We Just Can't Escape The Old QCSD Board. Again.

January 9, 2012

It was only 10 short months ago that Kathy Mosley, Linda Martin, Nancy Tirjan, and certain other members of the old, discredited QCSD board were practically dislocating their shoulders while patting themselves on the back for the "great" new teacher contract they hammered out - three months early.

But it turns out that despite their self-congratulations, the community was the one getting hammered. Again. It just took us a little while to learn the full extent. And if your child's favorite program is cut next year, you know who to thank.

Last spring, PA Governor Tom Corbett publicly called for a one-year freeze on all teacher pay raises. At the same time, Pennsylvania State Education Association president James Testerman wrote to the locals of the state's largest teachers union, encouraging them "to enter into discussion with their school boards about a pay freeze...".

More than 140 districts did enact some type of freeze. In almost all of them, contracts were already in place, so the union had to agree to a giveback. But the freeze would have been much easier in QCSD, since we were negotiating a whole new contract. Yet the board, and administration (which benefits from teacher pay raises), ignored the pleas of the governor and the state union head.

They handed our teachers what they hailed as a monumental, historic, groundbreaking contract here - ONLY one percent raises in each of the next two years.

This certainly was monumental, historic, and groundbreaking in a district where prior boards had lived by the mantra of throwing money at any problem, and salaries had soared to top-10 in the state, despite horrible standardized test scores. But when the top union official in the commonwealth asks his rank-and-file to bite the bullet, and accept no raises (like so many other people in the public and private sectors - those who still have their jobs), the increase in QCSD was nothing more than an unnecessary giveaway by a board that had become way too friendly with the folks they were supposed to be managing. And way too out of touch with the community they were supposed to be representing. And now we are paying the price. Again.

The preliminary budget for next year, just released by Superintendent Lisa Andrejko (who swears that it is not set in stone) calls for an increase of 3.2 percent, or $112 for the "average" homeowner. The new budget is almost $94 million. Salaries comprise about 65 percent, or $61 million. That one percent raise, which Andrejko and the old board were so proud of, equates to more than $600,000 in additional spending over last year in just basic salary. And while Andrejko, and that old board, were busy mesmerizing us with the illusion of their frugality, they seem to have forgotten to mention that higher health insurance costs will amount to about $1.25 million more. And teachers still get step raises for - well, for just getting a year older. In fact, Andrejko is now using those additional costs to justify the increase for next year!

Her presentation to the board on January 5, calling for the 3.2 percent tax increase, stated "This is a status quo budget. There are no new initiatives, no new programs, and no new spending. So even if you add nothing new in, which we have not, you still have a higher budget than you had the previous year."

Well duh. She has known for more than a year that this would happen, even while she, and the old board, were so proud of the "only one percent" raise. And it is going to be even worse the year after.

So now the new board - and the community that dumped the old-guard big spenders in hopes of more responsible spending, and smaller tax increases - are still stuck with the results of the same bad decision-making that plagued us under Mosley, Martin, and Tirjan. Again.

PA's Act 1 requires a public referendum for any tax increase over 1.7 percent, though QCSD qualifies for one of the zillion or so exceptions, which raises our threshold to 3.9 percent. It is almost certain that the final number will be under three percent, likely under two. But if we can believe Andrejko (which I rarely do anyway), the preliminary budget has no new spending. Cuts can't be made to reduce salaries or benefits paid under the union contract. We probably won't be getting much sympathy from the insurance companies, or utilities, or suppliers. So where will the cuts come from?

If you said programs, you win the dubious gold star. $600,000, plus a piece of the $1.25 million in health care costs, and step raises, have to be found just to pay that one percent teacher salary increase. You remember - the increase that Corbett and the union president asked the district not to implement.

That kind of money pays for a lot of programs.

So teachers (and Andrejko) get their increase, and their fully-paid retirements and lifetime health care. The kids (who Mosley, Martin, and Tirjan always claimed were the sole focus of the board) get program cuts. The community gets it up the bahonkis. Again.

This is the exact scenario we have faced year after year - the administration claimed that the budget was bare bones, programs were threatened, a few angry parents stormed the board meetings, and the old board caved in and raised taxes. In fact, current president Bob Smith was elected as a director through a write-in campaign promising to keep full funding for music (particularly the band), arts, clubs, sports, and all of those activities which benefit a few, but are taxed to an entire community, of which 80 percent don't have any kids in the public school system.

It looks like Andrejko, Mosley, Martin, and Tirjan have set us up for yet another community-dividing battle. Again.