Notes from March 11, 2013 Board Meeting

School BoardSpeaking 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.

My Comments

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, measurableĀ  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.

Conclusion

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.

8 thoughts on “Notes from March 11, 2013 Board Meeting

  1. Bowman, and Norris are part of the main problem! Do an election recall on them and get them out of here for good. We had similar issues when Ken was on the board, and I can see the same pattern of the blame game again. I feel like I’m in the movie “Groundhog day” with Bill Murray and we keep getting the same results from immature people with a lack of intelligence in my opinion. Ken has failed us with his biased news ranting blog for many years as well, and needs to actually report the true facts about what is really going on instead of helping his school board buddies in my opinion. We need to get rid of these problem causing agents of destruction, fix the education problem, and reduce the taxes forever. People have lost their homes because of high taxes and these school board members past and present obviously don’t care in my opinion.

    One more thing vote Joey Rzonca for Mayor this year and get more transparency in the borough council. Another blog is on the horizon to give us more information about the budget instead of the ranting by people who think they know what they are talking about on Ken’s ranting blog.

      • Just need a petition with enough signatures…shouldn’t be too hard to get rid of both Lisa, and Brian in my opinion. I will see what I can do!

  2. We all know that Brian Norris, and Lisa Bowman don’t deal with the issues because it is easier for a coward to run and hide and blame everyone else for the problems they created. I’m glad Tim is running for school board, and I believe he can help us all with the tax burden. I don’t go on the parkesburg today blog anymore because the information is terrible and usually not up to date.

    Joey I think you would make an excellent Mayor, and transparency is needed at the borough hall. I will vote for you, and many people have been expecting someone like you to step up and get the job done! Good luck with your campaign.

  3. I just want to say I’m disgusted by Brian Norris for his distasteful comments towards Tim. Here is why:
    “Mr. Norris said Mr. Alexander mentioned that this has become a moral issue and by extension this implies this Board is immoral. Mr. Norris said he finds that offensive.”

    If Brian Norris continues this behavior I think he should be taken off the board forever, and a written apology should be given to Tim Alexander asap. Who does Brian think he is telling us we are wrong for trying to fix a moral issue. He needs a wake up call, and re-education in community development in my professional opinion. It makes us all sick to our stomach’s when we here our “elected” board members turn their backs on the tax payers, and push for an increase. I think it is morally wrong for the school board to ask for a penny more until they get their act together. What are they going to do when they lose the state money, and people move out because of the tax burden…answer is shut down the entire school. Yeah that makes a lot of sense, and I think Brian and Lisa are not what we need right now manipulating the tax payers with the false idea that we have a great school district when the facts show we are not ranked high enough to even show good results in academic performance in my opinion.

    Brian on behalf of the good hard working residents of Parkesburg who pay these high taxes we would like for you to step down from the board because your decisions to spend more and more money are a burden to us!

    • Joey,

      I believe anyone there and listening knows I was talking about high taxes and low student performance as the moral issues. Mr Norris may have took it personally because many of the decisions causing the district’s financial crisis, came on his watch and he may have approved.

      Confronting anger with anger does not solve problems.That does not mean if citizens believe Mr Norris has been infective as a board member that they shouldn’t work to remove him. It means it is always better to respond with facts and reason, than emotion and venom.

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