Many taxpayers, trying to recover for the economic devastation of the last few years, are letting out a collective sigh of relief this morning. Yesterday, the Octorara Area School District Board of Directors voted unanimously to adopt the 2013-14 General Fund Budget in the amount of $47,492,791, and a resolution establishing a real estate millage rate of 36.66 mills (zero increase) in Chester County and 27.71 mills (an increase of 22 basis points) in Lancaster County.
Unfortunately, there are already attempts from apologists to devalue and delegitimize the efforts of citizens to achieve this zero increase. Everyone knows Mr Hume and Mr Lapp have always been vocal about over-taxing, but when has the board overall avoided a tax increase at anytime in recent history? In fact in 2011-12, thanks to reorganization due to a decrease in enrollment, the district’s actual year-over-year budget decreased. What did they do? In the one year they could legitimately talk about truly cutting spending, they still increased taxes.
The 2013-14 budget is an increase in spending of over $828,000 with an over $1 Million shortfall. For Octorara to avoid an estimated budget of $48.7 Million in 2014-15, with an estimated tax rate of 38.2 mills, you must begin to make your voices heard starting this July. We must make it known, the distinct needs control labor costs by controlling salaries, not just by cutting teachers. We must make it known, enough is enough with the unnecessary space. Octorara over-built, and there needs to be a plan for consolidation and reorganization. School consolidation allows for the best use of resources by reducing operating expenses and maintenance costs, providing those dollars to support instruction.
Newcome’s Resignation & Rehire
As reported on the Parkesburg Gazette last week, the Board Directors had quietly made nonpubic policy decisions, recommendations, and votes which led to a decision to engage in 9 months of negotiations to extent Dr Newcome’s contract from June 2015 to June 2018. The process required Dr. Newcome’s resignation effective June 30, 2013, and then the Board Director’s approval of a new five year contract effective July 1, 2013. Intentionally kept out of public thought until the last possible minute, both agenda items passed unanimously without public discussion or debate from board members.
Gone In 30 Minutes
That is how long the meeting took. It started at 7:30pm, and I was home drinking coffee by 8:10. I bring this up because last night, more than any other meeting, I noticed a true lack of public discussion or debate, even besides Dr Newcome’s contract extension. For example, Item S the board voted to approve Policy 123.2 “Athletic Academic Eligibility”, first reading… approved unanimously without discussion or debate, and without even a reading of the policy.
Policy 123.2 “Athletic Academic Eligibility” was again mentioned during the Policy Committee Report… a report in which all that was stated was one sentence, that there were many changes to 123.2. It had me wondering why the various committee reports, and their meeting minutes, are not publicly available documents, along with the various attachments frequently mentioned?
Of note at this very short meeting, was Mr Lapp speaking out in favor of education reform and against Common Core. The Common Core State Standards Initiative seeks to bring state curricula into alignment with each other by following the principles of standards-based education reform. The initiative is sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Common Core is intended to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are described as robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
The program has drawn criticism from Liberals, Libertarians, and Conservatives. Several Republican governors have described the program as a federal “top-down” takeover of state and local education systems. Some argue the focus on national standards will do little to fix deeply ingrained problems and incentive structures within the education system, and there is research that calls into question whether the standards would have a significant effect. The list of criticisms seems endless. Mr. Lapp calls it the Dumbing Down of America, and the idea that the program emphasizes rote learning over critical thinking skills is hard to argue against.