Proposed state budget keeps district funding flat
“No surprises. There’s no windfall coming to Pennridge.”
That’s Pennridge School District Business Administrator Kathy Johnson’s reaction to Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal for the state year, and school year, starting in July.
The proposal does increase the state’s basic education funding for Pennridge by $337,000, but that’s a small amount compared to the district’s total budget, she said at the Feb. 12 Pennridge School Board Finance Committee meeting.
“Overall, there was nothing excit- ing there for me. I had figured a flat budget,” Johnson said.
Next month’s committee meeting, which will be March 12, will start the committee’s review of proposals for next year’s district budget, William Sarnese, committee chairman, said.
In another matter at the February meeting, the committee reviewed a proposal by its attorney, John Freund, of King, Spry, Herman, Freund & Faul, to switch from its current system of paying hourly rates for the legal work to a retainer.
The proposed retainer amount for next year is $30,000, with hourly rates for additional legal work not included in the retainer remaining about the same as this year, he said. The basic rate for hourly charges is now $140 per hour and would go to $145 next year and $150 the following year, he said. Hourly rates for an attorney are $175, with the rate for a paralegal being $85, he said.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Charles Healy said he doesn’t think the district needs to have the attorney at board meetings and could, instead, forward to the attorney any legal questions that arise.
“I think it’d be cheaper to have them review it at their office, rather
than come here and make off-the-cuff answers,” Healy said.
Also, he said, in some instances, the attorney said he’d have to do more review before responding.
“If you can’t get a legal opinion at the meeting, then it doesn’t seem xto have] a value,” Healy said.
Board President Duane Deming, however, said there is a value to having the attorney at the meetings.
At the conclusion of each meeting, there’s a pile of legal documents to be signed by the board president, he said.
“vou want to make doggone sure you have counsel look at these before you sign,” Deming said.
All except one of the school districts his firm serves has the attorney attend board meetings, and that one is a small one, Freund said.
“The board needs to have some kind of regular contact with its counsel,” he said.
Having the attorney present at the meeting gives the attorney a better understanding of what’s going on in the district and involves more people in the contacts between the district and the attorney’s office, he said.
“I don’t think the issue is whether we need the service. I think John has done a fine job,” committee member Francis Peiffer said. “I’m concerned with how does this save Pennridge money.”
Johnson said her review of recent months legal bills showed that the district paid about $5,200 per month on average for things that would have been covered under the retainer. Freund said his calculations totaled less, but that the change would be a savings for the district.
“I’m perfectly happy to bill everything by the hour, but we don’t really think it benefits you,” Freund said.
Along with saving the district money, the retainer ben- efits his firm because there is a consistent cash flow, clients are more willing to call the attorney when needed and the reduced costs make good will that makes it more likely the firm will receive additional business that is not included in the retainer, he said.
“It encourages communication. That’s the main thing,” Freund said of the retainer. “I don’t have somebody say don’t call a lawyer because it costs more money.”
The district will continue paying hourly fees until the end of the school year, so a decision on whether to switch to a retainer does not have to be made immediately and there will be more review before that decision is made, Sarnese and Johnson said.