OOPS! QCSD Budget Crisis Means Program Cuts, Higher Taxes

The Free Press    April 10, 2008

Prepare yourself. There is a budget crisis in QCSD, and you are going to pay for it. Really pay for it. Despite a decade of skyrocketing taxes, and promises to rein in spending, the district's wildly inaccurate budgeting has finally exploded on them. We are living on our emergency fund, and that will soon be totally depleted after exceeding $9 million just last year. QCSD's own documents show that they overspent their income by $1.6 million in 2003-04, $1.7 million last year, and about the same this year. They anticipate a shortfall of between $3-$5.4 million for 2008-09 alone. And, director Manuel Alfonso, a professional auditor, calculates that the loss for just the two years 2009-11 could total over $12 million!!

OOPS, revenue is millions lower than they projected. OOPS, Superintendent Dr Lisa Andrejko, and Business Manager Sylvia Lenz, have grossly overestimated their ability to cover their insane $84-$92 million spending. OOPS, QCSD must cut an additional $767,000 (or more) from next year's budget - on top of increasing taxes to the limit of Act 1, and draining the Fund Balance. Haycock Supervisor Henry DePue believes the district's cuts will need to exceed $1 million. Say goodbye to some programs. The administration whines that our community needs to hear more good news, so you won't find any of this on their website, or self-promoting columns, or in certain directors' speeches. Those are reserved for attacking writers - and fellow directors - who tell the public what is really going on with our tax dollars.

And this is the same Dr Andrejko who intends to make most district contracts on her own, with no public knowledge or input. Not very reassuring. But she might be forgiven for not balancing the budget if the municipalities that make up QCSD also failed to do so. After all, they share the same tax base, and economic factors, as the schools. OOPS - the towns planned properly, and Andrejko didn't. DePue explained "Haycock knew in 2007 that our home sales and development declined from 2006. We saw that Real Estate Transfer Tax received during 2007 was about half as much as 2006. The school district's real estate tax declined the same. We took this as a sign for things to come, and the 2008 budget was down 2.1% from 2007." Trumbauersville Council President Ed Child added "We've been able to have a balanced budget for quite a while now. I'm not aware of any significant number of foreclosures or tax sales that would have any impact on real estate taxes."

Quakertown Borough Manager Scott McElree reported "We have not noticed a decline in our revenue through Earned Income Tax because we are only three months into our fiscal year. However...we anticipated an increase in expenditures, (price of gas, union contracts requiring salary increases, and other operational costs), and therefore instituted the $52 Local Services Tax."

Richland Supervisor Rick Orloff, a CPA who specializes in municipal finance, pointed out "Richland spends slower than growth because we regularly update our five-year operating plan, our 10-year capital plan, plus we have performance audits. But QCSD still planned to spend at a five-to-eight percent increase, even though their revenues are way down. And they have no performance audits to determine how well they are spending. That should tell you something right there. When enrollment is up, they add teachers. But with enrollment now down, they don't downsize, they spend more".

There is real cause for concern about QCSD's ability to pay for the future. Revenues are projected to be lower for at least several years. They're taxing at the legal max, and their savings will soon be gone. But, incredibly, their three-year plan, (nope, not on the website) calls for more huge increases. Teacher salaries (another website no-show), already the ninth highest in the state, will jump more than 11 percent. Medical benefits more than 38 percent. Special Ed is projected up 40 percent. Total spending will rise almost 15 percent, to $92.5 million, in a district that has been designated by the state as economically disadvantaged. And that is a best-case scenario, if they don't again overspend their budget.

OOPS, this does not include a penny for the renovations to the high school, which could cost anywhere from $50-$100 million (you won't find that on the website either).

Some of this is beyond the district's control. But they painted themselves into this messy corner. They handed out that budget-busting teacher contract despite our "economically disadvantaged" status. They voted for pie-in-the-sky frills that benefit a select few - like the $420,000 full-production kitchen in Richland Elementary School, $355,000 in ridiculous additional teacher bonuses, experimental on-line classes, questionable legal fees, and a fancy new multi-million dollar headquarters. And, with enrollment down by 100 students, they still plan to hire 39 teachers, who will all get yearly raises of seven to eight percent.

Their solution will likely be to file with the state for an exception to Act 1 limits, and hit us with the largest tax increases ever. Taxpayers will get no say, but, as usual, we will pay for their ineptitude.

Zinck Can Clear the Air

There has also been considerable rumor-mongering in the community about the mid-year resignation of Richard Zinck as principal of Strayer Middle School after 19 years. Zinck told The Morning Call "I thought it was time to turn over the reins", and denied that he was about to be fired. But school directors Manuel Alfonso and Zane Stauffer stated that they believe Zinck's resignation was directly related to that of a female teacher, who also resigned, and that his abrupt departure, with just three months left in the school year, was a case of jumping ship before he was pushed.

A public school principal, paid with taxpayer money, is held to a high, transparent standard, including being a proper role model for students and faculty. Perception is as important as performance. If Zinck really wants to put the rumors to rest, he could give his permission to make his personnel file public. Then we could all stop wondering.