I would like to share with you the comments I made to the Lower Merion School Board at the February 12, 2007, board meeting, as my questions and their inability to provide answers should concern us all:
"I have carefully listened to Mr. Shafer’s explanation of the new financing plan, and I have carefully read the Superintendent’s “Win-Win” letter. While the Superintendent’s characterization that the new financing plan is the result of patience and careful planning may be correct, I believe it is the result of lies that have been patiently proffered and deception that was, in fact, carefully planned.
Your extreme acts require a harsh response. Last year, I stood before this board and accused it of having a get-it-all now budget, inflated to put yourself in a financial position to circumvent Act 1 so that you could build two oversized and overpriced high schools without the referendum vote that is the right of all citizens of Pennsylvania.
Hundreds of citizens came to this same conclusion. We organized the citizen’s group Budget Reform for Student Learning, and we created the website www.lmsd.info to get information out.
You categorically denied these charges. You publicly berated my wife and me and others, accusing us of spreading “mis-information,” effectively calling us liars. You hired a lobbying firm to discredit our message, and labeled us “the opposition group.” But, the only thing we are opposed to is deceitful budgeting tactics that fail to prioritize student learning.
We now know that while you were denying our concerns, you were sitting on a $6.5M surplus from the prior 2005-2006 year budget. We also know now that last year's budget had another $8.5M surplus in it, just as we alleged. A total of $15M in what the board now refers to as “found” money.
This board now intends to approve a tax increase by backing into it from the vote index set by the legislature, resulting in tax revenues of $5.1M in excess of the funds that the district needs to cover expenses. This additional overtax will put the Districts grand total of excess tax revenues collected from the public at $20.1M. Mr. Shafer tells us that rather than budget for expenses, the Board should increases taxes right up to the Act 1 vote trigger, in his words “use it, or loose it,” an attitude that should scare every taxpayer in Lower Merion.
Now the board wishes us to believe that its patience and careful planning will allow us to have everything the board has promised AND low taxes. But, we see this for what it is, a scam against the taxpayer. You collected taxes to cover non-existent education expenses which you now intend to use to deny the public a vote.
If you feel these words run counter to your civility policy, please first ask yourself if your implementation of a plan to systematically overtax us is respectful and civil toward us.
I believe that with your recent and planned actions cross a very dangerous line. I believe that you have certified Plancon submissions that were manipulated to sidestep Act 34 and that you have approved tax collections derived from budgets that were manipulated to side step Act 1. I believe these actions put each of you personally at risk. I fully expect that your actions in these matters will be tested. Each member of this Board should make sure that you are confident that I am wrong.
- I ask each board member to determine for yourself your fiduciary responsibility to the public.
- I ask the board to apply excess revenues to the education expenses for which they were collected.
- I ask the board to fully comply with all aspects of Act 34 and Act 1.
I leave the board with three questions:
- To make your plan work, we will incur $64.5M in 25 year debt to avoid an Act 1 vote. How much additional interest will we pay over the preferred 20 year term, and how can the board justify spending this additional amount solely to avoid allowing the public an Act 1 vote?
- The current Harriton bid opening dates were known at the time that the Board approved the 2006-07 budget. Why was the fall interest payment of $4.4M left in the budget?
- I have been told that Mr. Shafer and / or Mr. Savedoff may be resigning shortly. Can the Board confirm for us that both will be around for the next several years to explain what they have done with the numbers?
While we did learn that Mr. Savedoff did resign, only one board member responded. Joss Gelfand, in response to my allegations and the strong allegations of the speaker before me, stated: "I have no trouble sleeping at night."
I don't know about you, but the fact that Mr. Gelfand does not give his actions a second thought gives me no comfort!
Bill Manginelli, Narberth