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As charter school costs grow, Palisades seeks change


While it has made significant cuts in salaries and benefits costs since the presentation of its preliminary budget for 2019-2020, the Palisades School District’s budget process is still stuck with state-mandated charter school costs.

The district’s long-running calls for legislative reform for remedy intensified recently with a lobbying trip to Harrisburg, where they were joined by other state school districts.

In his presentation on the latest budget tally at the May 1 public school board meeting, Business Manager Drew Bishop noted a 7.7 percent increase since last year in the district’s tuition support for the private schools, and a 170 percent increase since 2012-2013.

Bishop added that in the same seven-year period, the school board has been able to limit district tax increases to a maximum of only 7.1 percent, with the current completion of the 2019-2020 budget process expected to lower that figure.

State-controlled retirement costs, also criticized for many years as in urgent need of reform, are to increase for 2019-2020 by 4.2 percent, and by 156 per cent since 2012-2013. But the district has been able to avoid tax increase spikes that other districts were forced to make, in response to that problem, by establishing a special retirement spike fund many years ago, and also by allowing for small tax increases over the years, instead of rigidly adhering to a no-increase philosophy.

After three years of no tax increase, the board passed increases the last four years of 0.82 percent, 0.90 percent, 0.94 percent, and 0.88 per cent.

For 2019-2020, the board has already limited itself to the state-mandated 2.3 percent tax increase without a special referendum, and as stated by board Treasurer David Haubert, to “reduce that further, as close to zero as possible,” for the final budget due next month. Bishop’s May 1 presentation limits the board to no further expense increases, and allowing only for further reductions.

In the recent lobbying trip to Harrisburg, Superintendent Bridget O’Connell was accompanied by board President Bob Musantry and member Robert Fumo, where they joined by 250 other public school officials from around the state.

The group appealed to legislators for their support of Senate SB34, and a similar version in the House, HB526, to begin to address the charter school problem, which has also long been characterized as including grossly inadequate oversight.

Meanwhile, parents continued their recent appearances at board meetings to sharply criticize staff reductions that have already been made in the district, primarily through attrition, as having a discernible negative effect on their children.

They were particularly concerned about library staffing for the three elementary schools, and its role in reading development. After the meeting, O’Connell said that this year’s library staff retirement was to be replaced.