Frazier board president questions consolidation
By Tom Shetterly | Posted: Wednesday, February 24, 2016 2:00 am
In recent days, Frazier School Board members have been criticized for
their stance in rejecting state Rep. Tim Mahoney’s Fayette County
school consolidation efforts.
As the director of business services for the Intermediate Unit 1, the
former business manager of Frazier School District, and the current
president of the Frazier Board of School, I feel compelled to justify my
position. As you read this letter, I would like you to keep something in
mind. Regardless of which public school district you select in
Pennsylvania, 90 percenet of every budget is comprised of just five
areas of spending:
1. Staff salaries and benefits. As you might expect for any service
industry, this is the single largest expense for any school district and
represents upwards of 70 percent of total expenditures.
3. Debt service.
4. Special education.
5. Facilities and maintenance.
I will use Frazier School District as an example. In 2014-2015, it cost
$15,821,993 to educate 1,263 students. That represents a per student
education cost of $12,527. Mr. Mahoney has stated the average per
student cost in Fayette County is $14,880. If everything remains status
quo and we move to a county school system, it will cost Frazier
taxpayers an additional $2,353 per student or $2,971,839 annually.
Frazier currently collects $263,655 per real estate tax mill, so Frazier
taxpayers can expect an 11-mill tax increase to help fund the other five
districts in the county. However this is an exaggeration, because under
Mahoney’s plan he intends to reduce spending per student to $11,575,
thereby saving taxpayers $56 million. For Frazier taxpayers that
represents a $952 per student reduction or $1,202,376. I assume the
remaining $54.8 million will be divided among the other five districts.
The first question that comes to mind is, how does Mahoney intend to
do this? So far we have heard of only one concrete plan to reduce
spending, and that is through the consolidation of local school boards
and district administration. School board members are unpaid so the
only potential savings comes from administrative consolidation. There
are six districts in Fayette County; if we were to eliminate five
superintendents, five business managers, five special education
directors, five technology directors, five buildings and grounds
directors, at this point Frazier will have eliminated all administrators
with the exception of building principals. However, for the sake of
argument let’s say we eliminate another five Curriculum Directors, and
five miscellaneous assistants. Assuming the newly appointed county
administrators do not require a salary increase or several assistants to
help them in their new role, a total of 35 administrative staff will have
been eliminated for a conservative savings of $4 million. Where is the
remaining $52 million in savings?
I have been involved with school business for 17 years and I find it
highly unlikely to see any measurable savings in the areas of debt
service, transportation, special education, or facilities and
maintenance (unless you intend to close buildings). That leaves staff
salaries and benefits as the only means to save any significant
monies. In terms of salaries and benefits, there are only two ways to
save money. That is the elimination of staff through furlough or school
consolidation or by reducing the salary and or benefits they currently
receive. Again, I will use Frazier as an example. Ten years ago we
employed 89 teachers for 1,155 students. Today we have 80 teachers
for 1,263 students. As of this year, we have consolidated our entire
district onto one campus. The real savings from this consolidation will
not be known until the end of this school year. But, I can say without
equivocation, no additional staff cuts can be made without negatively
impacting student achievement.
To prove this point further you need only look to the Pennsylvania
Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) report dated December 2014 and titled
“Fiscal Implications of a York County School Consolidation.'' York
County state lawmakers asked the Independent Fiscal Office to
consider the issue, frequently cited as a possible solution to climbing
property tax rates to support schools. The IFO report concluded that
going from 15 school districts to one would mean a big loss in state
funding for the county and minimal savings in administrative costs. It
also finds a consolidation would result in higher taxes for people with
middle-of-the-pack properties and incomes.
According to Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, "The simple answer is ...
there's no savings to actually reduce taxes, and that was the big
gauge in the whole consolidation debate." Grove said he thinks York
County residents are keen on consolidation because of their proximity
to Maryland, where school districts are countywide.
So I ask again, where is the $56 million in savings? For the past seven
years, Mr. Mahoney has spent untold taxpayer dollars in pursuit of
school consolidation with nothing to show but a conceptual plan for
saving millions of dollars. There is no formal plan, no implementation
schedule, and no details of potential savings or how they will be
achieved. From my perspective this has amounted to little more than
campaign propaganda recycled every two years from a candidate that
doesn’t represent me or Frazier School District.