by Heather Lister
In an interview with ABC27 on May 17th, Lower Dauphin Director of Community Relations claimed, “You do the best with the resources you have before you go back to the taxpayers and ask for more money.” This statement was in response to a growing number of community members speaking out against reducing the number certified librarians in the district, which is currently being proposed for the 17-18 school year. The district is arguing that by eliminating the position of middle school librarian, they will free up the funds to increase technology and make a more modern space. There are two issues I see with this. First, with this logic the district could eliminate math teachers if they invest in fancy calculators. Second, I had no indication that Lower Dauphin was under any sort of financial distress. So before making conclusions, I do what any good librarian does, I research.
As I began exploring the financial data to back up the district’s statement, I referenced several published documents from recent Board meetings. I learned that both State and Federal funding has increased, the employer rate for PSERS pension contributions is the lowest increase in 5 years, interest on investments increased 150%, contributions and donations from private sources is up 500%, and the district saw an increase in both property tax and earned income tax from the growth in the area. So why the need to cut positions? However, I understood that districts can’t rely on levels of federal and state funding so I continued searching. Just weeks ago, the Pennsylvania Department of Education released its updated financial reports for the 2015-16 school year. One of the biggest takeaways from this report is that Pennsylvania school districts’ general fund balances now top $4.4 BILLION dollars and there seems to be a growing awareness of this issue. Naturally I was curious what Lower Dauphin’s contribution was to this amass of money.
In 2005-06, Lower Dauphin’s general fund balance (also known as a “rainy day fund”), was $3.9 million. Just ten years later, the district is now sitting on a 528% balance increase, with a rainy-day fund of $21.1 million. $21.1 MILLION DOLLARS! Of course, that sounds like a lot to me, but I was curious how it compared with other schools. Fortunately, the Patriot News published a handy searchable database allowing readers to view a district’s fund balance in relation to their overall budget, so I was easily able to compare LD’s funds with other districts in the area. In 2014-15, Lower Dauphin’s fund balance was 35.6% of its budget. Meanwhile, Derry Township was at 13.6%, Palmyra at 11.4%, and Elizabethtown at 10.9%. Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale says it is “excessive” to maintain a fund balance greater than 20 percent of total expenditures.
In the ABC27 interview, the district spokesperson also claimed this measure would, “put us on par with other districts”. However, the financial numbers clearly put LD elsewhere. Let’s say that the district would want to be on par with neighboring districts in terms of its finances. Taking the average fund balance percentage of neighboring districts, Lower Dauphin would hold an 11.9% fund balance. This equates to $7,545,195, freeing up $13,554,805. That’s enough money to give every adult residing in the Lower Dauphin School District a tax refund of $720. That’s enough money to pay for FOUR YEARS of tuition and fees at Millersville University for ENTIRE graduating senior class. And that’s enough money to pay the salary and benefits* of a full time certified librarian for the next 108 years.
So I ask the administrators and Board members of Lower Dauphin, if you love libraries and librarians, and you want to be fiscally responsible to your taxpayers, why aren’t you?
Heather Lister teacher-librarian with a passion for making and innovation. Previously a school librarian, she is now an educational consultant with Mackin Educational Resources. She holds degrees in Library Science and Instructional Technology and certificates in Mathematics and School Administration. – http://www.heatherlister.com