As the most vocal School Board Candidate in recent history, I have also become the most controversial and vetted candidate. This is a wonderful thing. Can the average parent, citizen, or taxpayer say with any certainty they know the true position of any of the existing Board members? What do any of them truly believe about School Choice, Accountability, or any other topic related to education in the 21st Century?
We are two months away from the election on November 5th. There are two seat up in Region 3, and two people are running. I have no real need to do anything. I can quietly sit back, as others will, and wait. But is that how we want our local elections decided… by 10 signatures on a petition 8-9 months before the actual election?
With this in mind, I grabbed a random “School Board Candidate Questionnaire” from the internet, answered it, and am posting it here. My positions will come as no surprise to anyone who is a regular reader, but it provides a synopsis to those who may not have followed as closely.
Top Priorities if Elected
- Promote true transparency by advocating all board business be in public, particularly dialogue among board members prior to each vote;
- Actively engage with citizens and taxpayers, not only providing information but actively soliciting public feedback to assess and improve;
- Balance educational excellence and fiscal restraint, ensuring efficient use of taxpayers’ dollars;
- Promote excellence by fostering a true partnership between students, parents, teachers and community members, and
- Make subgroup (special ed, economically disadvantaged, minority) performance a top priority.
1. Why do you want to serve on the Octorara School Board of Directors?
The 2013 Election is a referendum on Taxes, Performance, and Transparency. The available data shows that OASD has the second worst performance overall, and the worst performance among subgroups in Chester County. However, the District has the highest tax rate and the highest per-student cost. Moreover, it becomes apparent the District has been set up to benefit the top 20-30%, at the expense of less talented students and subgroups with the most need. The last 5-10 years, from the campus’ over-building to the major increase in teacher’s wages to even some of the course changes, have been choices of image over substance. Taxpayers keep paying more, with little overall return.
Moreover, there is a lack of willingness to truly engage with citizens and taxpayers. I believe most of the district’s problems could be solved by not only providing easily accessible information, but actively soliciting public feedback to assess and improve. In word and deed, the District seems to divide the District’s citizens into two classes. There is a small group with a valued voice, an inner circle of insiders consisting of certain long-term classroom volunteers, PTO members, Boosters, and donors. It is from this pool that an almost political cronyism has developed. The attitude from several board members and administrators is that the rest of us are merely a source of tax revenue, and need to keep opinions to ourselves. The District just does not realize it works for every student, parent, citizen, and taxpayer. This attitude needs to change.
2. Describe your work and volunteer background and how it prepares you to be a member of the school board.
I am a parent and citizen who has worked for himself roughly 10 years, first as a small business owner and today as a Real Estate Agent. With no hourly wage, my pay has been completely tied to economic trends and my own performance. As a result, I know first hand the impact the economy has on the people of this area, because it affects me directly. My background prepares me to help take the agencies of local government back from those who have not had to feel the sting of our failing economy as harshly, and who seek to extract more money from the people who have no more to give.
Overall, I firmly believe most people, like myself, would happily make a sacrifice of higher taxes if they believed the money was effectively being used. Parents of students who are the most talented and gifted may not see a problem, but the performance and assessment scores show that is not most of us. As a parent of a child with an IEP, I truly feel the frustration of dealing with an under-performing District.
3. What do you consider to be the most important issue for the district and school board to focus on in the upcoming years?
The bottom-line, number-one issue is getting rid of the ingrained bigotry of low expectation that seems apparent in some Board Members and Administrators. Early in my campaign, I made noise about how some tried blaming students and parents of subgroups for Octorara’s academic performance issues. Over the last few months, District comments have become more carefully worded, but I don’t believe hearts and minds have changed. Student’s with learning disabilities, with special needs, come from economically disadvantaged homes, or from a minority group must be focused on as a priority. We can only lift Octorara’s performance from the bottom up, not the top down. Especially in reading, if a student fails to reach grade level in their early years, their chances of ever getting to grade level are small. Moreover, these students are at the greatest risk of dropping out and/or failing to graduate.
A responsible budget, even if we cannot achieve an actual tax cut, will redirect funds to programs for the students in the most need. The debt caused by the District’s over-building plus the generous teacher’s wages have not produced results. The speculation of a growing enrollment and tax base has caused roughly $6.1 Million of the District’s $47.4 Million budget to shift to debt payments. A generous increase to teacher’s wages several years ago, has dramatically increased Octorara’s average salary to one of the highest paid in Chester County, and has added more than $2.1 Million to the District’s costs above historic trends. It translates to over $8 Million less for student programs.
4. What do you see as the most important factors affecting student achievement? What is your role—what will you do—as a school board member to bring about improvement in these areas?
Although this is a nonpartisan office, I endorse the 2012 Republican Party Platform planks on education, particularly accountability at every stage of schooling and rigorous assessments on the fundamentals, especially math, science, reading, history and geography. I strongly support School Choice as a way for schools to compete for tax dollars. I believe parents should be left to be the ultimate determiner of ethical and behavioral norms and traditions. The District must provide Transparency, so parents and the public can discover how the school is serving their pupils. I also believe the Board should actively lobby Harrisburg for changes important to the district, from property tax reform to a replacement of the tenure system.
5. The school district is facing major funding challenges. How would you address this issue?
I have pledged to vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes, and any budget that does not include a reorganization addressing Octorara’s enrollment issue. Because of debt and having to maintain too many buildings, we know that a significant portion of educational dollars never makes it into the actual classroom. The District needs to acknowledge that past enrollment and tax-base speculations were wrong, that decisions based on those speculations have dug us into a hole, and we need to work to dig ourselves out.
6. How can communication between the school system and the general public be improved; and communication with state legislators and the state Secretary of Education?
The District does very little outreach, and what is done is used to quiet discontent voices rather than provide Active Listening. At this point, what the average citizen knows about the district is mostly based on hearsay and anecdotes. As a Board member, I will treasure opportunities to interact with parents and engage in “constituent advocacy.” I will also aggressively use available “alternative media” tools such as blogging, Twitter, and Facebook. Moreover, I believe the District should also engage through social media, and update their website with all the information parents and citizens need to discover how the school is serving their pupils.
7 What do you see as your greatest strengths, and what positive additions can you bring to this board?
I am a political outsider who is sick of being fleeced by politicians and their coterie of like-minded. I will prize the ability of my “no” vote to hinder the progress of the plans from the in-crowd. I am a cold pragmatist, who will place the needs of the students above the wants of the small clique claiming ownership of the Octorora Area School District. My loyalty will be to all the students, parents, citizens, and taxpayers of this area, not a special group of insiders.
- “Wish List” or “Wishful Thinking” for Octorara’s new website? (octorarataxes.wordpress.com)
- The School Tax Vise: Taxes Soar, But Districts Still Struggle (octorarataxes.wordpress.com)
- Aug 18th School Board Meeting Indirectly Highlight Need for Transparency (octorarataxes.wordpress.com)
- OASD Board Denies Receiving Right-To-Know (octorarataxes.wordpress.com)