Speaking at these meetings, I pay very close attention to who is listening and who is not. I can see who is receptive to the fact many taxpayers are being harmed by Octorara’s high taxes, and those who seem to dismiss the notion as background noise.
I truly believe all have good intentions, but each interpret the issues from their own unique perspective. I’m am completely certain there are those who believe the tax issue should not be an issue.
At the open of the meeting, before visitor comments, there was a budget discussion. During this time Dr Newcome discussed wage costs. He explained, we cannot just look at the average wage because it is a too simplistic view. He had provided the board with a memo explaining the income of a teacher over the life of their employment.
His assertion is, viewed in this way, Octorara teachers make considerably less than their Chester County counterparts, but considerably more than teachers in Lancaster County. He made no judgement if this was good or bad, only that this data needs to be considered when talking about wages.
If you follow this blog, you may already know my response. No matter how complex the contract is, and no matter what the individual lifetime income is, it is the average salary which affects the bottom-line and what taxpayers have to pay. It is hard to argue “over the life of employment” when it does not seem to be reflected in average salaries. This is where simple, basic math will take precedence.
Here is the example (not mentioned at meeting):
- 197 teachers making on average of $66,523 costs $13,105,031 (straight pay)
- 197 teachers making on average of $54,843 costs $10,80,4071 (straight pay)
The difference is roughly $3 Million a year, or about 4 Mills.
My opinion is the board should not believe people are not upset, and not talking about taxes, just because limited numbers show up to meetings. Citizens have been trained to stay away from budget discussions. I have read the minutes of many board meeting. There have been incidents where large number have showed up, asking the board to address the tax issue. The response from the board was to explain them away. Why would people continue trying to interact?
It was decisions over the last 5, 10, and 15 years placing school district in the position we are in today: causing a heavy burden on taxpayers, without providing a world-class education to students. It is my belief many choices (including construction, wages, attempts at area development, and even some courses) were made for those the may move here from wealthier areas to the east, at the cost of the citizens and students who are here now.
For all the money spent, the Return On Investment is low. In every area we look, Octorara is not performing: achievement scores, graduation rates, and college readiness. These numbers get ever worse when we look at subgroups. The investment has not provided tangible, measurable results.
I stated to the board, we are not the only option for people wanting to move west. We are not in a vacuum, and will not attract people having both high taxes and low performance. We cannot have our motto be, “We are better than Coatesville.”
The ever growing tax burden, paying for failed ideas, is causing real harm to taxpayers, and has the potential to create long term damage to the local economy. I believe in the axiom, “The greatest good to the greatest number of people, is the measure of right or wrong.” I do not believe that the policies and procedures of the school district has provided the greatest good. This has become a moral issue for me, and this is why I am running for Octorara Area School District Board, Region 3.
Dr Newcome’s Responce
Overall, Dr Newcome did not refute that the school district is falling short for many students. He did, however, try to explain the graduation rates at the center of the Return On Investment discussion. He referred the board to a memo from last year.
Dr Newcome explained the extremely low graduation rate was not a true representation, and caused by the way they had been collecting data on students. He believe that the correct rate is probably closer to 92%. Without the supporting data there is not way to know how true the belief is in actuality.
The graduation rate for the next reporting will be 84.62%. Again, he stated this is because the school district failed to collect the proper data on students transferring. As a result, these students appear as dropouts and are included in the cohort. It will take several more years until correct data catches up with reporting in order to verify if this is correct.
Mr Norris, Vice-President
Mr Norris’ specific comments to me were that since I believe this is a moral issue, then I must be implying the board is immoral, and he took offense to the perceived accusation. I made no such statement.
The moral issue is refocusing the district on the mission of educating students and creating a responsible budget. The taxes are causing harm to citizens, and the district has not been providing many students with the needed education. He may believe the board has been trying. Unfortunately, the things that some of them may see as great accomplishments have not provided the returns.
Mrs Bowman, President
Mrs Bowman believes the board has been tasked with “solving the impossible.” It then, once again, turned into a blame game. The School Board President indicated many of the projects, having cost taxpayers money, were set in motion 10, 15, and 20 years ago, by past school boards. Her opinion is that the current board should not be held accountable for past decisions, whether the changes and costs occurred on their watch or not.
Once again, she focused a shot at charter schools, desperately wanting people to blame charter schools for our tax problems. However, we all know it is only a small part of big picture.
She disputes the idea decisions were being made to favor those who could potentially move into the area, at the expense of current citizens. The problem of taxes is, in her opinion, “too difficult” to fix. She wants to know where people want the cuts. What programs should the district do without. Her opinion is, they have cut all there is to cut.
For the most part, with the exception of Mrs Bowman and Mr Norris, the tone was very different than past board meetings. There was not as much negativity in the air about tax concerns, or Octorara’s student performance. It doesn’t at all mean we’ve changed the hearts and minds of those who disagreed with us in the past. It means we are making their voices heard, and members know even if they don’t think the spotlight should be on them, it is. They know they are being held accountable. Some even seem up to the challenge. However, we need to continue to persuade others.