The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held its monthly Regular Meeting on August 18, 2014, as well as the Finance Committee and Policy Committee Meetings. Only six Board Members were in attendance at the Regular Meeting. Sheri Melton, Shawna Johnson, and Leon Lapp were absent.
During the Regular Meeting, the Board approved all listed recommended action items, including hirings and changes in status. The only questions raised (first by me, then by Mr Ganow on my behalf) was that of several low-wage, hourly staff members… where they all collective bargaining positions (meaning, with wages defined under union contract)? They all were.
Why did I ask this? If you go back to my July 22nd post you will notice I got a little wild hair growing about the number of hourly employees at Octorara that are making less than a living wage. I wrote, base on what I spoke about at July’s meeting,
We live in a District with a very high percentage of Economically Disadvantage and, in my opinion, too many of the District’s own employees are getting paid less than a Living Wage. There are many that would say $10.20/hr is too low for Chester County, but this would be a step in the right direction.
We have, in my opinion, two distinct dichotomies within the Octorara School District. On one hand, we have the average Classroom Teacher being paid an above average salary, and far above neighboring districts. On the other, we have hourly employees that are being grossly underpaid for their level of service and commitment.
I don’t favor living wage legislation, nor do I support minimum wage laws. However, whether one is a government agency or a private business, I do believe in paying a person a reasonable salary for the work they do, and I do not think that is the case at the moment for Octorara.
Do I think a teenager at McDonald’s flipping burgers should be paid $15/hr? No! Do I think the staff at Octorara, who work with our kids day in and day out, should at least get paid $10.20/hr? Absolutely!
Is Student Drug Testing Coming to Octorara?
After reviewing Lampeter-Strasburg School District’s Drug Screening Policy, the Policy Committee this evening instructed Dr Newcome to begin working on a version that makes sense for Octorara. If implemented, there could be random testing for all students who participate in extra-curricular activities or who have a pass to drive their car to school.
Lampeter-Strasburg’s program costs $12,000 per year to implement. Why would we spend this money? Because a Drug Screening Program addresses a real issue within the District, as apposed to a “ghost shooter.” (You may find it hard to believe, but “ghost shooter” was not at all my words.)
Looking at this was pushed by Brian Norris, and is something I can wholeheartedly get behind. It is a real student safety issue based on realities which exist in our area, not false fears.
Signal 88 Awarded Armed Security Officer Contract
The vote to award the Armed Security Officer Contract was not specifically scheduled for a vote at this week’s meeting, but a motion to award the contract was made by Samuel Ganow to end what was becoming a circular discussion on the topic. The contract was awarded to Signal 88 of Octorara with a 5 to 1 vote, with myself as the only “no” vote.
So, why did I vote no?
- After last week’s Facilities Committee Meeting I felt the prime reason extra attention and scrutiny was given to the bids was because Signal 88 of Octorara was perceived to be a local company. Some of my colleagues disagreed this was a prime motivator, but even in some of the comments this evening I was still left thinking this was the case… intentionally or unintentionally.
- The bid provided by Signal 88 of Octorara included 2 addresses… one in Wilmington DE and one in Parkesburg, at a home. In an email, I asked Dr Newcome to find out the details of these two addresses, and which was the actual place of business. The response spoke about there being a location in Downingtown, and made mention the the owner often works from home, but it did not answer the specific question asked.
- I don’t know, with 100% certainty, what company will actually be doing the work. There are many individual companies that are “Signal 88.” If one does a bit of research on Signal 88, you find a company that seems more interested in selling franchises than anything else. The unanswered question is what kind of franchise is Signal 88 of Octorara? It could be anything from operations being run out of a person’s home to a sales agent franchise that does not technically provide any services itself, which could account for why the cost is 22% higher than the others.
- I believe the argument by the Administration that “the other companies did not have experience with armed security in a K12 environment” was trying to thread a needle. The reality is that a condition of the contract was to provide a Security Officer who was a retired Police Officer or Military with at least 15 years experience. Why did we include this as a condition of the bid? Ultimately, we trusted the experience of the individual over the training programs provided by any security firm. In fact, we asked for more experience from the Officer than years Signal 88 has been in business.
- With all the numerous issues at a neighboring school district, I believe it is in our best interest to avoid, as best we can, even the slightest notion that things are not on the up and up. Add to this mix, the owner of Signal 88 of Octorara is a former School Board member (something I was not aware of until recently) and will be paid a considerable amount more than what others would have charged the District. For me, there are too many Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How questions left unanswered for me to say we have all our i’s dotted and t’s crossed. There is always going to be a fringe element that sees a conspiracy around every corner. However, I believe this vote leaves the door open for even reasonable people to question motives.
Fees Charged by Booster Clubs
For the purposed of the Sunshine Act, at the end of the Board Meeting I disclosed an email conversation I have been having with Dr Newcome over the last several days.
Last Friday, I had a parent come to me concerned with the fee being charged by a Booster Club for Jr High Soccer. The fee was stated to be $300, and this parent believed it was excessive compared to private sports organizations. I didn’t know any of the very specific details about this, and my response was that I would get more information and get back to this person.
Dr Newcome provided a perfectly reasonable explanation. Back in 2008, after years of discussions, it was agreed by the parties involved at the time that if parents who wanted “school teams” would agreed to fund those teams then the Board would sanction their play as an official school team. This began the Booster Clubs that then started fundraising. With some sports having a difficult time fundraising, some chose to implement a fee, or a combination of fundraising and a fee.
This may be me becoming hypersensitive because of issues in a neighboring school district, but I immediately wanted information about how much autonomy the Booster Clubs have, their structure, and accountability checks. Waiting for Dr Newcome to respond these questions, I did some of my own research.
It is my understanding that a Booster Club is an independent organization created for the purpose of fundraising for some school specific activity… sports, club, trips, and so on.
From what I have been reading, Booster Clubs cannot limit participation in school activities. They cannot require membership, and they cannot mandate participation in their fundraising activities. Ultimately, based on my limited research, what is being called a fee could possibly be more correctly called a donation.
I have asked Dr Newcome to look into this further to (1) make sure I correctly understand the role of a Booster Club with any limitations, and (2) to help provide me with the peace of mind that there are no looming issues that may come up and bite the District at some point down the road.
Ultimately, these are independent organizations. We can legitimately say that we have nothing to do with their activities, and maybe even no real legal responsibility. However, we all know that even a well intentioned mistake could spiral out of control, and if that were to happen people will be asking the District for answers and accountability.
There is nothing wrong with seeking a layer of insurance and not just taking money without question. If we have the potential to fix an issue before it becomes a major problem, I believe we have that responsibility. Trust but verify is always a good policy.