Dear LMSD Community,
We are grateful for the rapid and resounding support of Lower Merion and Narberth citizens in our appeal of an unprecedented – and we respectfully believe legally incorrect - trial court order that overrules the decision-making authority of our elected school board in enacting budget increases that support LMSD’s high-quality educational programs.
In developing the 2016-17 budget, the District acted as it always does: transparently, respectfully and lawfully to provide a budgetary framework that supports the highest-quality education to every student in our school district. Clearly, our belief in the power and necessity of high quality public education, and the manner by which we manage our school district, has countless supporters.
One of many parents who contacted us immediately after hearing news of the ruling wrote:
“I applaud the LMSD School Board’s continuing efforts to be the best fiscally managed school district and will support the LMSD fight against this injustice as a member of the LMSD public school community and as a parent.”
That parent and many others embrace the District’s unwavering mission of educational excellence and our view that elected school directors and district administrators must be able to respond through careful financial stewardship to the unique needs of their local communities, in compliance with all applicable state and federal laws. Every budget at the center of this legal dispute was thoroughly vetted through an extensive public process and every tax rate was approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. There was never sleight of hand, attempts to deceive, let alone pilfer, as some recklessly and without substantiation contend. In fact, every state and independent audit of the District has affirmed the District’s full compliance with budgeting and accounting standards and the District has consistently been lauded for strong fiscal management by credit ratings agencies.
While it has become fashionable for some to rail against legislators, it should not be overlooked that Pennsylvania lawmakers have entrusted the awesome responsibility of school district financing – through general fund and long range capital budgets - to local school district officials; not the judiciary. And they have done so while imposing layers of strict oversight and taxation and cost-containment regulation, which we fully acknowledge and accept as an integral part of the budget process.
It is not surprising that support for our position has been expansive from those across the public education spectrum who were stunned by the court’s decision. For example, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association observed that the decision in the case (Wolk vs. Lower Merion School District) was:
“ . . . beyond the court’s authority, and paints an incomplete and misleading picture both of how the Act 1 Taxpayer Relief Act operates to limit school district tax increases and the reasons that school district fund balances are considered to be an important means of maintaining fiscal and educational stability.”
We will continue to assert that the ruling is grounded in a fundamental misinterpretation of the state’s complex school financing model and function, and that it incorrectly imposes different legal standards upon Lower Merion than any other school district within the state.
We cannot stress enough the importance of this case and its ultimate outcome. For example, in LMSD alone the ruling could effectively eliminate $4 million in the current school year that is budgeted to help cover costs associated with special education and retirement obligations. Those are real, mandated costs, just as real as the costs associated with teacher salaries and classroom supplies. To be clear, we are not asking for a blank check – or a bottomless credit line – with which to pay those bills. We are just asking to be allowed to do our jobs in service of our students and our community as provided by law.
Additional information about the LMSD budget can be found in the budget section of our website, which includes budget data, documents and presentations for the past nine years as well as a set of FAQs on the 2016-17 budget.
Thank you for your continued support of our schools.
Dr. Robin Vann Lynch
President, Board of School Directors