Why do you want to serve on the Octorara School Board of Directors?

I believe the 2013 Election must be a vote centered on reforming issues of Property Taxes, Performance, and Transparency. The available data shows that OASD has the second worst perforce overall, and some of the worst performance among subgroups in Chester County. However, the District has the highest tax rate and the highest per-student cost.

1170680_10151948710323319_1517820516_nMany believe 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. Issues, from the campus over-building to the major increase in teacher’s wages to even some of the course changes, seem to have been choices of image over substance. Taxpayers keep paying more, with little overall improvement.

In February, Lisa Bowman, Board President, challenged me with her assertion most people are happy to pay our high taxes, because Octorara provided a world-class education. Her statement, reaffirmed and supported by other Board members, compelled me to dig into the District’s performance data. The District doesn’t make their performance data easily accessible, and I had to dig through report after report from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. 

The facts and statistics were shocking. These are just a few:

  • Our school district had the second highest percentage of students scoring “Below Basic” in Math. The highest is Coatesville.
  • Octorara had the second highest percentage of students at “Below Basic” in Reading. The worst was again Coatesville.
  • The graduation rate for Octorara was the lowest of all Public Schools in Chester County.
  • In College Preparedness, Octorara’s SAT scores were again, the second lowest in the County, only Coatesville was lower.
  • Of graduates moving on to a 2 or 4 year College or University, Octorara’s percentage was lower than Coatesville.

Were we being lied to? I can’t tell you that. No one can tell you what is in the heart and mind of another person. However, if it was truth for the Board and Administration, it was a subjective truth. It was not an objective analysis of the data and statistics, but an opinion based on personal feelings rather than facts. If they choose to believe Octorara provides a world-class education at a reasonable cost to taxpayers, despite the evidence, they are entitled to that opinion. However, what truly matters is if parents, citizens, and taxpayers believe Octorara provides a world-class education at a reasonable cost.

Speaking to the Board about the issues facing the District had been like talking to a brick wall. The Administration and Board leadership were intentionally obtuse, dismissive, and even combative when faced with facts. They had deluded themselves the Distinct was doing an outstanding job. If anything was wrong with the District, it was either the fault of parents, State interference, or the Economically Disadvantaged… a number that has steadily increased since 2007, across Chester County, because of our national economy. They had the blame game down to a list of talking points.

The only way to truly improve is with a completely Transparent district, and an all-inclusive school-family-community partnership. Octorara needs to be an open book, accepting of all feedback, including harsh criticism. The Board needs to actively solicit participation and attendance at Board and Committee Meetings, not just give it lip service. Additionally, the Octorara Area School District must make a serious effort to fix the problems of debt and labor costs, ensuring more money is directed to the classroom. The District must focus on a budget which provides a commitment to both fiscal discipline and educational excellence, recognizing without maintaining the former we will not have the latter.

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