Octorara’s 2014-15 Budget: The Initial Good, Bad, and Ugly

goodbaduglyThe main event, of the December 9, 2013 Octorara Regular Meeting Agenda, was Dan Carley’s 2014-2015 Budget Presentation. As we have previously discussed, the District will be opting out of exemptions, and will be limited by Act 1. As a result, the Board will not have to vote on the initial Preliminary Budget.

The Good

The 2012-2013 Budget was $46.6 Million. Actual costs were around $44.2 Million. The difference is roughly $2.3 Million.

The original 2013-2014 initial budget included a year-over-year increase of $1.2 Million. The final increase was a difference in 2013-14 and 2012-13 budgets of just over $882,000.

The initial 2014-2015 Preliminary Budget is $48.2 Million. The 2013-2014 Final Budget was $47.5. The difference is an increase of just a little more than $700,000.

The Bad

Tax Rates!! The starting 2013-14 millage, caused by the State mandated and controlled re-balancing, is 36.98 mills (not the actual 36.66) for Chester County and 27.71 for Lancaster County. Because of the re-balancing, Chester County millage starts higher than the present year… even if the District budget remains flat.

The Act 1 Index limit, of 2.6% for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, means a maximum tax increase for Chester County property owners from 36.66 mills to 37.94 (more like a 3.4% increase), and Lancaster County from 27.71 to 28.43. Re-balancing effectively raises the Index limit for Chester County.

The Ugly

Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) and Obamacare!! The cost increase to the Retirement System, and the new costs associated with Obamacare, exceed the total increase to the initial Proposed Budget for 2014-15. The increase to benefit alone is $750,000.

Obamacare creates a number of new costs for the District. The largest of the initial costs is the “Reinsurance Fee” to help pay for the exchanges. It squeezes the District for $45,880, but that is nothing compared to what is coming down the pike.

In the near future, the District could potentially be on the hook to pay Obamacare’s 40% Excise Tax (called the Cadillac Tax). This part of Obamacare is levied on the most generous health plans, and is designed (in theory) to bring down overall health costs by making companies and workers more cost-conscious. When it comes to public employees, this could potentially be little more than a massive Federal tax shift to regular citizens, hidden within higher State, County, Municipal, and School District taxes.

The Remainder of the Board Meeting

Elena Wilson did a brief overview of the Comprehensive Plan. However, it was such a brief overview that I can’t say the presentation did it justice. I encourage the public to review the plan, and attend the Education Committee Meetings with your comments, questions, and concerns.

The Board passed this month’s list of bills and Action Items, with mostly little comment. My one concern was with the late addition asking the Board to approve an extension of unpaid Family Medical Leave. I voted in favor of the Item based on Dr Newcome’s assurance the late submission had special circumstances, which were later explained in Executive Session.

The Policy Committee met yesterday evening, reviewing  “Policy 801: Public Records” (second reading) and “Policy 806: Child/Student Abuse” (first reading). Policy 806 had some additional questions, mostly revolving around consistent wording and school volunteers. The Policy Committee plans to review Policies 303, 404, and 504. They also plan to explore adding a Volunteer policy and an Extra Curricular Drug policy.

The evening’s Finance Committee Meeting was primarily a review of the 2014-2015 Budget Presentation provided during the Board Meeting. The I.U./C.A.T. Board did not meet this month, and therefore no report was given this evening.

In Visitors’ Comments…

David Jones (Parkesburg, PA) spoke at yesterday’s Board Meeting. He was concerned that $100,000 of new spending has been added to the 2014-2015 Preliminary Budget for an armed School Resource Officer, a possibility that has been discussed over the last several months. Jones asked the Board to use careful consideration, believing armed SROs provide only the sense of security. He stated security policies, such as background checks for volunteers, would be more qualitative, providing more measurable results, at significantly lower costs.

Octorara Holiday Music Performances

happy-holidays-facebook-cover

Dec 5th – OES Chorus Concert

Dec 6th – OSHS West Chester Christmas Parade

Dec 8th – OSHA Parkesburg Parade, OIS Atglen Tree Lighting

Dec 10th – OJHS Band and Chorus Concert

Dec 11th – OSHS Band Concert

Dec 13th – Cookies with Santa at OIS

Dec 17th – OIS Chorus Concert

Dec 19th – OSHS Chorus Concert

Jan 8th – OIS Band Concert

Jan 16th – OIS Band Performance at PLC Open House

Election Results: Octorara Area School Director 2013

2013We are showing the unofficial results for the Octorara Area School District – School Director Election, posted as of 11:43PM on Election Night, and will make updates as they become available.

	         Sadsbury	W Fallowfield	
Region 2
Samuel Ganow	   130		     186		
Hank Oleyniczak	   126		     155		
Write-Ins	    --		      11

	          Parkesburg-S	 Highland	Londonderry
Region 3
Nelson Stoltzfus  	173	    123		    190
Timothy Alexander 	133	     56		    137
Write-Ins	   	108	     75		     63

Region 2 saw unchallenged incumbents Samuel Ganow and Hank Oleyniczak retaining their seats.

Election results from Region 3 landed almost as expected, despite incumbent Nelson Stoltzfus endorsing write-in candidate David Jones.

  • Nelson Stoltzfus…… 486
  • Timothy Alexander… 326
  • Write-Ins…………… 246

In Region 3, Parkesburg-South had the highest turnout with participation from 19.97% of eligible voters. Highland Township had a 19.26% turnout, and Londonderry had only 16.79% of eligible voters casting ballots.

As it stands, Nelson Stoltzfus and Timothy Alexander will be the Octorara Area School Directors for Region 3.

Last day for the County Board of Elections to receive military and overseas absentee ballots (must be postmarked no later than November 4) is November 12th.

Final Thoughts Before Election Day

Final-thoughtsNow that we find ourselves hours away from this year’s election, I wanted to post a few final thoughts. I wish to thank everyone in advance who choose to consider these musings, and those who will be taking the time to vote tomorrow. You are making a positive difference, no matter if we agree or disagree.

By now, I am sure most have decided who they will vote for, and why, in the 2013 Octorara Area School Director Election. In case you haven’t, please keep in mind that local taxes and policies enacted by the School Board affect everyoneWe do not need to agree on every issue, but ask yourself if we are on the same page with regards to the importance of critical matters: property taxes, debt, labor costs, academic performance, transparency.

At the end of the day, it should be the voters who decide where to put the District’s priorities, and to that end, voters are entitled to make an informed choice. You are entitled to know a candidate’s platform and vision for the District, before you vote, because his/her choices can affect everything from your child’s education to local economic development, and from home values to local job creation.

I believe my campaign has been able to inform citizens about topics the District has either down-played, white-washed, or simply ignored. I have placed facts, data, and statistics front-and-center that were in too few hands, and difficult to locate. I also put forth some common sense ideas for fixing our District’s crushing property taxes, improving academic performance, and providing transparency.

We must keep the spotlight on the District. We deserve more than we have been getting from our elected officials. They are the stewards of our tax dollars, entrusted to govern on behalf of the community, and mandated to provide proper oversight and accountability. Citizens must hold the School Board members accountable, because no one else will.

I envy the West Chester Area School District, and their vibrant political activity. West Chester promotes their elections, and encourages participation. As a result, they have 8 candidates on the ballot running for 4 seats, not to mention the various write-in candidates.

The WCASD PTO attempted to organize a Meet The Candidates Night, but was unsuccessful. However, they did have each School Director candidate (from the ballot) fill out a candidate questionnaire. As a result, every voter has the opportunity to know the platform and vision of each candidate.

The citizens of the Octorara Area deserve at least that much… don’t they?

The next cycle of School Director elections will be in 2015. We need citizens who are willing to tackle the tough issues facing our school district, and for them to become ready to run for School Director. We need School Directors who are willing to face the reality of high property taxes, low enrollment, poor academic performance, and government transparency. We need School Directors who realize they work for the students, parents, and citizens of this area, and not the Administration, the Teachers’ Union, or a special group of insiders.

Added: If you live in Parkesburg-South, Highland Twp or Londonderry, and need a ride to your election polling place, please message me your address and phone number. I’m happy to shuttle people.

Just For Fun: 5 Cool, Creative Team Names

OctoraraSchoolDistrictEmblemThe National Congress of American Indians and others have worked long and hard to pressure teams around to country to abandon native cultural images. A few weeks ago, Radnor High School banned their Red Raider mascot. The decision was praised by some and condemned by others. However, it has caused a spotlight to be placed on area schools, like Octorara Area School District and Coatesville, that use Native American imagery.

I personally believe both sides over react to the issue. My impression is the harm claimed caused to Native Americans is exaggerated.  However, there is no harm caused by teams avoiding use of Native American symbols.

At the end of the day, Octorara will have to change the mascot at some point. Popular opinion, political pressure, and the courts will make keeping the mascot impossible, no matter how positive an image the district tries to create. It is what it is.

Just for fun, I have created this list of 5 team names/mascots that I think would work well:

Blue Coates
Not one of the better ones on my list, but is a tip of the hat to the Christiana riots. On September 11, 1851, Christiana was the site of the Battle of Christiana (also called the Christiana riot), in which the local residents defended a fugitive slave. Blue Coates refer to Union soldiers, but Rioters probably would not go over well.

Patriots
Another name with significance, and honoring Chester County’s historic role in shaping American history. The name would honor those how fought and died in the American Revolution. We would be celebrating independence and freedom, not conquest and domination.

Ironsides
We have here another name to celebrate local history. The Parkesburg Iron Company was the driving force behind Parkesburg’s prosperity for the first fifty-four years of the borough. The plant began operations on April 22, 1872 and closed on October 26, 1926.

Farmers
Don’t laugh!! Wheat Ridge High School in Colorado has the Farmers as their team name, and the Fighting Farmer as their mascot. It would be appropriate for Octorara to honor local farmers. Not only do we live in an area with the most productive farmland in Chester County, but Octorara has the last Agricultural program in the county.

Quakers
The name honors a major group who settled in Pennsylvania, William Penn who created Chester County and also the principles he used to setup Pennsylvania’s government. This gives us another opportunity to focus on the positive, rather than the negative.

Others
There are also a whole list of other names like the Giants, Kings, Sharks, Lions, Mammoths, Raptors, Eagles, Heroes, Titans, that someone would really have to work hard at being offended over.

Indecently, has anyone every wondered about the lack of creativity? Randor and Coatesville are both the Red Raiders. Octorara and Pequea Valley are both the Braves. It seems odd, doesn’t it?