Pro­posed state bud­get keeps district fund­ing flat

News-Herald (Perkasie, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Bob Keeler

“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.

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