The school district is facing major funding challenges. How would you address this issue?

Public School FundingI 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. The over-building of Octorara’s campus, the debt it caused, and having to maintain too many buildings has a significant portion of educational dollars never making 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.

Octorara expanded the campus based on enrollment speculations that had no basis in reality. Enrollment, like academic performance, is an issue the Board knew (or should have known) as they were promoting the idea building and expanding was necessary. Evidence of this fact comes in the form the District’s failed Octorara Regional Planning Commission in 2006. The Commission’s goal was to force the enrollment and tax-base speculations to manifest.

By 2007, the credit and foreclosure crisis was in full swing. Taxpayers flooded the District Board Meeting that August, after it was announced the final budget included another massive tax-hike. Dr Necome told those in attendance, they were years too late, and nothing could be done. However, since final plans had not received final approval, contracts had not been awarded, and a board vote to move forward had not happened, this was not true for the expansion of Octorara’s High School.

The original date to award the contract, for the High School project, and give notice to proceed was October 2008. However, the timetable was moved up to a Special Meeting on September 22, 2008. Nelson Stoltzfus made it perfectly clear that even with a vote in September, the District could not sign contracts or begin work without final approval from the PA Department of Education. Mr Hume was the only board member, at the time, to truly ask that taxpayer concerns be considered.

While the Board was pushing through votes to tax and spend, ignoring taxpayer’s pleas, this was going on in the rest of the world:

  • Average U.S. housing prices had declined by over 20%, from their 2006 peak, and continued to plumit
  • U.S. unemployment rate increased to 6%, its highest since 2003, and was moving higher
  • Sept 7th: U.S. Treasury took over Fannie Mac and Freddy Mac
  • Sept 15th: Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection
  • Sept 16th: AIG received an $85 billion credit facility from U.S. Federal Reserve
  • Stock Market Crash: During the first eight trading days of October 2008, the Dow dropped a total of 2,399.47 points or 22.11%.
  • Oct 1: Bush signs a $700 Billion bailout called TARP to buy non-liquid assets from banks.

The Administration and a majority of the Board somehow missed all this.

Even more evidence of the unnecessary building came in July 2010, when Octorara signed an agreement with the YMCA of the Brandywine Valley to lease four classrooms for daycare, offices, the gymnasium, cafeteria and playground space at the Elementary School, from January 2011 through Dec. 31, 2014. Octorara now had extra space to rent.

Today, current enrollment is 2,502 students, 148 students less than 10 years ago, with the Pennsylvania Department of Education expecting Octorara’s enrollment to drop to 2,459 by the 2020-21 school year.

A top-to-bottom reorganization of the District is necessary to both ensure more tax dollars will be used for actual education, and to address the District’s crushing tax issues. While not the only funding problem, debt from over-building is the major budgetary issue.

3 thoughts on “The school district is facing major funding challenges. How would you address this issue?

    • No matter what happens Tuesday, the work does not end.

      This time next year, citizens need look and see if the Board is truly working to improve, or if they dug in their heals.

      – Has there been real improvements to the budget, and work to eliminate debt?

      – Were we handed another tax increase, keeping our rate well above those of surrounding districts?

      – How does the Teachers’ Union contract negotiations look, and has the District worked to get labor costs better in line with surrounding districts?

      – What do the SPP scores look when “Indicators of Closing the Achievement Gap” are added to performance calculations?

      If there has been no forward progress, citizens need to ask themselves if they are willing to give themselves over to something greater than one’s self? Every Region in the District will have seats up for re-election in 2015.

      This time next year, people interested in improving the Octorara Area School District will need to begin to take action. They will need to make the decision to connect with local party leaders, or go maverick. If they hadn’t already, they will need to start digging into issues and facts deeper than the average voter. They will need to start looking at dates and deadlines for getting on the 2015 ballot.

      The days of School Board elections quietly passing, with barely a word, needs to be over.

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