Sunday, February 28, 2010

Jennifer Willyard Asks Some Tough Questions

February 22, 2010 Armstrong School District Open Caucus
Comments of Jennifer Willyard
Ford City, PA 16226

Good Evening.

I am the mother of 2 children in this district and am very involved in their schooling as well as their extra-curricular activities. I am also very accustomed to looking at numbers having spent over 20 years working in the accounting field. As an Accounting Manager, it is my job to work within a multi-million dollar budget.

Ms. Yassam, you were quoted in the Leader Times as saying:
"I honestly don't know if the school can be reopened once it's closed," "But
before I would even consider reopening the school, I would have to take a long,
hard look at what effect it would have on the budget." "No matter what the board
decides to do when it comes to buildings, we need to make sure we have the money
available to do what needs done," "Spending needs to be watched closely and we
need to explore every option before making decisions, especially about the
So where is the money and what other options were considered?

Right now, the cart is in front of the horse. There is no budget for the 2010-2011 school year, but the estimated reopening costs for Elderton High School that have been submitted and total $549,000 and that does NOT include anything beyond regular maintenance on only one building in our district. Is the entire districts budget going to be based on the reopening of Elderton High School?

Ms. Stitt, you were quoted as saying:
"you felt the district has lost direction and has not been listening to the
people. I don't believe reopening Elderton will raise taxes when there are so
many places in the district we're wasting money,''
she said, adding she'd like to see the district cap busing costs, among other things.
The majority of Armstrong School Districts busing is reimbursed by the state. The last numbers I have seen are from 2004-2005 and the reimbursement there was at approximately 65% which comes to about $4.5 Million Dollars. Furthermore, with fuel prices fluctuating as it has, it seems impossible to cap such a cost. So other than diluted cleaning solutions, what other things are you looking at to save money, because don’t forget the teachers pension fund balloon payment will soon become due.

Right now, the school board, based on the resolution they passed in December, is able to raise our taxes 2.26 mils, which is the base inflationary index given by PDE. However, next year once any savings are used up to renovate Elderton, piece by piece to fly under the Plancon guideline radar, I suspect there will come a larger increase since a few years ago, the board turned down a $30 Million intent to borrow through Act 1.

So here is a potential tax increase to the residents of ASD in a county that has a population where 20% are age 65+, has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state at 10.1% and as of the last study in 2008, 11.7% of the county population is living below the poverty line, in addition, in 2008 ASD had an enrollment of 5,865 of which 16.5% lived in a family below the poverty level and 37.6% received either reduced or free lunches.
Think about those numbers.

If the board continues the pattern of fiscal irresponsibility that it’s on, you won’t have to worry about community schools, or super schools, because the taxpayers will either be sick of paying high taxes for inferior education and will move out of the district on their own accord or be forced to move because they can no longer afford to live here.

The board cannot continue to cater to one group, it must look at the entire school district as a whole, and find that delicate balance of how to give our children the best education possible, and be fiscally responsible with our money.