Since I began serving on the board in the Fort Cherry School District, the increase in pension costs has seriously affected the programs needed for our students. In 2002, the cost of pensions to our school district was $80,453, or less than 1 percent of our overall budget. In 2014, that cost has risen to $1.5 million, or 10 percent of the budget. By 2018, this is projected to rise to over $2.3 million or 15 percent.
This equates to a cost-per-student of over $1,400 this year. That is more money than our schools spend on technology and books combined. Knowing that every school district across the commonwealth is facing similar costs, this equates to over $3 billion this year alone. At Fort Cherry, we have reduced spending on our facilities from over $2 million per year to under $600,000. We have furloughed teachers and librarians and reduced spending on technology purchases. All of these “savings” have been used to offset pension costs. In recent years, we have increased local taxes to the maximum amount allowed, which does not even cover the increase cost of health care insurance.
In short, this is unsustainable.
Gov. Ed Rendell and past state leaders have left this mess. The question on the table is, will we continue to leave this mess for our children to suffer with or make the hard decisions that previous state officials were unwilling to do?
Now is the time for a comprehensive reform using the hybrid method proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett. His reform keeps our promises made to our current teachers and transitions new teachers to a system similar to the retirement system most tax payers currently have.
White is the vice president of the board of directors for the Fort Cherry School District.