Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board
By Katie Crawford
The Wallingford Swarthmore Board of School Directors officially adopted the 2017-2018 preliminary general fund budget of $79,394,571 at the Monday, February 13, meeting, with five board members voting yes and Dr. Robert Reiger abstaining. In addition, the board authorized the administration to apply for the Act 1 Exception given the enormous burden of retirement contributions.
The Act 1 Index, which determines the maximum rate at which a district can tax, allows for a 2.5% increase this year. Applying for the Act 1 Exception allows the district to tax above this rate for specific circumstances such as the burden of pension contributions. This exception allows for an additional .5% increase, bringing the overall tax increase to 3%.
Martha Kew provided a summary of the budget and updated the board on what has happened since her initial presentation in January. In his budget address, Governor Tom Wolf stated that there should be “no greater priority” than educating Pennsylvania school children. The impact on public schools of the selection of Betsy DeVos as the United States Secretary of Education in a historic tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence has yet to be determined. And WSSD is closely watching to see if indeed property tax “elimination” legislation will be introduced at the state level.
On April 17th, the proposed final budget will be introduced and on May 22 the budget is slated for adoption. This budget requires drawing anywhere from $1.5 million to $2.3 million from the fund balance. When questioned by Dr. Reiger, Ms. Kew stated that if Pennsylvania does not tackle pension reform, the district will deplete its fund balance in three to six years.
The lack of a fund balance at this point would mean that the district would have to cut $2.5 million from its budget. A cut this drastic “would be devastating to the people sitting at that table,” stated Kew, indicating the board. Forced budget reductions of this order would force the district to drastically alter programming as well as potentially increase class size.
Special guest State Representative Leanne Krueger-Braneky was on hand to present a special citation to Jolene Hsu, a 5th grade student at Nether Providence Elementary School whose artwork was selected from among all submissions by 5th graders in Pennsylvania to appear in the Office of the Attorney General’s 20th annual Drug Free calendar. (February is Jolene’s month.) A copy of the calendar was presented to each board member. Ms. Krueger-Braneky also acknowledged the difficulty and uncertainty facing districts across Pennsylvania. Her office has received at least 100 messages concerning school funding and the property tax “elimination” bill from citizens in the Wallingford-Swarthmore community.
Launched During audience recognition, the board heard from Strath Haven Middle School teacher and SHHS alumna Caitlyn Locke about an organization, One Haven, which she and other Strath Haven alumni have created as a way to honor the memory of Robert Allen Payne, SHHS class of 2003, who was murdered this summer.
Mr. Payne was known as “everyone’s friend.” The organization seeks to provide a scholarship, “annually awarded to a student-athlete who is committed to their community and striving for excellence, both in and out of the classroom. This scholarship will help that student in pursuing a college education at an accredited institution.”
One Haven has planned a basketball tournament on Saturday, March 18, at Strath Haven High School. More information can be found at onehavenunite.com.
The meeting concluded with a message from Jonathan Wilkerson, a 2010 graduate of Strath Haven High School who had joined the Army Reserve just that day. He chose the occasion of enlisting to come and speak to the board about the policy of denying military recruiters access to students.
Wilkerson believes that he would have benefitted greatly from joining the Army at an earlier opportunity, noting that the experience would have provided leadership opportunities in his chosen field of security as well as scholarship options. He asked the board to reconsider its position on open recruitment. Board president Dr. Richard Sonntag stated that, “a discussion of this would be welcome.”