The Budget and Armed Security Votes

School BudgetMonday evening began with with the Finance Committee and a short Budget Discussion.

At present, the 2013-2014 Actual Costs is expected to be roughly $46 Million. This will be $1.49 Million less than was budgeted. Revenues are also expected to be around $46 Million, or $439,000 less than expected. There was $1 Million of Reserve Fund money used to keep taxes flat last year, and depending on final numbers we could see the District have to tap into those funds.

There has been no changes to the 2014-2015 General Fund Budget, which is $49.2 Million. It is a 3.5% increase over the 2013-2014 General Fund Budget, but represents a 6.9% increase over the 2013-2014 Actual Costs. Keep in mind, the current Rate of Inflation is the U.S. is just 2%.

Action Items

For a full list of items voted on, please go to the Octorara Area School District website for the official minutes when it gets posted.

Six members of the Board voted to approve the 2014-2015 General Fund Budget. Shawna Johnson and myself (Timothy Alexander) voted not to approve the $49.2 Million in expenditures. Leon Lapp was absent and did not vote.

Six members of the Board voted to approve a resolution establishing a real estate millage rate of 36.6 mills in Chester County and 26.43 mills in Lancaster County. Shawna Johnson and myself voted not to approve the real estate millage rates. Leon Lapp was absent and did not vote.

Five members of the Board voted to authorize the administration to develop a job description for an armed Campus Security Officer and prepare the process for the hiring of such position. Sheri Melton, Shawna Johnson and myself voted not to authorize. Leon Lapp was absent and did not vote.

Explaining My Votes

My votes really should not have been a shock to anyone, but I will repeat here what I have previously mentioned either in this blog, in Committee, or at Board Meetings.

We are in a bit of a bind. Last July, did a report on the rising cost of education in the counties surrounding Philadelphia, and how area school budgets have consistently exceeded inflation for more than a decade. Octorara was one of the districts singled out for having the highest rates of increase.

Based on all the information I have seen, doing nothing to cut spending, the budget I would have expected to see would have been somewhere in the range of $46.96 Million to $47.38 Million. Last year, I warned for “Octorara to avoid an estimated budget of $48.7 Million in 2014-15, with an estimated tax rate of 38.2 mills, you must begin to make your voices heard starting [July].” The Budget we received is $49.2 Million, which both greatly exceeds the rate of inflation and what I estimated last year using the District’s own budgetary trends.

Over-Budgeting: The current 2013-2014 Budget vs Actual Costs shows that the District aggressively over-budgets, but we know that from the past. This year, that over-budgeting looks to be to the tune of $1.4 Million. The argument in favor of this is that the District is not allowed to over-spend their Budget, and there must be enough funds to cover unexpected costs. However, even with this years’s unexpected and record breaking healthcare costs for the District, we see that Actual Costs are well below the overall budget.

Debt Payments & Enrollment: This is a drum I have beating for a long time. We are paying, and will continue to pay for the foreseeable future, $6 Million a year in debt payments. Much of the debt is related to campus building & expansion programs over the last 10 years for expected students that never appeared.

Dr Newcome reported in September that there were 2,502 students enrolled for the 2013-2014 school year. This number is 148 students less than the 2004-05 school year, and 691 students less than speculated more than a decade ago. Moreover, the Pennsylvania Department of Education is projecting continued declines in our enrollment through the end of the decade.

We also need to consider the fact it is already being discussed that the JR High School,  because of age and condition, will need a $25 Million renovation within the next 5 years. This will only add to the amount we will be paying in debt service.

The issue of enrollment must be addressed.

We are going broke: Daniel Carsley, Business Manager, has projected if we continue to use the Reserve to balance the Budget, the District will be at a negative Reserve Fund balance within 5 years. Keep in mind, the 36.6 mill tax rate being charged to Chester County should legitimately be around 38.5 mills. The continued use of the Reserve Fund to keep taxpayers from feeling the pain is a ticking time-bomb. One day you will wake up to a massive property tax increase if something is not done soon.

Armed Security Vote

Thanks to this issue, I know more about school violence, violence against children, and violence in America overall than I have ever wanted to know.

I understand how some people cannot understand how rare and unlikely school shootings are when there is no shortage of news organizations, politicians, and security firms willing to exploit these tragedies for their own ends.

Last week, Mr. Stephen Spoto, of Parkesburg, spoke to the Board and tried, as I have tried, to place these incidents into perspective. Unfortunately, there are too few of us calling for reason, and the exploitation of fear is coming from every direction.

Mike Weaver, of Atglen, spoke this week stating an armed officer would make him feel less safe, explaining that violence is circular, and also feared the criminalization of school discipline issues. Mr Weaver believes like attracts like, and having a man with a gun only invites violence into our schools.

Chief Wilmot of the West Fallowfield Police Department, when he spoke to the Board, explicitly stated the greater emphasis should be on issues of Student Mental Health, Bullying, Drugs, Anti-Violence and other issues that contribute to violence. Moreover, Chief Wilmot stated that armed security is no deterrence, and the evidence shows that a shooter will plan for it.

There are a lot of reasons why I agree with these points of view but, with all the statistics out there, let me give you one number…

The number 267, as reported by the CDC, is the number of children just between the ages of 10 and 14 years old that commit suicide every year. Think about that… 267 children only between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. The number far exceeds shootings at K12 schools many times over.

Young children are literally being Bullied to Death, but they don’t capture the headlines. Why? Because it is not sensational… it is not spectacular… it does not capture the attention…it is not “news worthy.” The reality is the vast majority of kids that crack don’t bring a gun to school, they end themselves.

Prevention doesn’t focus on a hypothetical number saved, in a possible difference of 1 or 2 minutes, in a scenario that ALL the experts agree is unlikely and improbable in the vast majority of schools. Prevention’s goal is about working to save every child.

For the future, I will continue to focus my efforts on Student Mental Health, Bullying, Drugs, and Anti-Violence.


23 thoughts on “The Budget and Armed Security Votes

  1. Thank you for the update Mr. Alexander, but would you please tell us what you would have cut to get to a budget you would have voted to pass? I agree with your position against armed guards in the school, but I would also like to know what attempts were made to build a coalition among board members to oppose school guards. Often times, behind the scenes collaboration is the way to get things done and building a small group to vote against the guards seems to have been not that difficult. Certainly, with the number that voted against just last month it would seem not that difficult to sway one more voter last night. Were attempts made?

    • Mr Jones,

      Thank you for taking time to bring up your concerns.

      When it comes to the budget, I believe my statement was self explanatory. Reigning in over-budgeting is something that can be done that does not actually cut anything. There is also the issue of enrollment, and the over-building of the campus… but I don’t get any indication there is any interest in even recognizing this as a problem. It seems as though it will have to be one of those things that will have to be faced, when there is no absolutely no alternative but to face it.

      There are programs and services that can be cut, but none that I would immediately recommend. The list of possible areas to cut, presented to the Board this year, included items such as eliminating Kindergarten and/or bus service. I don’t believe we really should be looking there for our savings.

      There are other issues, but these are both low hanging fruit and big ticket items that can make a big impact… in my opinion.

      As far as the Security vote, I had no real indication that the 2 votes that flipped had flipped.

      In my opinion, the poll showed that while the majority of respondents supported an armed guard, that those opinions were also based on both misinformation and lack of information… something the Administration, in public statements, seems to recognize.

      The conversation with the Chiefs of Police did not seem to provide any new information other that to dispel some myths such as whether or not Parkesburg PD would respond or not, and if armed security was actually a deterrent.

      So, why did they change their vote? I don’t know. You will have to ask them. With all the discussion for months, I was kinda surprised that nothing was said prior to the vote to indicate opinions had changed.

      Regardless, it is now the will of the Board and we need to get to work on developing the position.

      With regard to the “behind the scenes collaboration,” the Board seems acutely aware that “behind the scenes collaboration” is NOT the way to get things done. The thing to avoid is what is being called “closed loop conversations.” It is important to keep everything as public as possible. If there was “behind the scenes collaboration” between some Board members that changed votes, it goes against information I have been presented on how members are suppose to conduct themselves. I have no reason to believe that did happen, or ever should.

      • School District has spent 63 MILLION DOLLARS since 2000 on land cost,new buildings, and renovations.6 MILLION DOLLARS per year in debt service.Enrollment is down,District rents space to the YMCA.Schools are no where near full.School taxes have gone up over 100% on one property,and over 200% on another.Majority of School Board has no care for the taxpayer.Houses aren’t selling due to high school taxes.
        We have been put in a deep deep hole.None of these figures are opinions,just facts.As for the armed security guard,whatever Tom Newcome wants,Tom Newcome gets with this board.Tim,I thank you for representing the taxpayer in a fair way.I just wish that some of the other board members had done this over the past 13 years.

  2. I will second David Jones in thanking you, Tim Alexander, for the update, thank you again for your service, and commend you for your unique willingness to communicate, via this blog, in such a responsible fashion and clear way.

    ‘Accountability’ is now a buzz-word in Washington, as though it’s some new, alien notion. (To paraphrase Mad magazine’s Alred E. Neuman: ‘What…me answer for my votes, my actions?’) Hah! What a joke! Small wonder why opinion polls consistently show that most people have little or no more respect for so-called ‘public servants’ than they do for ambulance-chasing tort lawyers. You, Mr. Alexander, are a refreshing breeze, a stark contrast to what most people have come to expect of elected officials and government in general, which is unresponsiveness and unaccountability. Don’t take my word for it; check the public opinion polls.

    As to the school security matter, I gather it is now a fait acompli, a done deal, with only the details to be worked out. Given the emotion involved, and the organization and persistence of the advocates of enhanced school security, it was predictable. And after all, what is another hundred grand or so in a school district budget than runs to several score million dollars? Small potatoes, I guess.

    Based on the numbers reported in your post, the salient facts remain the same as they have for at least the past few years. Take the school district’s total annual expenditure, divide by the number of students, and the result is an annual cost-per-student of more than $18,000. That is more than 90% of the school districts in the entire country. And for that matter, there are perfectly good private colleges (i.e., with little or no federal or state subsidies) at which a student’s annual cost will be only a few thousand dollars more than OASD’s annual cost per student, and in some cases the private college’s cost includes room and board. How can the cost of having a kindergartner (or a grade-schooler, middle-schooler, or high-school student) in the OASD rival the cost of having a college student in a private, not public, institution of higher learning? Beats me.

    Instead of pointedly asking what you, Mr. Alexander, would cut from the budget, Mr. Jones might want to ask himself what is wrong with this picture here in the OASD. Hmm? And since Mr. Jones has a lifetime of experience in government work whereas I have none, and since Mr. Jones is a long-time resident of these parts whereas I am a relative newcomer, and since Mr. Jones is always ready and quick to weigh-in on almost any matter, perhaps he will be good enough to enlighten us all with his own solution to how to balance a crazily out-of-whack school district budget with a still too-small and still-struggling base of taxpayers. And if he chooses to enlighten us, before he speaks I hope he will take time to remember and consider that these days few are as fortunate as he: either retired on a comfortable, even generous, rock-solid secure government pension, or, if still working in the public sector, enjoying a wage scale (and benefits beaucoup) which long since eclipsed most of those in the private sector…and headed for a similarly comfortable, comparatively generous, and rock-solid secure government pension such as Mr. Jones so obviously and conspiculously enjoys…every time he tell us about his latest trip or restaurant visit.

    Pray tell, Mr. Jones, with all of your experience in government work, and with your deep roots in the community (and by the way, thank you for your past service and your ongoing involvement), how would YOU go about squaring the ever-expanding circle that is the cost of educating kids in the OASD without driving taxpayers away and/or keeping new folks from moving in? Square the circle, and try to do it without a bunch of jibberish and liberal, unrealistic nostrums. Be real.

    Be accountable.

    C. Vail

    P.S. Anybody else care to weigh-in, join the conversation? Any other members of the board? Any school district administration officials? Any citizens fearing the next increase in their school taxes? Or is it a case, like the memorable line from the movie Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here, is a failure to communicate.” Nobody can ever say that Tim Alexander fails to communicate.

    • The issue is not what I would do Mr. Vail, since I am NOT a member of the school board or any elected position any more than you are Mr. Vail. I am no more accountable for the issues at the school district than you are. We are both private citizens. As far as my personal finances are concerned, I fail to see how this is part of the school district conversation. As far as my pay and benefits, you are absolutely wrong. Unlike the CEO pay in the private sector, CEOs in the state hospital system are not paid anywhere close to the private sector. When I ran the hospitals I ran, I was never even in the top 40 paid employees. Although I ran a hospital with 4 times as many beds as Brandywine Hospital and three times as many employees, my pay was less than one tenth the CEO of Brandywine. I would ask Mr. Alexander if we can talk about the topic here, which is not what my pay and benefits were or are, but rather the budget and security at the school.
      Mr. Alexander has stated he would reign in over-budgeting and I am just trying to have him tell us WHAT area is over-budgeted. I am familiar with a process of padding a budget so if you need to move monies around later to keep the bottom line in balance you have some wiggle room. I would most definitely NOT spend from any carry over surplus. In a nod to Mr. Vail, this might help you understand how I ran my personal finances. I never spent everything I brought in each year. This way when I have to do home improvements, or make a big ticket purchase like a car, I paid cash. If my salary would allow me to purchase a Lexus I bought a Honda and saved or invested the difference. I would hold onto any surplus to be used in an emergency or other big ticket items in the future.

      Many conservatives love Charter schools however charter schools do not save school districts any money since we pay them the per student costs no matter how much it costs them per student. By so doing we stick tax payer money in the pockets of for-profit companies and individuals. How is this done? By keeping costs like salaries and benefits down, there by keeping the American way strong and healthy. What is that American way? Instead of spreading the income among all workers, give the producers as little as possible and concentrate the bulk of the wealth in the hands of a very small group.
      Special education costs are big in every school district and they continue to climb. Everyone knows that construction costs are a big part of every school districts budgets as well. Yet, I hear no outcry from conservatives over Governor Corbett’s failure to reimburse the schools for the money owed them. This drives up costs. Governor Corbett is most likely NOT going to send the school districts the money that was budgeted for early learning. This means these programs will either not happen or be paid by local districts.
      The Governor is proposing to not pay the actuarial amount required toward the pension plan in his new budget. Independent rating groups have called this “trick” unsound and threatened to lower our credit rating in PA. This will make future borrowing even more expensive. This is how we got in this mess in the first place. A conservative Governor (Ridge) upped the pension benefits by 25% for employees and 50% for legislators. Then a liberal Governor (Rendell) refused to pay into the system for 8 years and instead shifted those obligated millions to Billionaires to fund new sports stadiums and convention centers.
      The answers to our problems are not local in my “opinion.” I would push the pension multiplier back where it was before Ridge. I would have Corbett and every Governor pay the actuarial costs each year and NEVER skip on obligations to give corporate welfare to Billionaires.
      I am also not a proponent of self-insuring the school employees. We saw last year how absorbing this risk is a tight wire act. Just a very few catastrophic cases can blow the whole budget. Again, I would push for concession in the contracts coming up to keep things in balance.
      So, with all due respect, it is not me that is “accountable” as a private citizens. I am exercising my rights as a voter(the same as Mr. Vail) and asking for the specifics from my representative on the board. Where is the over-budgeted areas?

      • Mr. Jones,

        I appreciate your concerns. If the District does not get the Education Funding increases from Corbett’s Budget, it will be the fault of the Pennsylvania Assembly, not the Governor,

        Have you ever heard of the Serenity Pray?

        God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
        The courage to change the things I can,
        And wisdom to know the difference.

        In my opinion, no matter what the subject, being consumed with what is wrong with either Harrisburg or Washington is a distraction from focusing on what we can do here.

        One area I do see Octorara attempting to do this is with Director of Curriculum and Instruction Elena Wilson and Learning Focus Schools. Ms Wilson’s stated intent with this program is to improve education at Octorara so our students are at a level that it does not matter what changes come from Washington or Harrisburg. That is a tall order from where we are now, but a worthwhile and noble goal.

        In my opinion, it is the Board’s responsibility to set the parameters of the Budget, and the Administration’s responsibility to make the necessary adjustments to make the Budget work.

        During the whole Budget processes, I have been trying to track this year’s Actual Costs, and make some correlation between Actual Costs and the Budget.

        The 2014-2015 Budget started at $48.3 Million, then became $48.9 Million, and is now $49.2 Million.

        I first started asking the Business Office for a projection of 2013-2014 Actual Costs in December. Those started at the full $47.5 Million, then became $47 Million, then $46.5 Million, and now the final numbers are expected to be $46 Million.

        When I was calculating my projections in January, I came up with expecting to have $45.6 Million in Actual Costs this year… and that was without me understanding about the salary dump at the end of the school year. That is pretty accurate for a newbie, right? …especially considering Business Office own projections at the time.

        Budgets are suppose to be an estimate of Actual Costs, and based on the information I have available, I expect that a Budget somewhere in the range of $46.96 Million to $47.38 Million would be more correct, without any real cuts of any kind.

        Can I be wrong? Sure I can. However, I am always going to question, check and double check information given to me.

      • “Many conservatives love Charter schools however charter schools do not save school districts any money since we pay them the per student costs no matter how much it costs them per student. By so doing we stick tax payer money in the pockets of for-profit companies and individuals.”

        Don’t look now, you’re liberalism is showing.

        Charter schools DO save school districts money regardless of your lame attempt to disparage them and conservatives. Charter schools, at least AGCS, receive 65% of taxes per student than Octorara receives. Octorara pockets 35%. AGCS is a not-for-profit 501c (3) organization. So don’t lump all Charter schools in with your ignorance. The 21st Century Cyber Charter School, where Dr. Newcome is a board member, is also a not-for-profit charter. So, where are the for-profit companies and individuals that you think are stealing our tax dollars.

        Even if there were for-profit schools being paid tax dollars to educate children… shouldn’t the tax-paying parent be the person responsible to determine where their tax dollars should be spent to educate their child? If a for-profit school was providing a service for a child and doing a proper job educating the child what does it matter if it was a not-for-profit or a for-profit. There are plenty of failing public schools that continually get funded with out tax dollars, meanwhile the children aren’t getting a proper education. In your world, you want to continually throw money at that school and hope that someday it’ll get better.

        “If my salary would allow me to purchase a Lexus I bought a Honda and saved or invested the difference.”

        “we pay them the per student costs no matter how much it costs them per student”


        The “over-budgeted areas” are salary and benefits. With teachers and especially administrators.

  3. For the record, if in my earlier comment I mistakenly implied or Mr. Jones mistakenly inferred that I was suggesting he has any responsibility to be ‘accountable’ for anything having to do with the school district, then that was a mistake on the part of one or both of us: me for perhaps not being more clear; he for perhaps reading too much into what I said. In any event, my intent was simply to point out what public opinion polls consistently reflect: that a majority of Americans view government as too intrusive and overbearing, wasteful and inefficient, unresponsive and too often unaccountable…and to say that an unpaid public servant like Tim Alexander who burrows down into the issues to a degree I find remarkable, and who communicates with constituents better than almost anyone I have ever observed, practically defines the word ‘accountability’ with each new post and with each reply to reader comments.

    It was, I admit, and for which I apologize, a bit of a cheap shot to obliquely reference Mr. Jones’ personal financial situation. But all I was trying to do there was to remind him, and others, that there are plenty of people in Parkesburg, and tens of millions around the country, who are far from being comfortable and secure, who struggle from day to day, and for whom coming up with the cash to pay ever-increasing taxes is an increasingly onerous burden, if not an impossible challenge. I don’t begrudge or envy any person their money, or how they spend it. I just think that, by and large, personal matters should remain, well, personal and private.

    As to all the other minutae of government, all the ‘sausage-making,’ that Mr. Alexander began with his post, and which has continued through the comment tread, here I largely defer and respectfully tip my hat to my betters: those who understand better than me how the sausage gets made, and who, more importantly, get into the arena.

    A final thought, if I may: for this simple man, with a brain that tends to try to reduce complex issues to simple, easily understood concepts, an average annual cost-per-student in the Octorara Area School District of more than $18,000 per child is roughly 70% higher than the national average, and is in my opinion a disgrace, damn near an obscenity.

    C. Vail

  4. I believe that a good story would be how a School District killed the Community.$6 Million a year in debt payments. Much of the debt is related to campus building & expansion programs over the last 10 years for expected students that never appeared.

    Dr Newcome reported in September that there were 2,502 students enrolled for the 2013-2014 school year. This number is 148 students less than the 2004-05 school year, and 691 students less than speculated more than a decade ago. Moreover, the Pennsylvania Department of Education is projecting continued declines in our enrollment through the end of the decade. In eight years are school taxes went up 65% from 2004-12

    • I certainly understand frustrations with the level of taxes in our district, but I think it’s also understandable how estimates can be wrong. The Governor over-estimated tax revenue for 2014 and as a result many cuts are being made. These are painful cuts, but even though I criticize the Governor from time-to-time I wouldn’t go so far as to say he killed the state or is killing the state. Making budgets and building predictions is not a precise science and most of our smartest people have realized the problems and mistakes after the fact, not in real time.
      I don’t think a majority of our district thinks the school has killed our community.
      The district is made up of Christiana, Atglen, Cochranville, several townships and Parkesburg. Most people think Parkesburg has gone down hill, but I don’t think that’s at all the perspective in the other areas of the Octorara District. If the School was the root cause I would expect to see deterioration across the district and I just don’t feel that’s the case.
      Mr. Alexander makes a case for dealing with only those issues we have some control over and that’s not all bad, but if you treat the symptoms of a problem you may stop the situation from getting worse but in my opinion you will never correct the root cause and therefore you will continue to have to treat symptoms in what I suspect is a non-productive manner year after year.
      If this year’s budget is over estimated we will see at the end of the year. If we put forward a budget that is overly optimistic (like the Governor did) and we have unexpected costs or less revenue than budgeted, then we end up on the short end. If you are predisposed to want to cut then this gives you an opportunity and to blame it on the unexpected. Right now the Governor is blaming the shortfall on revenues lower than anticipated. Going back a year there were many critics of the budget who said the revenue estimates were wildly optimistic. I don’t favor a budget so tight there is no room for the unexpected. Put forward a realistic budget. I feel it is better to figure what to do with a surplus than what to cut because we came up short.
      The families that pushed for armed security stated the $150,000 cost would mean approximately $12 a year per household. In other words if the budget were “cut” $300,000 that would mean a difference of $2 per month per household. I don’t have the figures on all of this at hand maybe Mr. Alexander knows what each $100,000 saves a household in the district. From my perspective I don’t see an extra $2 a month making a big dent in my cost of living. How much less would the budget need to be before families felt they could manage better?

      • Mr. Jones

        The average assessed value, according the the District’s numbers, is $120,000.

        At 36.6 mills (one mill is equivalent to one-tenth of a cent) the average property tax bill from the District is $4,392.

        If the millage rate should more correctly be 38.5 mills, without using the Reverse Fund, then the actual tax should be an average of $4,620 per property.

        You are correct in saying that the Security Officer is a drop in the bucket, but it is being paid for with Reserve Fund money.

        Overall, we are not talking about a few dollars. We are talking hundreds of dollars per household, and growing larger each year.

        As I stated in my blog, using the Reserve Fund keeps taxpayers from feeling the pain, and is a ticking time-bomb. It lulls many taxpayers, who don’t have the time to closely follow these matters, into a false sense that issues of taxes and the budget have been fixed.

        Who knows how the Armed Security conversation would have gone if taxpayers, after more than a decade of massive increases, had to face a tax increase averaging $228 this year?

        So, what will the 2015-2016 Budget look like? It is not unreasonable to expect the Administration to roll out number between $50.18 Million and $50.65 Million next time.

        Whether Daniel Carsley’s projection of negative Reserve Fund balance within 5 years is correct or not, we will have to actually start eating into the Reserve Fund to keep taxes artificially flat, not just use it to offset over-budgeting on paper.

      • I believe the school district has killed the housing market in the Octorara district.Why would any one buy a home in Atglen or Christiana when you can travel 5 minutes further to Solanco and pay 11 mills compared to 36.6 here.Why buy in Cochranville just go next door to Avon Grove at 26 mills both these schools have a far better raiting then Octorara.

      • The high taxes are certainly a major contributing factor, but we have made an impact. The preliminary 2013-2014 Budget, presented a year an half ago, included a tax hike for Lancaster County to 28.6 mills, and an increase for Chester County home owners to 37.85 mills. The impact of taxpayers and voters has been to keep taxes flat for 2 budget cycles now. We just need to keep moving forward.

      • I guess that’s really at the heart of the beauty of America and our free market. We are free to buy, sell and live where we want. Certainly, many many families have chosen Octorara and continue to do so. Obviously, there are many that choose to live elsewhere. Freedom is a great thing.

      • “Freedom is a great thing”
        Except when it comes to educating your children… right? *crickets*

      • No, you should have the right to “purchase” whatever education you want for your children if the system paid for by the taxpayers isn’t up to your standard. As you all know, I do not support taxes going to for-profit education companies. I do not support creating more than one system of taxpayer education because you lose economies of scale when you water down the system this way. There are also totally inadequate checks and balances on charter and cyber schools. Freedom to choose any service or product is contingent on your willingness and ability to pay.

      • Well, Mr. Jones, AGCS is a non-profit. Competition doesn’t “water down” anything. It creates competition and forces sub-par schools to work harder to keep their students from leaving. People afraid of competition usually don’t have a good product.

      • I am not aware of a single study that shows that a public school has improved as a result of in-district competition from a charter school. If you have such a citation I would like to know so I can read that study. I would find that interesting.
        I have no problem with you or any parent having a choice for where your children are educated. In Chester County alone you have at least 13 public school districts to choose from. More than half of these are less expensive and have a higher academic rating than Octorara. If 13 choices are not enough you have over 500 more throughout PA. If that’s not enough look to other states and the choices expand yet again.
        These are all choices, they are real, but they require some responsibility on your part to seek and initiate the change and they do not require other taxpayers to pay the bill any more than we already do.
        I always find it interesting how people complain about something they pay very little for in the long run. If the current cost to educate a child at OHS is $18,000 and you pay $5,000, you are paying less than 1/3 of the cost of your child’s education. If you have more than one child in the schools, then your costs are even lower. This means that individuals who have no children in the district are required or the funding mix doesn’t work. This is why I didn’t like the idea that taxpayers without children in the district were not given a voice in the Security survey. I consider that taxation without representation.
        I have NO problem with people paying for their own choices, but when you say we need competition in the OHS district because that will improve OHS, I don’t believe that makes sense or cents. I believe there are lots and lots of choices for better schools within the public school system in Chester County and PA without having to create more schools. No one needs an unlimited number of choices and we don’t need to keep creating new charters to “compete” with our public schools because there is no evidence at this point that charter schools in the aggregate are any better than public schools. There are examples of excellent schools in both, average schools in both and poor schools in both.

      • I have to agree with Mr Jones on this point… Charter Schools will not cause Public Schools to improve. It is not like with business, where a poor performing company runs the risk of going under, and a person or group risk losing part or all of their investment.

        Charter Schools, in my opinion, are not about saving money, nor are they about improving traditional public schools. School Choice has always existed for those who could afford to send their children to private schools, or could move to a top performing school district. School Choice Programs, like Charter Schools, are about giving equal opportunity and access to a good education for all families.

        Mr Jones writes, “In Chester County alone you have at least 13 public school districts to choose from. …If 13 choices are not enough you have over 500 more throughout PA. If that’s not enough look to other states and the choices expand yet again.”

        This is true, and Chester County has some of the best Public Schools not only in the state, but in the country. However, I don’t believe moving to the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District or Tredyffrin-Easttown School District is an option for most of the families living within the Octorara Area.

        Regardless, families moving away or paying to send their children to private schools will not improve a public school either.

        A public school can improve only when families, taxpayers, and voters are informed and actively hold districts accountable.

  5. Absolutely no rush, Tim, but when you have the time and if you feel the inclination could you please talk a bit more about this ‘Reserve Fund.’ Specifically, could you provide answers to the following questions:

    1. Are OASD taxes based on budgets or on actual costs?

    2. Am I correct in assuming that if actual costs come in less than budgeted dollars that the ‘surplus’ goes into the Reserve Fund, and that that is the sole source of monies in the Fund?

    3. Could you provide, or direct me to a source for, more information about the allowed uses for the Reserve Fund? Are there stated, specific purposes for which monies in the Reserve Fund can be used, or is it at the discretion of the Board?

    4. What is the current balance in the Reserve Fund? Where and in what type of account is the money held? And what return has it recently been earning?

    5. At one point in this comment thread you seemed to say that the Board, by tapping into the Reserve Fund, has artificially been shielding residents from tax hikes for a number of years. At another point, referencing the district’s business manager’s projection, you said that we might soon “actually start eating into the Reserve Fund to keep taxes artifically flat…” Which is it? Have we already been nibbling away at the Reserve Fund for a number of years, or are we now just about to do so?

    I am cognizant of the fact, Tim, that you have a life outside of your voluntary service on the OASD Board as well as your much appreciated, and likewise voluntary, efforts in publishing both your school district blog and your Parkesburg Gazette newsletter. You are also a businessperson, a father of young children, the head of a family. And so I am well aware that in posing the questions asked above your reply — which, knowing you, such reply I take for granted — cannot and will not be some short-shrift answer such as a teenager might text of a smartphone. Alas, by both your words and actions before and during your campaign for a seat on the board, and certainly subsequent to it, you have shown yourself to be a person who takes questions seriously, does his best to answer them forthrightly, and usually far quicker than almost anyone should expect. That was at least the partial-gist of both of my earlier comments on this thread: that you are setting a standard for accountability, and that the standard you are setting may become increasingly hard, or at least time-consuming, to live up to.

    The wonder to me is that seemingly so few recognize your contributions and value, and that so few are willing to give credit where I believe credit is obviously due. Well, I for one thank you for all that you do.

    C. Vail

    P.S. I say again that I know you will feel obliged to reply to this comment, to answer the questions I posed. But please, Tim, take your time. Take all the time you need or want. After all, aside from you and me, and a handful of others, I’m not sure who else is tuning-in.

    • Good Afternoon Mr. Vail.

      Thank you for your comments and questions.

      1) The taxes are based on the Budget, not Actual Costs. The District creates a Budget, then tries to calculate the Revenue from State, Federal, and other sources, the rest (the bulk of the cost) is paid with property taxes. The District knows the total value of the properties within our boarders, and sets a millage rate to cover the costs in the Budget. It is a bit more complicated than that, but that is basically how it is done.

      2) Yes… and to give you some insight, the $1.7 Million Reserve Fund money in the 2014-2015 Budget is the bulk of the 2012-2013 surplus.

      3) My source for all things regarding accounting rules and the legalities of how funds can be used and moved around is Daniel Carsley, the District Business Manager. It is his area of expertise. It is an overly complicated subject that makes my eyes and ears bleed.

      4) I need to kick the can on this question. I need to find my most current information on the totals. If I can’t find it, I will ask for an updated report. It is one of the things I don’t keep in my head, and don’t want to put out the wrong information.

      5) It is both.

      Take a look at this post from January. In that, I try to explain the way the District has been over-budgeting and underfunding. Ultimately, in the recent past, Fund money was used to balance Budgets but not at all used to pay Actual Costs.

      The 2013-2014 Budget was $47.4 Million, and the expected Revenue was $46.4 Million. This made the Budget underfunded by $1 Million, which is the amount of Fund allocated to balance the budget. Had the $1 Million not been used, taxes would have had to been increased to balance the budget, and would have resulted in a $1 Million surplus this year rather than we are seeing.

      The 2013-2014 Actual Costs are expected to be $46 Million. Revenue is expected to come in at around the same $46 Million. So, depending on where all the final numbers come in, we may need to take a few dollars from the Reserve this year, but ultimately we brake even. Again, Fund money was used to balance the budget, but no significant amount of Fund money (if any) will be used this year.

      Based on the currently available information, I suspect something similar with 2014-2015, but that forecast can change as we get into school year.

      However, this is the last school year I see that being possible if we keep using Reserve money to keep taxes flat. After 2014-2015, if we want to keep taxes flat, the Reserve Fund will have to be used to pay Actual Costs, not just balance the Budget.

      Mr Carsley made his prediction of us reaching negative Fund balance in 5 years back in February, and it was based on Actual Costs being $47.4 Million this year (an exact match to the 2013-2014 Budget), $48.3 Million in 2014-2015 (an exact match to the Proposed Budget at the time), and his projections of Budgets over the next several years. So, that projection will have to be reformulated with more current information. Regardless, from what I am seeing, this is the last Budget taxes can remain flat with even the possibility of not dipping into the Reserve Fund to pay Actual Costs.

  6. Tim; I would like to thank you for all that you do to keep us posted on the school board activities,also is the editor on strike at the Parkesburg Gazette.

    • Thank you!!

      I am taking a bit of a hiatus from the Parkesburg Gazette though. I just have too much to do, and too little time to do it. I’m hoping to have time to get back to posting there very soon.

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