Pennsylvania revenue shortfall threaten increases in Education spending

The May 12th Octorara Area School District Work Session included Budget updates, a recommendation to approve “Go Math,” the Facilities Committee report, and other items.

Budget concerns

Mr. Carsley informed the Board that the District will be receiving over $1.1 Million from Pennsylvania’s Homestead/Farmstead program. The amount is about the same as the previous year.

However, the Board was also informed that Pennsylvania’s declining tax collections is threatening Education spending increases in Gov. Tom Corbet’s budget. Additionally, before the General Assembly are House Bill 2138 and Senate Bill 1316 addressing Special Education. If Harrisburg does not act quickly, $20 Million in Special Education Funding will go away.

Go Math!

Director of Curriculum and Instruction Elena Wilson made her recommendation for the Board to approve the adoption of the “GO Math!” program from Houghton Mifflin. The program is a K-8 program written to align with the PA Core (Pennsylvania’s version of Common Core), the main reason for the recommendation.

Go Math will be a 6 year subscription that will include both printed and online material for grades K-6, and exclusively online material for grades 7-8 to stay within the District’s iPad program. Updates are included in the subscription at no addition cost, and the funds for the program are already included in the current Budget Proposal.

Brian Norris, Board Vice-President, asked several questions included if the K-6 portion would hinder the roll-out of a proposed iPad program for the lower grades. The Board was assured that there would be no negative impact if or when iPads begin to be used in lower grades.

Hank Oleyniczak and Leon Lapp both brought up concerns that seemed more directed to the adoption of Common Core/PA Core, rather than to the program itself. Mr. Oleyniczak was concerned that not enough information has been provided to parents. The District has done outreach on Safety and a planned Emergency Response Crash Simulation (more on this below), and he feels that this important issue should have at least equal outreach to parents and the community, since it is a major change to the way students are taught.

Facilities Committee

The District received bids for Field Maintenance, which was split into 3 parts. One bidder, used and highly recommended by other area Districts and institutions, was the lowest overall bidder. However, another local company was the lower bidder for the combined fertilization portions. The Committee will be seeking to split the project to realize additional savings.

The Band Room has been dealing with an ongoing issue with water coming into the area when it rains. To help resolve this issue, holes were drilled outside, below the area, and pipes installed, to release pressure. The more than 6 inches of rain received on April 30th and May 1st resulted in free flowing water pouring out from under the building, and some water did still emerge in the Band Room. It is now believed piping may need to be installed under the Band Room floor itself to direct water outside. It is believed the water is coming from a previously undetected underground spring.

A Fire Suppression System is being installed above the stove in the Culinary Arts Classroom. Scheduled to be installed over the Summer Break are a 3 Bay Sink, and Commercial Refrigerator and Dishwasher.

The Committee received a preliminary report on the Safety/Security Polls and Community Conversation. Of 382 parents who responded to the poll, 248 were in favor of Armed Security, while 134 were opposed. Of staff, only 91 of 300 responded to the question of if they supported Armed Security. Staff opinion was 50 in favor, 41 against.

An interesting footnote to the polling of staff was that the greatest support came from the PLC. In each building, as the grades became higher, support shifted. At the High School level, staff support completely moved against the use of Armed Security.

Crash Simulation

On May 22nd at 9am, the Octorara School District with be participating with Emergency Responders in a Crash Simulation. The exercise will also include the use of a helicopter. Please help get the word out that this is a Simulation Only. Uninformed citizens may become alarmed. The rain-date for this activity will be May 23rd.

OA-Best Expo

The Octorara Agricultural, Business, Environmental Science & Technology Expo will be held Saturday, May 31st, from 9am to 5pm.

Activities will include:

  • Petting Zoo
  • Music & Art
  • Student Demonstrations
  • Hay Rides
  • Science Fair
  • Kids Craft Booth
  • Food, Vendors, and More

Elected Officials confirmed to be in attendance include John Lawrence, Andy Dinnemen, and Patrick Meehan.

Admission is FREE!

9 thoughts on “Pennsylvania revenue shortfall threaten increases in Education spending

  1. I would like to suggest that if any directors want the community to know about projects like the “GO MATH” it would be helpful for them to say so at the earliest possible point in time. I would agree that it is very important for parents to have time to evaluate and weigh in on these issues, but the comments felt like a director “passing the buck” as it were. The Board of Directors is responsible for “Directing.” In my brief experience every time I have seen the Board Direct the Administration, their directions have been quickly acted upon.
    It feels to me like the administration, teachers and the education committee have worked very professionally to bring a recommendation to the board. A comment 3-4 months ago would have been more “constructive” then what felt more like a criticism Monday night that comes after the fact and points a proverbial finger at others who have worked very hard with a very tough assignment.
    I would like to applaud the administration and the committee that worked very hard to bring a solid recommendation to the Board for action. It’s not too late for public input and feedback, but I would urge the Directors who are concerned NOW to get more involved earlier in the process so unnecessary delays can be avoided.
    This is a program that a professional staff of educators has evaluated and recommended to move the Math program forward for all of the students and I urge the Board to support it.

    • Mr. Oleyniczak and Mr. Lapp can certainly defend themselves, but the way I see it this is really the first time Go Math was discussed at the Board level, and so it is understandable why they had criticisms… at least, from my point of view.

      The reason I knew about Go Math was because I make it a point to go to every Education Committee Meeting despite not being appointed to it. Not every Board member does that, nor should they be expected to do it.

      Mr. Lapp asked during the Board Meeting for Elena Wilson to give a short demonstration of Common Core Math, which she wasn’t able to do on the spot. But, in fact, that demonstration had been scheduled for the April Education Committee Meeting that had been canceled. The Committee would have seen it, but Mr Lapp would not have.

      So, if it is unreasonable to expect every Board member to attend every Committee Meeting, it is even more unreasonable to expect the public to jam the Administration Conference Room for every Committee Meeting so nothing slips past them.

      Brian Norris, myself, and others had the same concerns about Armed Security. Yes, the Safety Task Force had been talking to Dr Newcome for a year and half, and Armed Security was a topic at the Facilities Committees, but Armed Security had not really been discussed or debated at the Board level. There was a presentation at one meeting, and an expected vote the very next meeting.

      Regardless of how long any of the board, teacher, or independent parent committees have been working on creating a recommendation to the whole Board, I personally do not think it is right to ask Board Members to make decisions so quickly. One meeting our packet contained over 100 pages of material, presented 5 days before a meeting requiring a vote… and this is not light reading.

      Moreover, these presentations often seem to be very one sided. If Mr. Oleyniczak and Mr. Lapp wanted to dig deeper into the recommendation, one week between presentation and vote probably is not enough time. If parents have questions and concerns after reading about the presentation, there is not that much time given for that either. Yes, if they hear about it in time, they could speak at the next meeting… but the recommendation is also to vote on this at the next meeting.

      I certainly understand how people who have put a lot of very long hours into creating a recommendation can feel deflated when the Board wants to slow things down to take time to consider or do some community outreach. However, the Board cannot be expected to just rubber stamp what is thrown under their noses either.

      For the record, I am in favor of Go Math. I believe I have a fair understanding of PA Core Math’s objectives, and don’t really share or even really understand some of the questions or concerns. However, there does seem to be a significant portion of the community that has questions about or issues with Common Core, and I do not think delaying the vote for outreach and consensus building is a bad thing. Nor do I think it is a harsh criticism when a Board Member points out that he feels a program is being pushed too fast.

      If the teachers have done their due diligence, as I know they have from committee meetings, then a slight delay in vote will not have a negative impact.

  2. I’m not suggesting anyone has to defend themselves. I am presenting a perspective of mine from the seats in the audience. I’m also not suggesting that every board member has to “attend” every committee meeting. I am suggesting that it is the responsibility of every board member to make themselves aware of what is happening of importance within the district and to make sure they know what the issues are in each committee. You do this precisely for the reason that you do not want to be caught with an important decision to make and you don’t have the information you feel you need to make an informed decision. I don’t have to attend the Facilities Meeting to know what the key issues are that are being addressed. If I need more information, I can ask Nelson Stoltzfus and if I still need more information I can ask the CFO. If I still need more info I can attend meetings until I am satisfied I know the details I need.
    There was a time frame for the evaluation and selection process laid out at the meeting. It seems almost incomprehensible that so much time could go by and members of the board would not know that an extensive evaluation process is going on and the ramifications of such deliberations. How can a board member think it takes a year to research and evaluate, but they can understand and vote in two weeks? You can’t just sit back and wait to be spoon fed and they say I’m still hungry you haven’t given me enough. In fact, I am almost certain reports from the education committee over this period were all the indication anyone would have needed to inquire and ask for a further briefing.
    The main reason all board members do not have to attend all committee meetings is precisely because they get briefed by the members and chairs of said committees who do attend. I think the comparison to the safety and security issue is very different because that was a “parent-driven” initiative to begin with.
    The fact that GO MATH has been tied to Core Standards has tapped into a resentment and a desire on the part of some individuals for Core Standards to fail. I would suggest that some individuals may have shown a lack of interest and commitment to reviewing, discussing and evaluating anything having to do remotely with Core Standards, wishing it would just go away.
    There “appears” to be a palpable resentment on the part of some individuals that the decision-making process on security has been taking so long. It leaves one with the impression that it is now turn about fair play to delay action on issues related to hot topics like Core Standards.
    Delaying the implementation of giving students the latest tools they need to address their education should not be acceptable to any board member (in my opinion), even if you have to stay up late and read.
    The budget is a complex and detailed document with many moving parts. As a taxpayer it is my expectation that “all” board members find the time and support necessary to stay abreast of the financial process so the board is ready as a group to take action and vote when the time comes. I feel we should all have the same expectation when it comes to the education process. After all, educating the students is the “primary” purpose. “You” chose to attend the education committee meetings I would presume so that you have the information you need to be an effective voting member of the board. If another member choses not to attend these meetings that does not relinquish “their” responsibility to know what is happening.
    As far as having 100 pages put in front of you with not enough time to digest it, I would say that is probably not the case, or at least should not be. It might not be “light” reading, but 100 pages can surely be read in a few days.
    I’ve seen many of the presentations referred to as “one-sided” and there is always out reach for questions and feedback. If a different style or format for a presentation is desired, has that been discussed? I’ve found these presentations to be very professional and informative.
    If nothing else, this shows without a doubt the need for some board members to be much more involved and interactive in the processes and decisions that are important for the primary goal of educating the students. School will be letting out soon. Will teachers leave for summer break knowing what curriculum they will have for next year? If not, how do you expect them to do the best they can next year? If you think you cannot support GO MATH, what alternative is there to GO MATH? How would you even get to an alternative choice now before the next school year starts and in time to get the teachers up to speed?
    I think it is unfair to say GO MATH has been “thrown under your noses.” Get your nose into all of the business and educate yourself. This is a lesson in how people learn or do not learn and whether they blame others or they look at themselves and say I have to do a better job of my responsibilities to make sure I am fully informed, for that is only MY responsibility.

    • Mr Jones,

      I understand your concerns, but I don’t think I am in any position to address some of them.

      I will say this though… the last Education Committee Meeting was in March, April’s was canceled. This may have been a very different discussion if the April meeting occurred.

      In March, the teachers’ committee made an update to their progress, had informed the Committee which way they thought this was leaning, but was not prepared to make a recommendation.

      In fact, my blog post on the subject was limited to, “The Committee then moved on to a Curriculum Update by Elena Wilson. Revisions to Math and ELA, adapting to PA Core, are almost complete. Work has started on English/Language Arts.” That is it.

      There is nothing inherently unjust with postponing consideration, at least not from my point of view. Even though I am in support of the Go Math program, I like the idea. It causes no harm. Debate and actively soliciting public involvement is always good.

      • I’m not opposed to debate and seeking public opinion, I think this is part of the Board’s job. I think it is also the individual responsibility of each board member to be informed about what is happening in the district, to be inquisitive, to “seek out” administrators and to then create a forum for public sharing of information. When all of this comes down a week before a vote is expected, it seems as though there is not much communication going on. That seems rather obvious at this point and my reaction to Monday night’s statement is just that it felt like 2 board members were laying that on the administration when I believe they have at least a shared responsibility.

      • I did not walk away with the impression those Board Members were laying anything on the Administration. It is what it is. The time for the whole Board discuss and debate an issue is at the Board Meeting. The whole Board was certainly aware this was being worked on by the teachers’ committee, but I think individuals injecting themselves into their process could and may have been seen as stepping out of their roles.

  3. Re. ‘Go Math’ and ‘Common Core:’

    Recently I had the pleasure of chatting with an OASD administrator. I asked why there was no mention of Common Core anywhere on the OASD website. The administrator replied: ‘but oh, there is.’ I said, not the last time I looked. So tonight, after reading the original post above, I checked again. I still could find no mention of Common Core, or ‘Go Math,’ by clicking on any of the site’s tabs. So I went to the ‘Search’ box and entered first the former and then the latter terms. And yes, I did get some data back, in fact a lot, but little of it actually relating to my search terms, most of it nearly incomprehensible, and all of it offered by something called ‘flex editor app.’ I have no idea what that is, but a shot-in-the-dark guess would be that it is something primarily intended to be accessed by a smart-phone, something which I do not have. So for me, my question to the administrator still stands: Where on the OASD website, other than in the deepest recesses, is there any mention of Common Core, let alone a clear discussion of what Common Core is all about? Ditto for ‘Go Math.’

    Meaning no disrespect to anyone, but to cite the famous line from the movie Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here…is a failure to communicate.” Or at least I think so.

    C. Vail

    P.S. My chat with the OASD administrator occurred at a recent ‘Community Conversation’ meeting focused on school security, and specifically whether residents should be willing to pay more in taxes to beef-up school security, and if so, what form(s) that security presence should take. I think there was universal agreement that, yes, in a perfect world, we should do all in our power to protect our children. But how much more in taxes are we willing to pay? And when does enhanced school security start to inhibit and impinge upon the students’ freedom of action? That’s the rub. Personally I question the cost vs. return value of hiring one or more so-called ‘School Resource Officers,’ though I do not question or impugn the concerns and motives of those who advocate for it. I just wonder, however, if the money that some are urging be spent on enhanced school security might not be better spent on improved and enhanced school district communications. And it should not be deemed heresy to ask such a question, to conflate the two issues. Yes of course, the safety of our children is important. But so is the upheaval in teaching pedagogy now going on in the nation’s public schools under this thing called Common Core, about which most folks still know next to nothing, and about which the school district’s website says next to nothing.

    P.P.S. It just doesn’t seem right that when local residents and taxpayers want to learn what is really going on in the OASD they turn to a couple of personally-published blogs, rather than to the district’s official website. That’s not to say that the district website should have a special place for hosting a forum on matters political and extra-curricular. However it is to say, as I started out saying, that the absence on the OASD website of any presentation about what Common Core is and what it implies is, in my opinion, and in a word, a disgrace.

    • “Where on the OASD website, other than in the deepest recesses, is there any mention of Common Core, let alone a clear discussion of what Common Core is all about?”

      Dr Newcome may have been referencing the section of the website entitled “Curriculum and Instruction.” (http://www.octorara.k12.pa.us/domain/543)

      The page includes a fact sheet, and a copy of a 2013 presentation (the slide show, not the full presentation). That same 2013 presentation can also be found within the School Board section under Presentations.

      I can’t vouch for when it was added, and I don’t know if people would conclude it is “enough” information… but something is there.

      I know I had created a long list of items that I believed the site was lacking, and I think this was one of the items.

      The website… the layout, the amount of information, and user friendliness… is something that has irked me, and will probably continue to irk me for the foreseeable future.

  4. For the record it was not Dr. Newcome to whom you ascribed my comments. It was another member of OASD administration. You fell prey to the easiest fault, trap, in trying to host a contemporary blog. You extrapolated from something I had said previously and arrived at an erroneous conclusion.

    But that’s okay, Tim, no harm done. God bless you for doing all that you do to try to keep open the channels of communication.

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