Reading School Board Makes Budget Progress

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United Stat...

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States Public School Districts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Slowly toiling away, looking at proposed cuts from every angle imaginable, the Reading School Board inched closer and closer to its members’ goal: a balanced budget they can live with.

Following the board’s voting meeting Wednesday night, members stuck around to pick through the administration’s latest proposed 2013-14 spending plan.

They reviewed a list of 18 cuts one by one, taking straw polls to find out which ones have support and which ones don’t.

And, with two days before they plan to vote on a final budget, they appeared to have finally made some big decisions.

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State Auditor General Rips Reading School District

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United Stat...

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States Public School Districts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They very well may be the worst accounting practices in the state.

That was Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale‘s assessment of the financial situation in the Reading School District, which he shared during a press conference Friday in Reading.

“To be direct,” he said, “the Reading School District has failed its students, failed the children of Reading.  It has failed the taxpayers.”

DePasquale was in the city to release the findings of a major audit his department did on the school district.  The audit was the result of requests by local legislators to investigate the district following the discovery of a more than $15 million accounting error in December.

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Berks School Boards Face More Tough Choices In 2013-14 Budget Process

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United Stat...

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States Public School Districts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s looking like another tough budget season for school districts across Berks County.

Of the 13 local districts that have prepared preliminary budgets, all but one spending plan included significant shortfalls, ranging from about $400,000 to $2.2 million.

Muhlenberg’s budget doesn’t have a gap, but it currently includes a property tax increase larger than the state permits.

Budget gaps among districts can be somewhat hard to compare, because some include tax increases or major cuts in their preliminary budgets while others don’t.

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Reading To Seek State, Court Nod To Hike 2 Taxes

Editor’s note:  Why is Reading’s budget only about twice as large as Pottstown’s budget when the population is 4 times as large?????

Reading, PA    =  88,082 population  /  Budget $80 million proposed by Mayor Spencer  /  $73.4 million proposed by Act 47 consultants

Pottstown, PA = 22,377 population  /  Budget $38 million

Tell me again how there is nothing left to cut from Pottstown’s pork-a-palooza budget!

Reading and its outside state-paid consultants are planning a new push to get state approval for higher commuter and earned income taxes, to bail out the city’s 2013 budget that’s millions of dollars from being balanced.

Otherwise, the city will have to cut still more staff and critical operations, hike property taxes by 15 percent and levy a streetlight assessment.

“This budget will not work,” Councilman Jeffrey S. Waltman said of the $73.4 million proposal during Saturday’s eighth budget session.

Waltman said the staff and program eliminations the city’s had to make over recent years are like getting a slow drip of cyanide that’s killing city services.  The city is down 150 jobs over a few years ago.

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Fitch Ratings Keeps US At Top ‘AAA’ Credit Rating

WASHINGTON — Fitch Ratings has retained the U.S. at its top ‘AAAcredit rating but also left the outlook negative, citing the failure of Congress and the Obama administration to forge an agreement on reducing the budget deficit.

Fitch says that uncertainty over federal tax and spending policies related to the so-called fiscal cliff “weighs on the near-term economic outlook” and raises the prospect of another recession.

A massive budget showdown could begin after the elections in November and stretch well into next year, despite the threat of the fiscal cliff – $500 billion in impending tax increases and spending cuts.

Fitch also says the burden of government debt on the economy will continue to rise and could hurt growth if an agreement isn’t reached on the deficit.

Manheim Township School Board Eyes Max Tax Hike

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lancaster County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lancaster County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The tax rate in next year’s Manheim Township School District budget has yet to be set, but the school board appears to be leaning toward boosting taxes to the maximum.

At the board’s Thursday work session, members discussed a recommendation by superintendent Gene Freeman to take full advantage of Act 1 exceptions granted by the state.

The district could increase property taxes by as much as 4.1 percent in 2012-13, more than twice its base Act 1 index of 1.7 percent, because of exceptions to cover increasing special-education and pension expenses.

Board members won’t vote on the recommendation until next week, but few of them voiced objections to a 4.1 percent hike, which would boost the tax bill for a $150,000 home by $107 next year. A 1.7 percent hike would result in a $44 increase.

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Another Look At Manheim Township’s $3.2 Million Deficit

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lancaster County

Image via Wikipedia

Many Manheim Township residents are “concerned” about the size of the community’s deficit, new township Commissioner Dave Heck said.

And the commissioners, the township’s decision-making board, need “to start immediately” to look for ways to chop that $3.2 million deficit way down, Heck said.

The other commissioners agreed, voting this week to take the unusual step of reopening their township’s already approved 2012 budget.

Hoping to find ways to reduce that deficit, the five-member board voted Monday to take a new look at the 2012 spending plan.

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United States Postal Service Racks Up Another HUGE Loss

USPS service delivery truck in a residential a...

Image via Wikipedia

The United States Postal Service just ended their fiscal year on September 30th.  During that time period, the USPS lost $5.1 BILLION.  The only reason this figure was not $10.6 BILLION is because new legislation allowed the USPS to delay a $5.5 billion payment to a retiree health benefit fund.

The USPS needs to cut another $20 billion by 2015 to move back into the black.  On the table are more post office closings, dropping Saturday delivery, taking on non-mail related business and reducing retiree health costs.

The USPS saw their income drop about $1.4 billion dollars over the previous year.

Harrisburg School District Faces Huge Shortfall – Massive Cuts And Closures On The Table

A day of reckoning is swiftly approaching for the Harrisburg City School District.  The top-heavy district is getting a reality check because of a $15 million budget deficit and the inability to get grants to fill budget holes.

Items on the chopping block are two neighborhood schools (proposed for closure), 120-150 teachers, 22 percent staff and more administrators.  Other items up for elimination are the district’s vocational and technical programs and programs for disruptive and truant students.

Director Wayne Henry was quoted as saying the district would have to start living within its means.  Director Esther Edwards said the closures were horrible but if we don’t have the money to operate, we’re going to have to do it.

The Harrisburg School District is synonymous with the City of Harrisburg.  There are 17 schools and 8,306 students.  The district spends $13,182 per pupil.  There are 11 students for every full-time equivalent teacher.  The dropout rate is 6 percent.  21 percent of students have and IEP and 8 percent are ELL.  Data from based on 2008 data.

According to Wikipedia, in 2011 Harrisburg SD ranked 494th out of 498 school districts in Pennsylvania for academic achievement.  Harrisburg High School’s 2010 graduation rate was 79 percent and the school is in year 7 of corrective action for chronically low student achievement.  In 2009 a Pennsylvania Dept of Education study revealed that 67 percent of Harrisburg High School graduates needed costly remediation in math and reading before they were prepared to take college courses.

Boyertown And Upper Perk Teachers Vote For Wage Freeze

The Boyertown and Upper Perk teachers have agreed to a wage free to help both districts plug their budget deficits.  The savings realized will be in the millions of dollars!

Boyertown has a $6.5 million budget deficit and Upper Perkiomen has a $1.5 million deficit.  Boyertown teachers agreed to forgo raises for this year and next year.  This will save the district about $3 million each year. 

Upper Perkiomen teachers approved a wage freeze for the 2012-2013 school year.  This should save the Upper Perk nearly $500,000 dollars.

Pottstown administrators have agree to a wage freeze but we are still waiting to see what direction the contract negotiations will take with the teacher’s union.

Why Is It Important For Pottstown Residents To Be Informed And Proactive?

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

Image via Wikipedia

Code Blue is asking Pottstown Borough residents to make themselves aware of the current issues facing our borough and school district.  We here are Roy’s Rants agree!  The borough and school district occupy the same five square miles.  Therefore, it is crucial that the borough and school district work harmoniously and with the one vision for our community.  Your tax dollars support the borough government and the education of our children.

We believe the school district and borough are working more closely together.  A new spirit of cooperation is evolving since Dr. Lindley has become Superintendent of Schools.  We applaud the effort that the borough and school district are making to this end.  We encourage the borough and school district to continue working together and defining a common mission and vision to move Pottstown forward.

As a resident, the decisions that the Pottstown Borough Council and the Pottstown School Board make have a direct impact on your wallet.  Therefore, it is critical that taxpayers are educated consumers.  There are 22,377 Pottstown borough residents (2010 census).  Residents need to make fact-based decisions and not make decisions based the opinions of one or two outspoken people.

You are encouraged to attend school board and borough council meetings to gain first-hand knowledge of what goes on and see who is making decisions on your behalf and spending your money!  Knowledge is power.

Upcoming Pottstown School Board meetings are:

March 31st, April 14th, May 5th and May 19th

Upcoming Pottstown Borough Council meetings are:

April 11th and May 9th

There are some big decisions coming down the road about the number of elementary schools Pottstown really needs and can afford.  The school district is facing a large budget deficit due to funding cuts from Harrisburg and a declining tax base.  The teaching staff is without a contract and negotiations are not going well.  If you do not think these issues will impact your wallet, guess again!  If you are unhappy with your child’s education, your tax bill or have concerns with any of the issues I mentioned above, come to a school board meeting and let your feelings be known.  We elected these people into office and their job is to serve the taxpayers of this community.  They will welcome your comments.  Click this link to see who is on the school board if you are unsure.

The borough government is constantly grappling with decisions that affect your daily life at every meeting.  Sadly, a handful of people attend these meetings and offer little citizen advice.  Council needs to hear from the citizenry of this community.  Complaining that Pottstown sucks to everybody you know is not helpful and accomplishes little more than further damaging our community’s image to the outside world.  If you want to express your dissatisfaction about how this town is run, COME TO A COUNCIL MEETING and tell the people who can do something about it.  There are seven councilors making decisions for 22,377 people.  We voted them into office and they serve at our pleasure.  The taxpayers of this community put them in these positions.  Do you know who your councilor is?  Click this link to see who represents your Ward.

Do not be swayed by propaganda and skewed facts.  Make informed decisions by coming to meetings and asking questions from our elected officials.  Just because someone writes an opinion piece and publishes it in the newspaper does not mean it is 100 percent accurate.  It is an opinion.  An opinion can be defined as:  A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof. 

Knowledge is power!

Pottstown School District Administrators Agree To Pay Freeze

I am pleased to learn that Act 93 employees and PSD administrators have taken voluntary pay freezes.  The teaching staff is not part of this group.  The Pottstown Federation of Teachers is now involved in a contact dispute with the district that is not going well. 

Teachers in the Fleetwood School District (Berks County) have been asked to take voluntary pay freezes, along with the administration, which will save the Fleetwood School District $800,000. 

Teachers in the Twin Valley School District (Chester County) have been asked to take voluntary pay freezes, along with the administration, which will save the Twin Valley School District $600,000 to $700,000 a year.  The Superintendent, Dr. Robert F. Pleis has already volunteered to take a pay freeze along with his colleagues at Fleetwood and Pottstown.

We give the PSD administration two Roy’s Rants thumbs up for leading by example.

The board also voted NO on “forward borrowing”.  “Forward borrowing” would have allowed the district to borrow up to an additional $23 million, over and above the $28 million already authorized.  The $28 million was authorized for renovations at the district’s five elementary schools.  We applaud the fiscal responsibility shown by the board.  PSD already has an enormous debt from the renovations at the high school and middle school.  Taxpayers cannot afford more debt.  Any amount over $28 million will need voter approval!

Fleetwood Superintendent Says Teacher Pay Freeze Will Help

Fleetwood Superintendent of Schools, Paul B. Eaken stated a pay free would cut about $800,000 off the district’s budget deficit of $1.9 million.  Putting his money where his mouth is, Eaken and the rest of the district’s administration have also volunteered to forgo pay raises.  Walking the talk is critically important at times like these.  Two Roy’s Rants thumbs up to Superintendent Eaken for leading by example!

Pennsylvania State Education Association Requesting Teachers Consider Wage Freeze

The largest teacher’s union in Pennsylvania is urging its members to consider Governor Corbett’s proposal that teachers take a one-year wage freeze to help plug the Commonwealth’s $5 billion budget deficit.  The PSEA suggested that other cost-saving measures be considered, in addition to the wage freeze.

While the union is fighting the massive education cuts in the governor’s proposed budget, I applaud their effort to make this sacrifice.

We are facing very difficult times.  Everybody will have to make sacrifices to help Pennsylvania climb out of this chasm.  Many companies are not giving raises to their employees due to the recession.  This is nothing new for most Pennsylvania residents.

Camden Layoffs Become Reality

Census Bureau map of Camden, New Jersey

Image via Wikipedia

After months of talking about layoffs and balancing the budget, Camden now has far fewer municipal employees.  168 police, 67 firefighters and 100 other city workers were let go last week. (That represents about 25% of the city’s employees)  This is an effort to close Camden’s $26.5 million dollar budget deficit. (For a point of reference, Norristown’s entire 2011 budget is $25.5 million dollars).

The good news is that no spike in crime has occurred, yet.  However, as one astute online commenter pointed out, wait until summer.  It is too cold out now and people are staying indoors.  This summer, when it hot and people are outside, things will get dicey.  There is certainly something to be said for that theory.

Camden can not be compared to other suburbs their size.  Generally, suburbs do not have the inner city problems that Camden does.  Camden is certainly in a class by itself when you study their demographics and crime statistics.  The crime rate and abject poverty are startling. 

Another well made point was that Camden is not an island.  It is surrounded with other suburbs and criminals are not stopped by the city line.  Not good news for Camden’s affluent neighbors like Cherry Hill and Haddonfield, to name a few.           

Let us hope that a solution can be found to resolve Camden’s budget problems before the warmer weather hits!

Reading PA Budget Woes aka The Grass Isn’t Always Greener

And some people think Pottstown is the black hole of the universe and FUBAR etc…  Get a load of this crap from 18 miles west on 422, in our state’s 5th largest city.  We have some problems here but they pale in scope, even taking into consideration the size difference.  However, that being said, if this Council doesn’t get their act together and soon….we will be following in Reading’s footsteps.  Act 47 is not some place you really want to go.

Read the comments at the bottom!  What a range of emotion!

Then read this if you haven’t already.  Good grief!