Aug 18th School Board Meeting Indirectly Highlight Need for Transparency

The August 18th Octorara Area School Board meeting was probably one of the most interesting and exciting meetings of the last year. There was none of the issues that may normally get people excited. The meeting was delayed for 15 minutes because of an Executive Session for legal reasons, but that is not it. The first highlight was an issue of Grammar, and the other is the Zimmerman School Resource Officer proposal.

Before we get started… Policy 801. PUBLIC RECORDS

your-right-to-knowAfter being directed by Dr Newcome where to specifically locate the District’s Right-to-Know Policy, I found it. (downloadable here)

Their most current version is from 1996 & last revised in 2003, based on Act 100 of 2002. However, The current version of the law is Act 3 of 2008, as signed by Gov. Edward G. Rendell on February 14, 2008, Effective January 1, 2009. This means the policy is 10 years old, and at least 4 years out of date.

It directs citizens to file appeals with the Board, instead of a lawful appeal with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records. It states the Board will make all Final Determinations, not the OOR. It also states that the Board’s Final Determination, if not satisfactory to the requester, needs to be appealed with the Court of Common Pleas.

The Octorara School District‘s Public Records Policy is, without much doubt, unlawful based on the current Right-to-Know Law. The current law has appeals handled by the Office of Open Records, which was created in 2009. The policy is short, and other violations may exist.

I also found Policy 903 Public Participation In Board Meetings, which I have to presume is their Open Meeting or Sunshine Policy. According to the policy, currently on their site, this was adopted and has not been revised since 1996.

Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act (65 Pa.C.S. Chapter 7) was added October 15, 1998, P.L.729, No.93, effective in 60 days. This potentially makes this policy also inconsistent with current law.

“Acceptable Use Policy”

When it was asked if there where any comments before the vote on approving the “Acceptable Use Policy,” Shawna Johnson spoke out about a long list a grammatical and language issues. She stated that she had repeatedly brought up issues of grammar, and it is unacceptable to put anything like this out when the district is suppose to be educators. All documents need to be checked, rechecked, and checked again.

The Board suspended rules in order to discuss ways to resolve the problem. Dr Newcome stated it would only take a day to make the corrections. Brian Norris (Vice President) made a motion to vote approved pending the corrections, and wanting to make a final approval after members inspect another final draft.

Dr Newcome and Samuel Ganow immediately condemned the idea of a nonpublic vote later this week. However, Norris presented to idea as if it was a normal way of doing business to get things done. Rather than withdrawing the motion, he allowed it to come to a vote, and it was unanimously rejected.

Official actions of the Board are required to be public. If current events had not placed a spotlight on transparency, I wonder if Norris’ motion would have been approved?

Beyond that, in trying to figure out ways to get everything fixed before the start of school, Shawna Johnson jumped ugly at Norris over documents coming form the Board and the District needing proper Grammar. Angrily and passionately, she exclaimed that as an educational institution, they must always use perfect grammar and language in all material produced, always and without exception. Anything less is unacceptable.

Who would have thought Ms Johnson was a Grammar Nazi? I liked seeing this side of her.

The issue has been deferred to the September meeting.

The Zimmerman Proposal

There are a whole lot of good, valid reasons for being for or against hiring School Resource Officers. That is not what this is about. This is about transparency.

The Zimmermans have spoke up at Board Meetings at least two (maybe three) times looking for updates about hiring School Resource Officers to patrol the schools. Mr Zimmerman, at the visitor comments section toward the end of the meeting, once again asked for an update. However, we did receive an update. Mr Zimmerman just didn’t realize it.

The Facility Committee Report was one of the last items before visitor comments. Nelson Stoltzfus reported, in the same language he does every week, “security continues to be a concern and matter of discussion.” That is your update.

If it wasn’t for the Zimmermans attendance at the meetings, and asking for updates from time to time, most people would know nothing until and if a final decision was made. At that point, if you wanted to speak up, it would be too late.

If a board member is asked about security, by a person on the street, they could honesty say they talk about it every month at Regular Board Meetings, because they do. They just don’t say much.

Within the Administrative Comments, responding to Mr Zimmerman, Dr Newcome commented he was waiting for information regarding state grants. Once he gives the Board the information, they will then make a final decision. It sounds like they are leaning toward getting School Resource Officers, but final determination comes down to how much money the state is handing over. It could just as easily mean they are trying to appease the Zimmermans’ and their group, and are waiting for the grant information as an excuse.

The ball has been punted. If the Board does not make their final decision next month, I suspect we will hear from Mr and Mrs Zimmerman again soon after. Maybe one or both of the Zimmermans should think about running for School Board in 2015.

In other Board News…

Scott Grimes, of the Octorara Community Stadium Task Force, provided a Field Development Update presentation. Everything will be ready for the first use, a Boys Varsity Soccer Match scheduled for September 3rd.

Mr Grimes ran through a list of contributors, some with sizable contributions. However, there were two major contributors who paid the vast majority of the cost: Octorara Taxpayers via district funds ($250,000), and JD Eckman Inc ($213,000).

The combined contributions of all other contributors looks like it may end of slightly north of $200,000. Mr Grimes was still waiting for final numbers from several contributors. Of this portion, the major contributor appears to be Dr Newcome with roughly $41,000 (just let that sink in for a second).

Recommended Action Items

Prior to vote, Newcome followed up on a request for information on a contract with Eastern Lancaster County School District. The contract has existed for four years. A young person had been living in the Pequea Valley School District, and having mutli-discipline issues Pequea used Eastern Lancaster County.

The family, after moving into the Octorara Area, petitioned the Board to keep their child in his existing school. The District agreed to pay tuition and transportation cost.

The question of what this contract was from the August 12th Work Session meeting. My question is how does an item get on the agenda without anyone knowing what it is? Who put it on the agenda?

All Action Items, except as noted, passed unanimously without comment.


9 thoughts on “Aug 18th School Board Meeting Indirectly Highlight Need for Transparency

  1. Regarding Dr. Newcome and is VERY GENEROUS donation, how do you want it to sink in? I think you should let it sink in. I think you should consider donating to a school that you think has run aground. You are nothing but a naysayer and will always be a naysayer. Your an idiot.

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      I’m not really sure what you inferred from half a sentence, in a very long post in which the Field Development Update was little more than an aside. Do you know many in the area believe the stadium was paid for by the boosters, or at least thought it was suppose to be?

      Anyway, my stated opinion is Octorara’s issues will not be fixed with more money. Octorara already spends more money per student than any other local school district, but has some of the lowest achievement scores. Bread & Circuses should not be the priority, education should.

      • Our forefathers were also “naysayers” and look at what they accomplished! The problem we have today is there is no transparency and that is a problem that “WILL” be fixed. Tim keep up the great work!

        I would say Brian Norris, Lisa Bowman, and Thomas Newcome need to realize that the tax payers are not here to just pay taxes and shut up! We demand to know the truth, and we have the “RIGHT” to know the truth.

    • “You’re”…. not “Your”
      I think we found the person responsible for writing the “Acceptable Use Policy”.

      JD Eckman should be commended on how much they give back to the community. I’ve never heard of a time when they haven’t said yes to a group. And $41K from Newcome! That is pretty impressive and generous.

      • “dontgivea” assumed that me pointing out Newcome’s contribution was negative, most likely because all I asked readers to do was contemplate the act. Well, we all know what happens when people assume. One thing I have said, from the beginning, is I do not even try to divine a person’s motives… not Newcome, not anyone on the Board, not anyone I have a difference of opinion with. I don’t accuse them of being bad people. I accuse them of having made bad choices.

        Newcome’s contribution appears to be the 3rd largest… first the taxpayers, second was Eckman, then Newcome. It was something that needed to be pointed out. Politically, it would have been better to simply ignore it… not to speak of it or let people know. The bad choices I believe Newcome has made, does not make him a bad man.

  2. I would like to point out your bad choice of not posting my previous post to be seen by others. Make a good choice and post the truth for once, Timothy. Politically, you did make a stab at Dr. Newcome by suggesting we “let it sink in”. Elaborate for us, what was your “true” intention?

    • dontgivea,

      I am not going to engage in mindless bickering with you. If you have a specific fact about the District you would like to challenge, please post it with where you got the information (a link if possible). If the fact can be independently verified, I will make a specific post about it. There is a long list I have talked about… assessment scores, graduation rates, enrollment numbers, debt as a percentage of the budget, teacher salaries, and so on. Fact are facts, not your opinion of them.

      …and I think I just did explain why I noted Newcome’s contribution in my last comment.

      If you want to discuss facts, we can discuss facts. If you just was to argue in circles because you don’t like my opinions, I’m just not going to engage in that nonsense.

  3. I find Dr. Newcome’s generous donation troubling for a couple of reasons.
    It is a potential conflict of interest and a complication, for the board and community, when his contract next comes up for renewal (not that the public will be allowed to give any input). How does a poor district say no to an administrator who gives so generously to the cause that the school board seems most interested in pursuing? It was a good, political move for him though and guarantees him a position for life.
    I also wonder why he didn’t use that money for other school activities that have been strapped for years?

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