A Small Sign of Vindication from Newcome

From the open of the September 9th Octorara Area School Board Work Session Meeting, until almost the end, I knew exactly how I was going to write this blog… and it was going to be boring. Then, during the Administrator Comments, Dr Newcome slipped in a small statement that changed my direction.

Dr Newcome announced today that the Policy Committee will be looking at revising and updating the District’s Open Record’s Policy. A first draft should be expected in October, with a final vote as late as December.

You may remember, the School Board’s response to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Record’s Final Determination stated, “It is our practice to comply in a timely manner, with with guidelines of the law, when a request is submitted; as we have done for the 9 previous Right-To-Know requests since Jan. 2012. We have a track record that proves this to be true.”

As it turns out, the most current version of the District’s open record’s policy 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, and was effective January 1, 2009. The policy is 10 years old, and at least 4 years out of date.

Their policy 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.

Translation…. in each of the 9 cases they referenced, if the Board followed their own policies and took appeals, making their own Final Determinations, they acted in a way which did not comply with the current Open Record’s Law. That, of course, is only the 9 since 2012, not all Right-to-Know requests going back to 2008.

Unfortunately, there was no mention of policy 903 Public Participation In Board Meetings, which was adopted and has not been revised since 1996, and has not been updated to conform to or include language from Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act (65 Pa.C.S. Chapter 7) from October 15, 1998, P.L.729, No.93.

One small victory as a time, I guess.

The Zimmerman Proposal

Last month, I underscored it is only because of the Zimmermans’ prodding we know anything about the status of hiring School Resource Officers. I would be remiss if I did not include in this post the substantial information Dr Newcome included this week.

The District surveyed other area school districts. Of those that responded, in Chester County 3 schools had School Resource Officers, and 6 did not. In Lancaster County, 7 did and 6 did not.

The same survey asked about Security Guards. All but 1 Chester County school had Security Guards. In Lancaster County, 11 did not and only 1 did.

As far as the State grant to help subsidize School Resource Officers, the District has not been provided with any updates, and receiving grant money remains uncertain.

It would be interesting if he had provided how those numbers broke down, and also what was going on with the school districts immediately adjacent to ours. How do we compare to schools that have School Resource Officers and/or Security Guards? How do we compare to those that don’t?

In other topics…

Only one agenda item had discussion. It asked the Board to approve a $383.55 stipend for Ms Deb Canby who wrote a successful grant. Mr Ganow ask why they were being asked to pay it, and how did it came about? Dr Newcome’s response was only that it had been done this way the last 6-7 years. This seems to mean the Board had not approved a contract to pay for an ongoing grant writing service, nor had they authorize a stipend paid if there was the writing of a successful grant in this specific case. It seems… it just got slipped in.

We are stating to see a pattern of things getting slipped in, aren’t we?

The only other item of note is the “Acceptable Use Policy,” which was suppose to have been done and approved before school. However, Shawna Johnson last month objected to documents repeatedly coming from the Board and the District without proper Grammar. Corrections are still not complete to the policy, but Dr Newcome if hopeful all errors will be found and corrected by Monday’s Regular Session.

Did you know the District’s own policy is that the “meeting agenda and all pertinent documents shall be distributed to the press and public at the meetings?” We know they don’t hand out copies of the agenda, they place them on the net. What happens if one is not online?

Are we also to presume copies of things like these policy revisions, Committee Report/Minutes, vendor contracts, and other items referenced in meetings are not “pertinent documents?” These are all public record items. Why should a person who shows up to a meeting then have to file a Right-to-Know, when their own policy says documents pertinent to the meeting will be provided? Who knows, right?

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