Now, on to the topic at hand, tonight's meeting...
1.) Call to Order; Pledge of Allegiance
2.) Requests to Address the Board- Much to my surprise, there were none!
3.) Approval of Minutes- Ms. Donches pointed out a typo on page 10 and requested that Board President Ballard's comments comparing herself and yours truly to Adolf Hitler etc be included. The minutes were approved 8-0 as amended (Ms. Heid was absent)
4.) Report of the Superintendent of Schools- Dr. Seidenberger was unable to attend tonight's meeting so, in his stead, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Torma gave the report. Board President Ballard referred to her as "the Tormanator". Okay then.
1.) Personnel- This item was approved unanimously
2.) School Level Plan- This item was approved unanimously
5.) First Reading Board Policy 116.1- Exceptions to Academic Sequence
6.) Other Educational Entities
7.) Legislative- Director Ballard gave his report and stated that East Penn received the exact amount of money from the State Budget that we included in our final budget. Ms. Surdoval confirmed this. I was a bit surprised at this because, as I understand it, more money for public education was included in the final State Budget than was being discussed when we voted on 06-24-2013. I look forward to delving into this topic a little deeper.
8.) Business Operations-
1.) Approval of Bill List- This item was approved 6-0-2 with Ms. Donches and myself abstaining.
2.) Approve Investments- This item was approved unanimously
3.) Disbursement of Funds- This item was approved unanimously
4.) Authorization to Participate in Joint Purchasing for the 2013-2014 Year- This item was approved unanimously. As I promised I would do, I inquired as to whether this was simply a way of saving money. I seemed to recall voting on something like this in the past. I was correct and I voted for the measure.
9.) Announcements- Normally, this would be a quiet, quick portion of the meeting. Not so today. Ms. Donches chose to make a public statement regarding her proposed alternate budget 2 weeks ago. I asked for, and received a copy of her statement which I will share here with you.
Understand, in my suggested reductions, there was growth in all the lines but one, just not as much growth as the administration requested. I looked at all the budget lines to the best of my ability with the information that I have been provided. I continually request additional information and even my fellow board members have voted to deny me the information. Since the administration did not provide information in Excel as I have requested, I hand typed five budget years of data into Excel, including the budgeted amount, the actual expense, and the difference in spending. For the budget line pertaining to the diving board, Dr. Seidenberger said the board needs repair and was not safe for the students. In the 2010 budget there was $7,100 in the budget with $2,665 leftover (sic) at the end of the year. In 2011, $7,100 was again budgeted but none was spent. This past budget had $7,225 in the budget line and I understand the diving board has still not been fixed. If the diving board has been in need of repair for years, why wasn't it fixed while the money was in the budget line? Who is putting our students at risk while the money was not spend to fix the board and the money put in the bank instead? This is an example of why I need detailed budget information. It is part of my responsibility as a board member to be sure our students are safe and to oversee the fiscal health of the school district. With the proper information, I can be sure I am doing the best job possible. I must add that it was surprising that Dr. Seidenberger called in outside citizens with predecisional information who came to the podium to say that I was jeopardizing the safety of the students, but he did not call me to let me know there may be an issue with the budget line. He called Mr. Stoltz (sic) to let him know (actually, he emailed me, but I take Lynn's point) about a cut he had proposed that could not be implemented. Dr. Seidenberger could have called me. And, understand, just suppose my estimates are not 100% correct, there is at least $5-1/2 million dollars in the budgetary reserve for covering unexpected expenses or incorrect estimates. That leaves another at least $9-1/2 million dollars in the fund balance that has accumulated over the years. Last year, I made a presentation about the growing fund balance and was told my information was incorrect. It turned out I was correct. This year, when I made my presentation, I envisioned a collegial conversation about the budget, especially since we had not really had much of a discussion up until the last meeting. Instead, I was ambushed and accused of ambushing. I am being told my information is incorrect and the reductions I recommend cannot be mad; however, I believe that once again, next year, I will be proven correct. Still, I believe the public's business should be done in public. I appreciate the public being involved and coming to the meeting to speak to the board with their concerns.Lynn's statement prompted a swift, if circular, rebuttal from Director Earnshaw. He asserted that the board had debated Ms. Donches' requests for information and had decided to reject them. Any further votes, he claimed, would violate Robert's Rules of Order. Dr. Bacher and Ms. Fuller joined Mr. Earnshaw in their firm lack of interest in any further information. Ms. Donches pointed out that their statements were essentially an admission that they too lacked the information. They do, they're ok with it. There's a reason for it.
I inquired to Solicitor Fisher about Mr. Earnshaw's statement that another vote to give Ms. Donches the information she is requesting would violate Robert's Rules. If my memory was correct, we could request that another vote be placed on the agenda. President Ballard, of course, has the right to rule the motion "dilatory" and we have the right to appeal his ruling. Mr. Fisher confirmed my recollection.
There are two distinct schools of thought on the East Penn School Board. There are directors like Ballard, Earnshaw, Fuller, and to a lesser extent, Heid, that believe that we should hire the professionals like Superintendent Seidenberger and approve their budget. Mr. Earnshaw even went so far tonight as to state that the PA School Code spells that out as the only duties of a School Board Director and intimated that going further and looking at specific budgetary expenses violates the school code.
Ms. Donches, myself, and Mr. Policano take a different view. We believe that it is our duty as a school board director to try to find spending cuts and look out for the taxpayer and give them a fair shake. Certainly, the administration and Superintendent should view it as their jobs to ask for every dollar they can get. It is our job as school directors to sometimes say no.
Ms. Fuller made the motion to adjourn, Mr. Earnshaw seconded, and the motion passed 7-1 with Ms. Donches either intending to abstain or vote no but she never voiced her vote either way.