Octorara’s Over-Building & Enrollment Projections

Over this process, we have talked about the $6.1 Million annual debt service as being a major factor in why we are facing a 37.5 mill tax rate, and not a rate less than 30 mills. There was a 2003 feasibility report, which is repeatedly referenced to defend the debt and building of the large Octorara campus. That feasibility report stated the district would add 500 new students over 10 years, and is now 10 years old.

By 2006, the district had created the Octorara Regional Planning Commission because projections were falling short.

Throughout the process, taxpayers were worried about the dramatic increases in taxes, as well as the size and scope to the building initiative.

As the economy started to decline in late 2006, and then collapsed in 2008, the district continued with their vision.

We can now see, enrollment has not only fallen short of expected growth, it began to recede, and is expected to continue to fall. The PA Department of Education has historic enrollment, on their site, going back to 04-05.

Enrollment

  • 2004-05: 2,650
  • 2005-06: 2,581
  • 2006-07: 2,660
  • 2007-08: 2,657
  • 2008-09: 2,714
  • 2009-10: 2,616
  • 2010-11: 2,581
  • 2011-12: 2,583
  • 2020-21: 2,459 (Dept of Ed projection)

The numbers never materialized from the feasibility report, with only annual fluctuations, up and down, over the period. Is it finally time the district admits the campus, with 3 elementary schools, was too much, too fast?

Is it time to consider a consolidation plan to save tax payers money, and generate revenue from the unused space to help pay off the debt?

Links

3 thoughts on “Octorara’s Over-Building & Enrollment Projections

  1. When we look back over old board minutes, and old news reports, we find the same names pushing for building when taxpayers were speaking out. Four of those names are still on the board, and at least 3 of those 4 are vocally dismissive of any fundamental changes and resist discussing past choices.

  2. I have lived here within the OASD for only a few years. I have been attending school board meetings for only a few months. Therefore I don’t really have a good idea to what extent the renovation/expansion project(s) of five and six years ago, which added so much to the tax burden, were necessary or even desirable, or to what extent the whole thing might just have been an unrealistic and misguided effort at wish fulfillment on the part of the then-board…an effort which was apparently and largely based on what we now know were faulty projections about population growth.

    On the one hand I can’t get really upset with the board in place at that time; after all, five or six years ago it seemed that everything was coming up roses for the economy as a whole, that prosperity and growth were in everybody’s future. Nevertheless, on the other hand, in hindsight, it seems clear now that the board would have done well to remember the admonition about not counting one’s chickens before they are hatched. It also seems clear that there were voices back then urging caution and restraint; that whereas in a perfectly prosperous world everybody wants the best education for children that money can buy, the world never has been and never will be a truly perfect place; that there are practicalities and hard, cold truths which must be considered, and that at the top of any such list are affordability and risk. Like so many institutions of government, business (especially banking), foundations and college endowment funds, and tens of millions of individuals, it appears the OASD board of the time got ahead of itself, bought into the belief that good times were here and even better times were just ahead. So in that sense it’s hard for me to find fault. The OASD board of the time was no more guilty of sin than just about every other institution and segment of society. They, we all, wanted to believe. They, we all, wanted to dream. Who knew, at that time, at least when the board was first starting to put together its plans, that within a very short period the hopes and dreams of tens of millions would explode in their faces like a loaded cigar?

    The question remains about how well the board reacted and responded once the true dimensions of the financial crisis became apparent. On this matter I think Mr. Alexander has done excellent work which suggests that, at a minimum, the board was slow on the uptake, and that at worst at least some members had a ‘damn the torpedoes, full-speed ahead’ mindset.

    In any case, that’s all water over the dam, or under the bridge (I never could get that metaphor straight). As noted, I have been attending board meetings only for the past few months. But I have avidly been following the discussion of OASD and school taxes on this blog as well as Parkesburg Today since the subject first seized public attention in a big way. I have even contributed thoughts of my own to the discussion, to the consternation of more than a few. But it’s all good, it is well that we are talking about these things.

    Through it all I continue to question how much I really know, and to what extent I might just be acting on ideological biases and seeing things through the prism of my own school age experience. But I think I have learned a few things:

    1. Ken Knickerbocker is absolutely correct when he says that public school financing is ‘complex.’

    2. Ken Knickerbocker and Tim Alexander are both on the side of the angels when they repeatedly urge greater turn-out for board meetings; and though neither comes right and says so, one can sense their disappointment when, meeting after meeting, only a dozen or so folks show up. How can it be that in 2007, according to the LancasterOnline article linked in this post, the room was filled to overflowing, whereas these days the attendance is, well, to put it mildly, pitiful?

    3. Prior to tonight’s board meeting I still had doubts about whether board members really and truly got it, that the tax base was tapped-out, the well run dry. Tonight’s meeting did much, a great deal, to answer my questions and calm my fears. I came away from tonight’s meeting thinking: yes, they do get it. And I came away feeling: yes, they are looking into every nook and cranny to find ways to reduce costs. It really was a revelation, a case study in earnest people trying to find ways to cut costs without jeopardizing the mission.

    4. As few board meetings as I have attended, I have heard more than a few members express disappointment, even exasperation, at the poor attendance. And for every member who gave voice to such thoughts you could read on the faces of all the others that the feeling was mutual. Indeed you could read on the faces of some members that, if not for the requirement that they hold public meetings, they all might just as well pack up and go home for lack of interest on the part of the community.

    Again, I’m still new to the area. I don’t have any children, grandchildren or other relatives in the OASD, and it’s highly unlikely I ever will. I have only two vested interests in the well-being of the OASD: the general well-being of kids in the community, and the taxes I pay. Both of those interests, after repeated remonstrations from Messrs. Knickerbocker and Alexander, finally convinced me to get off my butt, to start attending school board meetings, and to try to learn what is really going on.

    So should you.

    C. Vail

    P.S. While as a group I do believe the board gets it, there is one member who for now shall go unnamed, but who through almost every word that escapes his mouth and his uninformed mind betrays the fact that, despite his blue blazer and his jaunty pocket hankie, he is a shallow yutz. This particular board member clearly does not get it. This person is still living in la-la land. This person, to the extent he ever escapes his ego and sense of self-importance and righteousness, thinks only about grand, illusory visions, never about the world most of us live in. Let us all be wary of such nincompoops. Nincompoops like him put us in the mess we find ourselves. To be sure, idiots and morons like him should be kept miles away from any positions of even limited power. Idiots like him should be relegated to the back bays and the far corners of democratic, deliberative society.

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