Three Options For “Solving The Impossible”

School Tax BillArguably, the City of York’s school system is in a much harsher situation than we are. However, they are facing many of the same problems. They, at least, are looking at options to change direction, fix both their financial crisis and improve academic performance. Here are the three options being explored.

Transformation: York City School District is working to create a plan, drafted along with the teachers’ union, to restructure salaries and convert its schools to magnet schools. Obviously, we are too small a district to transform our buildings into magnet schools, but the in-house model should be the one Octorara tries first. I believe success could be achieved within the district without making drastic moves, and I believe encouraging greater community involvement is the key.

Charter option: Another option on the table is converting the whole district into a nonprofit community charter school. York received a presentation on the Renaissance Model of charter conversions, used in Philadelphia. Under this model, the district would essentially just be a shell to levy taxes, and provide oversight that the charter is living up to performance standards. By using the district’s own buildings, there could be savings that they don’t get when the district is paying charter tuition to its existing charter schools.

This option also solves many of the problem the board states it has when trying to control spending. Unfunded mandates will go away. The school district can more easily adopt education reforms, and can themselves innovate. The teacher’s union stranglehold on the district will be broken.

Consolidation: The most drastic option would be consolidating with neighboring districts. This would be a very long process, and the other districts would have to take on Octorara’s debt.

What is striking is that York City School District seems to encourage a very high level of engagement from parents, taxpayers, local officials, and teachers. In contrast, Octorara seems to be happy with people who want to volunteer time, energy, and money within the structure they desire involvement, but less accepting on topics of budget adoption, contracts, curriculum, and fiscal planning and oversight.

One thought on “Three Options For “Solving The Impossible”

  1. While I had previously delved back into the archived posts of this blog — and bear in mind that this blog was begun only few months ago — today for the first time I went all the way back to the beginning. I wanted to read or re-read each and every post that Mr. Alexander has put up; all of the links he has connected to; all of the references and citations he has made; all of the charts and graphs he has reproduced or created; plus all of the comments that have been offered by others, including myself. I wanted to really try to get a handle on the present, very problematic situation in the OASD, to gain insight into how the current predicament came about, and maybe even gin up an idea or two of what might be done going forward. I simply sought understanding. Being still new to the area, I need understanding.

    My comprehensive readings into (and digestion of) this blog today were of necessity time consuming, about five hours in total: in this blog’s brief life Mr. Alexander has put forth that much information, little of it to be chewed and swallowed in just a second or two. I’m not at all sure how much genuine understanding I gained from my efforts. In some respects I am more confused than ever. But that is through no fault of Mr. Alexander. Rather I think it is simply because — as a certain somebody has often lectured — the whole process, system, and machinations involved in public school financing are “complex.” Indeed they are. ‘Obtuse’ might be a better word. Or how about ‘unfathomable?’ Why this should be so I don’t know. Well, actually I think I do. When I was a kid about a half-century ago almost everything relating to local school districts was decided at — you guessed it — the local level. Then in the mid-1970s Jimmy Carter created the U.S. Department of Education. Suddenly Washington intruded into local classrooms. And while I don’t claim to know all of the ins-and-outs, all of the who-struck-johns of the matter, I assume that in short order, dictated by Washington, states quickly fell into line and started insinuating their own governments into the mix, creating even more bureaucracies of central control, and ever since adding layer upon layer of rules, regulations, requirements, mandates (funded or not), to what once was, in my youth, almost entirely a matter for local citizens to decide and manage for themselves; i.e., the education of the children in their own community. Each taxpaying citizen can decide for himself/herself whether this grand experiment of big government butting its way into yet another facet of our lives has been worth it, both in terms of the trillions of dollars spent and in terms of results produced. The essential question is: by truly objective standards are kids today any smarter than they were 50 years ago? Are they any wiser? More literate? Do they have greater math aptitude? Do they have a greater sense of history? Do they pay greater attention to current affairs? In any way are the bulk of students of today more advanced, genuinely better in their overall knowledge of the world, truly more enlightened than the students of 50 years ago? Ream upon ream of research reports, academic studies, and almost all data from all sources suggest otherwise, that the dumbing-down of America continues apace.

    I have digressed. To get back on track, while I gladly take off my hat to Ellen Brown, Ken Knickerbocker, and all others who have made sincere efforts to inform, educate, and enlighten about the OASD and its finances, I must at the same time state, paraphrasing Churchill’s words about the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain: ‘Rarely have so many owed so much to one person.’ In a matter of a few short weeks Tim Alexander has done more to put the matter of school taxes, and to put the matter in the most objective context anybody reasonably could, squarely on the board of public consideration. He has thrust it all out there: all of the facts, all of the reasonable interpretations of the facts. He has asked just about every hard question that can be asked. And through it all, despite sometimes indifference and even veiled hostility from the school board, and despite serious (but silly) blow-back from that other website, and in the face of a great many who simply do not want to lend an ear to Mr. Alexander’s facts and his persuasive arguments, he has never, ever, not once, failed to base his arguments on anything other than fact. He has never, ever, not once, stooped to the level of some of his critics. Like him, love him, or loathe him, nobody can say that Tim Alexander lacks integrity. If integrity were the coin of the realm, Tim Alexander would be a rich man.

    For the record, I have met Tim Alexander only once. A week ago he graciously accepted my invitation to lunch. He knew going in that my purpose was to take the measure of the man, to ask him hard questions He also knew that I am essentially a nobody. Through several previous email exchanges he did know that I was in support of his candidacy to the school board, and that I was willing to provide whatever modest means of financial support I could. He accepted the former but rejected the latter. He welcomed my moral support, but said that he would not accept any financial contributions from any person or entity, that he would do this on his own, by the powers of his own persuasion.

    As we left the restaurant I asked how his family was reacting to this whole matter. He assured me that his wife, and at least the older of his six children, were up-to-speed, and onboard. He even noted that his oldest child,17 I believe, was proofreading his posts before they were put up, and that the same child had somehow managed to inject the whole matter of public school financing into his own classroom, and had stirred a robust discussion. My last question, just before we separated to go to our cars, was: are you doing this whole thing out of a sense of obligation, or outrage over taxes, or what? He turned, smiled, and essentially said: all of the above, plus the fact that I enjoy a good fight.

    Bottom line, or so it seems to me: while Tim Alexander, Ellen Brown, even Ken Knickerbocker, and scores of everyday people try illuminate things, all too often the powers that be try to obfuscate, distract, dissemble, and otherwise keep the focus away from what seems to me an immutable fact: our taxes are too high, our results are too low. And whereas Tim Alexander and others try to facilitate discussion, it seems that the powers that be try to head it off, even shut it down. Never ever do they deign to engage in a meaningful way with the unwashed masses. Why is that? Why are not all public officials bending over backwards to solicit input and feedback from their constituents, the people who pay the freight? Seems like a no-brainer to me. And thus those same public officials have no reason to gripe when in public forums they are derided and generally held in low regard, if not contempt. Hello! Did any of you ever hear of public relations, of the value in trying reach out and communicate to the persons whose support you need. Did any of you ever read about the fall of the European dynasties, when the put-upon public rose up against onerous taxes imposed by out-of-touch elites? Do any of you have a clue about history, and current reality, and current misery? Based on reported facts, not just on this blog but widely and almost universally reported facts about the sorry state of public school education, it appears you don’t. Public school education, at best, leaves much to be desired. And yet the persons and entities with vested interests in the current system, the status quo, never tire of asserting that all is well. Please.

    There are still several months before the OASD school board adopts a budget for the next school year, still time for hard-pressed and outraged citizens to come forth, hopefully en masse, to say to the board: no mas. No matter what, don’t any of you ever even dream of raising my already outrageous taxes by one penny. Just don’t even go there. It is a non-starter. Get your house in order, and get your stinking monkey off my back.

    This whole matter, indeed almost all domestic matters, is no longer about the grand visions of Jimmy Carter and other presidents before or subsequent to him, in both parties, who imagined great things, probably including their visage being added to Mt. Rushmore. No, in this hardest of times, the simple matter is what the people can afford, and are willing to pay. And the simple answer is: no, no more, not one penny more. We are tapped out, and why can’t you see this self-evident fact? You can’t get blood from a stone. You can’t keep raising taxes on people who struggle to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, put a few dollars away for their kids’ futures and their own old age. Why is any of this ‘complex?’
    More for less, si. Higher taxes, no. No way, no how. Get that simple idea through your heads. No longer will people indulge extravagant notions of clueless people. No longer will people tolerate idealists telling us what they must have to accomplish their mission. No, henceforth we will tell you what we are willing to pay…and then we shall see if there is a genuine ounce of managerial ability, creativity, and fiscal responsibility anywhere within the OASD. No matter how one tries to cut the mustard, or slice the baloney, the fact remains that the annual cost-per-student in the OASD is, at a minimum, $5,000 above the national average.

    In his exhaustive reporting Mr. Alexander has laid out a compelling case that whereas as far back as 2006 there were some who were sounding alarm bells about OASD spending, and taxes, there were too few paying attention to the obvious.

    The only question now is whether the current school board has smelled the coffee, and unlike our current president decided not to try to slough off present problems to alleged past mistakes, but instead to live in the here and now, muster up and soldier on, bite the bullet, grab the bull by the horns. We wait with bated breath to see if the current school board of the OASD still has any ties to reality, or whether, as some allege, they are just a bunch of liberal loons living in la-la land. Time will tell.

    C. Vail

    P.S. I admit my naivete, but can anybody please explain why the OASD is paying interest on debt. That line item in the budget, unexplained, implies that at some point in the past bonds were sold to fund who knows what. What are the particulars of this debt? What are the legal underpinnings of the debt? When was the debt assumed? For what purpose was it assumed? What interest rate was promised? Why, in light of our sky-high taxes, was it necessary to incur debt in the first place? Really, if our already outrageous taxes are not adequate to fund the OASD, if the OASD still needs to borrow money, and then to pay interest on that borrowed money, then we all might just as well bend over backwards and kiss our sweet asses goodbye. Because in that event there is no hope, none whatsover. For if a so heavily taxed school district like ours cannot manage to make ends meet just through the revenues of our onerous taxes, but must also borrow money and then pay interest on that money, well then, beam me up Scottie, for there is no intelligent life on this planet.

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