Good morning friends, neighbors, parents, and taxpayers. At this week’s regular Board of Directors’ Meeting, the topic on everyone’s minds and lips was the possibility of using the Safety Grant money or rejecting it.
Ultimately, that question will be answered on Monday, April 14th. It is an unusual action because the Board will vote on this item during a work session meeting, rather than waiting until the next regular meeting, on April 21st.
Why the sense of urgency?
The short answer is, the grant is use-it-or-lose-it for the current school year. Failure to use the grant within 2013-14 will forfeit the automatic award of next year’s grant. That is a potential loss of up to $60,000 in total… up to $40,000 this year (no way we would be able to use it all), and another $20,000 for the 2014-15 school year.
A little background
After the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, in December 2012, a group of concerned parents began working to convince the School District to acquire Armed Security Officers to be a layer of defense and deterrence against an “active shooter.”
Over time, part of this group began meeting with Dr Newcome monthly, as the Safety Task Force. A task force is a special committee formed expressly for the purpose of studying a particular problem. A task force would typically draw up a list of all the current problems present and evaluates which ones merit fixing and which ones are actually fixable. The task force would then formulate a set of solutions to the problems and pick the “best” solution to each problem.
A task force should then present its findings and proposed solutions to the institution (in this case the School Board) that called for its formation. It is then up to the institution itself to actually act upon the task force’s recommendations.
Their efforts have been the catalyst for School Security being placed as a regular agenda item on the Facilities Committee Meeting, adding Armed Security as an item to the District’s 2014-15 Proposed Budget discussions, and applying for the Safety Grant now causing all the hoo-ha.
Binding our hands
The reality of the grant is it will pigeonhole the District into one option, forsaking all others. The grant limits who can be hired, and under what terms. The grant would also require the District create the Octorara School District Police Department, under which the contracted police officer will be granted his/her authority.
If we do some Monday Morning Quarterbacking, we could say this was done a little backwards. It may have been better to have this discussion before the District applied for the grant. However, that may not have turned out much better.
The concern over public involvement
Brian Norris again voiced his opinion, and I agreed, that there has not been enough by way of getting public feed back… something supporters of Armed Security disagree with. However, there had been plans by the Safety Task Force to poll parents, students, and teachers. That information was to be give to the Board to gauge public opinion.
Additionally, there were proposed plans to have a moderated public discussion. It would give the opportunity for all concerned parties to get together, and talk out all the ideas and possibilities.
These plans could still happen, but if the grant is accepted by the Board, then all those actions would be after the fact.
Freedom from limits
Brian Norris continued his statements with the idea that the best course may be to reject the grant. If that happened, the Board could continue down the original path of making the decision for the 2014-15 school year, evaluating all options, public opinion, and cost vs benefit.
Paying for it
The grant only gets us so far. The question then becomes, what are you willing to cut out to pay for it?
Also at the Board’s meeting was Mr. Carsley’s budget update. Contributions to retirement are going from 16.93% of payroll to 21.40% for 2014-15, and is scheduled to increase to over 30% of payroll in just a few years.
This years’ healthcare costs are projected to be a record $3.1 Million, and will continue to increase as taxes and fees to pay for Obamacare are added. In the Long Range Plan, there is a $25 Million renovation to the Jr High School that will be needed.
Tax increases are limited by Act 1, with the potential of some kind of property tax reform coming out of Harrisburg that will limit the District even more.
At some point, there will be a discussion of what program(s) to cut for the District to maintain a Police Department.
The meeting before the vote
All parents and concerned citizens are invited to attend all Safety Task Force Meetings, held the first Tuesday of each month at 6:30pm. However, special efforts will be made to reach out, and invite participation at the April 1st meeting.
The District will be making Robocalls in an effort to achieve maximum turnout. If needed, the meeting may be moved from the Administrative Conference Room to the Jr/Sr Multi-Purpose Room.
Your next, and final opportunity before the vote, to speak out will be at the School Board Work Session meeting on April 14th, at 7:00pm.