“Wish List” or “Wishful Thinking” for Octorara’s new website?

Octorara website 8-25-2013With a $5,000 price-tag, The new Octorara Area School District website has been a topic of conversation this summer. If you haven’t visited recently, you will notice it has gone through a redesign. The hope was for something more user-friendly, filled with all the information parents and citizens need to stay informed.

Unfortunately, since the “upgrade” several months ago, and now at the first day of school, there has been little improvement… in some cases less information is available (example: no Board Meeting minutes after March 15, 2013 or before July 9, 2012, and no new minutes added to thier list since the switch).

Topics Conspicuously Missing from Octorara’s Website

  • Academic Standards
  • Act 1: Property Tax Relief
  • Annual Financial Reports
  • Audits (most recent & historical)
  • Background Checks (Hiring Policies, Background Checks, Teacher Certification)
  • Committee Members (including Contact Information)
  • Committee Reports
  • Contracts (Employee, Bids & RFPs, Vendor Statements)
  • Cost Per Student Data
  • Debt Reports
  • Dropout Data & Statistics
  • Educator Discipline
  • Enrollment Data & Stats
  • Financial Elements Data (Personal Income, Real Estate Taxes, etc.)
  • Graduate Data (Pct. of College-Bound Graduates, etc.)
  • Graduation Requirements (Keystone Exams, et al)
  • Graduation Rates
  • Keystone Exams
  • Lobbying Efforts
  • Meetings (Current & Historical Minutes and Agendas)
  • Professional and Support Personnel Data (Teachers, Administrators, etc.)
  • Property Tax Reduction Allocations
  • PSSA and AYP Results
  • PVAAS – Student Progress
  • Real Estate Tax Rates (Mills)
  • Report Card (State AYP)
  • Right-to-Know (Policy, Request Forms, Open Records Officer)
  • Safe Schools Annual Reports
  • SAT & ACT Test Scores
  • Special Education Statistics
  • Teacher Furloughs
  • Truancy

With the few policy based topics listed above, one may be able to find some amount of information after picking through the online policies provided under School Board section of the website. However, that tends to be hit or miss. For example, Policy 801 Public Records is 10 years old, and in violation of the current law. (see here) Another example, Policy 214 Graduation Requirements is dated from 1996, and last updated in 1996, covering the Graduating Classes from 1996 to 2000.

The district’s full Mission statement reads:

The mission of the Octorara Area School District, through a partnership among school, community and family, is to promote educational excellence in a safe, secure environment, empowering our students with the skills necessary to be successful, responsible members of society.

How is the district defining partnership?

The simple fact is transparency in government is not really about about taxes, budgets, or performance. Politics is, for many, an inherently moral subject that has to do with the duties and obligations of those in power over the people. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what government agencies are doing.

Transparency of government agencies is vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process. Secrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public’s effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society. Government needs to actively engage with citizens and taxpayers, not only providing information but actively soliciting public feedback to assess and improve.

At what point does the district stop worrying facts could be used as grenades and ammunition against them, and start realizing that accurate information is what is needed to have a true partnership with the community?

5 thoughts on ““Wish List” or “Wishful Thinking” for Octorara’s new website?

  1. Frankly, Tim, my first reaction was: might you not be asking a bit too much?

    However on second thought, no, I don’t think you are. Information and data pertaining to all the items on your list exists, should be fairly easily transcribed to and included on the district’s website, and so the obvious question is: why not? Enquiring minds (and the pocketbooks of cash-strapped, tax-oppressed OASD residents) want to know. Mind you, I am not alleging any malfeasance, misfeasance or conspiracy of silence. I am simply saying what any government entity should know and should be sensitive to on a daily basis: that too much information is better than too little. Providing too much information might be a bit of a chore, but is well worth the effort. Because providing too little information can invite uncertainty, questions, skepticism and cynicism, resentment, lack of trust, and a whole host of other negative vibes. Once when I was about 15 years old I remember asking my father why he always insisted on getting everything in writing. He gave me one of his patented stares intended to reflect a bit of intellectual disappointment along with a certain parental pride, and then he calmly and cooly said, “Because when it is in writing there should be no questions, no ambiguity about responsibility and accountability.” Just so. And so to the board and the administrators of the OASD I would urge that they put it in writing, all of it, everything that Mr. Alexander listed, and everything else they can think of. Where’s the harm? Better safe than sorry.

    C. Vail

    • It is great to have a reliable news source for information these days, and thanks to Tim we now have that privilege!

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