In Person Meetings At Last
The biggest news from last nights school board meeting? It was held in person for the first time in over a year! Though we were all still required to wear masks, the return to face-to-face meetings was an important step in a return to normalcy. And particularly important given the emerging research that shows remote work and video meetings reduce people’s trust in their colleagues. I hope people will continue to get vaccinated at rates that allow us all to continue to recover from the pandemic, and that current scientific trials will show the existing vaccines to be as safe for children under twelve as they have for those twelve and older.
A Final Budget for Next Year
The other important action at last night’s board meeting was the adoption of the final budget for the 2021-2022 school year. The final numbers looked very similar to those from our last budget discussion, though we were able to further reduce the tax increase to 2.7% (from 3.6% in the original preliminary budget). This budget restores some (but not all) of the cuts made last year, including the restoration of 2 of the 6 lost teaching positions. You can watch last night’s presentation for yourself here. Next year’s budget passed unanimously.
As many people know, the district has also received federal funds to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic. Known as “ESSER” funding, East Penn has– or will– receive just over $8 million in support. These dollars must be used to defray costs that are directly related to the pandemic, and not for general operating expenses. As a result, they don’t directly impact the regular budget. The district has already spent some of this money on new equipment and materials needed for reconfiguring classrooms, social distancing, and so forth. But the bulk of the money will be devoted to remedial instruction for those students whose learning was harmed by the pandemic. The district plans to hire almost two dozen temporary teachers next year to provide this remedial instruction, with enough funding left over to hire some temporary teachers again the following year if needed.
One last word: We have held 8 in-depth budget presentations and discussions leading up to this final budget. Each was accompanied by detailed written information, tables, and graphs showing current costs, revenues, district priorities, and future estimates. And all of this has been available to the public in real time. Under the leadership of Bob Saul, board treasurer and district business administrator, the East Penn budget process has become more transparent and easier to understand each and every year. At this point, I challenge anyone to find any district in the Lehigh Valley that provides more budget information and budget transparency than East Penn. If you want to learn more about district budgeting, start with my School Budgets 101. And for a high-level overview of the specific numbers (and future planning) in East Penn’s current budget, take a look at the most recent Long Range Fiscal and Capital Plan.