By Allentown School District Superintendent Gerald L. Zahorchak, D.Ed.
In preparing the 2011-2012 budget, Allentown School District took a deliberate and transparent approach in preparing and informing both the board of directors and the general public during perhaps the most challenging budget process in its history. In October 2010, the administrative team began to meet with local legislators and officials to inform and raise awareness of ASD's financial situation heading into 2011-2012. In doing so, we presented ASD as a special case in need of additional funding in order to reach adequacy and raise student achievement. In December of that same year, we presented a comprehensive educational plan, utilizing available resources, knowing a new governor was taking office and that there would be a significant loss of $10 million in federal stimulus funding. We also predicted the new governor, having to overcome a $5 billion deficit, would reduce educational funding significantly.
In response to new projections, a number of new activities that focused on high leverage changes have been implemented this year to offset revenue losses. The activities include development of:
- A 5-year budgeting process that reveals long-term implications based on funding scenarios;
- New human resources systems that accurately capture for the first time every employee by name, building, job, salary and benefits;
- Smarter ways of using state reimbursement funds, such as an analysis process to identify maximum percentage of reimbursement for transportation from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. We project to realize $300,000 in savings this year and approximately $2 million of funds to be used for district instruction, instead of transportation, for next year through the William Allen High School bell schedule adjustment, plus $985,000 in carryover savings, and $795,000 and $250,000 in Intermediate Unit transportation savings;
- In 2009-10, Allentown School District billed qualified expenditures to the Access program (www.accessplus.org) for special education medical insurance reimbursement services of $16,000. This school year, ASD will bill $200,000 and next year will bill $500,000. As we provide these services, we must take the responsibility to seek reimbursement as we are expected to do so under the new Access plan;
- ASD wisely used the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) "15% rule" and re-purposed $350,000 in early intervening services to ASD children;
- Allentown will be paying the Carbon-Lehigh Intermediate Unit $950,000 less, opening up funding for 14 teachers by moving back to ASD: work-based special education services ($370,000), occupational therapy services ($250,000), and MDS services ($300,000);
- Multiple competitive grants, totaling $8,099,696, were awarded:
High School Graduation Initiative $2,546,687 Year 1 of 5
School Improvement Grant $2,600,000 Year 1 of 3
GEAR-UP Class of 2014 $ 687,262 Year 3 of 6
Allentown Principal Leadership Initiative $ 481,016 Year 1 of 5
Math Science Partnership $ 490,663 Year 2 of 2
Safe Schools/Healthy Students $1,242,667 Year 3 of 4
Refugee School Impact Grant $ 51,401 Year 1 of 2
Without these grants, there would be $8 million less in the current year's operating budget which would translate into a large negative impact on the local economy.
- Board president Jeff Glazier's suggestion to engage a community budget task force will realize significant savings of up to $2-3 million dollars for 2011-2012 and beyond.
All of the above administrative improvements are due to the acumen and experience of the Allentown School District administration. This administrative team is working smart at seeking and implementing fundamental high leverage changes which are touchpoints for school finance. Such precise measurement changes accompanied by systematic management of the touchpoints will lead to an impact-oriented performance improvement.
As part of the mix, grants help us achieve new growth objectives -- establishing new ways to achieve our goals -- when general funds do not exist to do so. To put this in perspective, the School Improvement Grant earned by Allentown at the beginning of the school year, and the other grants approved so far this year -- Safe Schools Initiative, High School Graduation Initiative, Gear Up, just to name a few -- provide over $8 million dollars to assist Allentown in its steep climb out of Corrective Action. On a 2010-2011 budget of $233 million, this improves of our financial situation.
We have attempted to keep the school board and public informed on a timely basis on these improvements, the effect the governor's proposed budget will have and how all of this is impacting our preliminary budget.
Moving forward, there is a detailed schedule for the remainder of the 2011-2012 budgeting process on www.allentownsd.org under Budget Watch 2011-2012. There is also under review a list of administrative restructuring recommendations based on those made by the community and by our own internal work. Preparing the 2011-2012 budget has been an extremely challenging process thus far and rightfully has received much more attention than preparing the prior year's budget.
Finally, during good financial times (i.e. 2004-2010), the ASD Board of School Directors served as excellent stewards of taxpayers' money. Our intentions under these distressing times are to live up to and exceed expectations.