Taxpayers in East Penn School District probably won’t enjoy a second year with no increase in their school taxes, Superintendent Thomas Seidenberger warned the school board Monday night.
“Last year at this time we were excited to tell you pretty conclusively that we were not going to recommend a tax increase,” said the superintendent. “I can’t say that tonight.”
When the current 2013-14 district budget was approved last June, school officials said it was the first no-tax-increase budget in East Penn in at least a decade.
Now Seidenberger said East Penn probably will have to seek state approval for exceptions to approve a property tax increase that exceeds a state-designated cap of 2.1 percent for 2014-15.
Final adoption of a new budget is still nearly six months away.
“Our commitment is the same each and every year,” said the superintendent, “to try to find that balance that is right for our students and what’s affordable for our taxpayers -- what is fair to students and fair to the community that supports us.”
Seidenberger predicted developing the budget will be a very difficult job. A proposed preliminary budget will be introduced to the school board at its next meeting on Jan. 27.
That proposed preliminary budget may be voted on at the Feb. 10 board meeting, but the final budget won’t be adopted until June.
The superintendent indicated the cost of special education in the district is increasing dramatically, with a tremendous amount of unanticipated expenses. He said East Penn must add additional special education staff at Alburtis Elementary School in the next month or two.
Another increase is “a slight up tick” in the number of East Penn students selecting cyber charter schools and other charter schools.
Seidenberger said a concerted effort will be made to educate parents about the quality of education, including cyber education, offered by the district without sending their children to charter schools.
After the meeting, Seidenberger explained another increasing cost. He said the construction of many new houses is on the horizon in the district, adding he may need to hire more staff to educate children who will live in those houses.
Skirmish among board members
Also during the meeting, board member Lynn Donches sparked strong reactions when she asked board solicitor Marc Fisher what statute prevents individual school board members from receiving financial information they request in order “to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities.”
Donches often asks for such information at board meetings and often is told by the board or administration she can’t have it.
“That’s board policy,” said Fisher.
But Donches insisted it’s not a board policy and again asked Fisher for a ruling on what laws prevent her from getting information she wants.
In response to a question by board president Alan Earnshaw, the solicitor said Donches has no statutory authority that the rest of the board is denying her.
Board member Charles Ballard called “contemptible” the implication by Donches that information is being withheld from her “for some nefarious reason.”
Ballard said Donches has cost the school district, and ultimately its taxpayers, “hundreds if not thousands of dollars” in staff time since she started requesting financial information, noting the administration already has been providing some of what she has requested.
Board member Kenneth Bacher said one school board member cannot decide to spend district resources. “You have to convince at least four other people. You need to have a majority of the board to expend district resources.”
Fisher agreed that five of the nine board members must vote to create any indebtedness.
Bacher also told Donches: “You keep talking about how we’re denying you information but you fail to make a case why you require information. We have some very smart people and some very experienced people on this board who don’t think the information you require is needed to do the job of a school director.”
Ballard called Donches’ argument disingenuous and baseless.
He’s suggested the district’s administration calculate how much it costs to compile such information for Donches, so the board can show taxpayers how much has been spent.