter the way governments account for their share of pension liabilities. Based on current projections these new accounting rules may, at least on paper, make most school districts appear insolvent. UDSD must begin making payment now on liabilities, earned previously, which had been deferred by the State. The cost to the District in these catch-up payments will be nearly $4 million for the 2013-2014 school year.
- Special Education Funding
Over the course of the last five school years, UDSD special education costs have nearly doubled, growing by 48 percent, or an increase of nearly $10 million. During this same time, State and Federal funding for the mandate that requires Districts to provide Special Education services, known as IDEA, has remained level. Local taxes must cover the difference or schools risk noncompliance with the mandate, which could result in legal action against the District. Another problem for UDSD is that the last year that a formula was used to calculate State reimbursement was 1998-99, when the amount of special education subsidy was $1,150 for mild disabilities multiplied by 15% of District enrollment, and $13,450 for severe disabilities multiplied by 1% of District enrollment. A State House Bill, HB 2, which passed unanimously in the House and is pending in the State Senate, if passed by the Senate, is expected to result in a more equitable special education funding formula for the State. However, to be effective, any new formula would need to be based on actual student counts and actual expenditures.
- Charter School Funding
Charter schools are paid a set amount per pupil by the sending school district. The amount to be paid is determined by the State, based on the per pupil cost for basic education or special education in a given school district. During the last school year, UDSD paid $3.5 million to charter schools. (Note: UDSD does not have any charters within the District.) If the charter school can provide pupil services for less than the set amount, which is currently $8,388.69 for basic education and $20,615.31 for special education, the charter school keeps the excess funds, instead of returning them to the sending district. The Special Education Funding Commission, which would be established by the aforementioned House Bill #2, would also be charged with reviewing the current charter school special education formula.
If you want to get involved, please consider taking time to contact your state legislators (see the Contact page) to ask them to address the education funding formulas and shortfalls, and make your voice part of the conversation and process. It will take all of us working together and thinking creatively to chart a meaningful course for the future of public education in Upper Darby.