The Annual Report, Budget Discussions, and Student Drug Policy

The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held its monthly Regular Meeting on November 17, 2014, as well as the Finance Committee and Policy Committee Meetings. All Board members were in attendance.

During the Regular Meeting, the Board approved all listed recommended action items.

The Annual Report

Elena Wilson, Director of Curriculum, with the help of School Principals, did a review of the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile scores. It was essentially the same presentation given to the Education Committee of October 28th.

Brian Norris focused in on the Primary Learning Center scores for Math and Reading, and asked why Math saw an improvement and Reading did not?

Ms Wilson’s response was that the school was applying Learning Focused School methods to Math, and was waiting for implementation with Reading as the curriculum aligns with PA Core Standards.

Mr Norris questioned the reasoning behind starting LFS with Math, and not Reading.

Ms Wilson stated that the Math curriculum had already been aligned with PA Core, and starting with Math made sense. Starting with Reading would have created double work because the curriculum was not ready. Moreover, the District is still in the startup stages of LFS, and doing both at the same time would have been too much at one time.

Mr Norris then asked if is it logical or is it wrong thinking to assume improvements in 3rd Grade Reading will on its own create improvement in other Achievement scores, as students continue through school?

Ms Wilson assured Mr Norris that the District does have a focus on Reading, and that it is not being ignored.

I pointed out that there are many articles referencing research that asserts 3rd Grade Reading is a make it or break it benchmark that impacts all other learning. I asked if Ms Wilson agreed with this research. I also asked if literacy issues are impacting the ability for students of comprend learning material, and is it impacting Achievement throughout a student’s entire education.

Ms Wilson stated the research is sound, and 3rd Grade Reading is a benchmark in literacy affecting all future learning.

Budget Discussion

During the Finance Committee Meeting, Dan Carsley, Business Manager, recommended the District not seek Index exemptions, despite believing the District does qualify under Retirement and Special Education exemptions.

The bond refinancing has saved the District $754,000. He is recommending splitting the savings between this year and next.

Pennsylvania has a new Governor, which means extra time for submitting a State Budget, and that will be due in March.

There will be a presentation of the Audit Report for 2013-14 final numbers on December 8th. Currently, we are showing the District came under budget by $611K, but with a deficit of $79,772 paid with Reserve Fund money.

You may be asking yourself, how did the District come under Budget but have deficit? Deficit spending was caused because the District Budget increased, and the Board decided to pay for the increase with Reserve Fund money rather than raising taxes.

The same situation exists within the current 2014-15 Budget, and taxes are being kept artificially flat. We should expect a much larger deficit this year. It is this deficit spending that was the basis of Mr Carsley’s projection, back in the First Quarter of 2014, of a negative Reserve Fund within 5 years.

Drug and Alcohol Policy Review

The Policy Committee has started reviewing feedback from coaches, parents, and students regarding the review of the District’s Drug Policy and the proposed Drug Screening Policy.

Visitors Comments Reflect Concern About SPP Scores

David Jones, of Parkesburg, spoke to the Board asking were most of the 1-3 point moves in Academic Sores, either up or down, statistically significant, and did the District have statistically significant targets they were trying to achieve?

Bob Hume, of Parkesburg and former Octorara School Board Member, also spoke about scores, and the longtime difficulty with the High School.

Elena Wilson responded to Mr Jones during the Administrator Comments Section of the meeting. She referred Mr Jones to the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile website, and explained the target is a score of 70. Dr Newcome asked Ms Wilson to speak to Mr Jones after the meeting about details contained in the District’s Comprehensive Plan, and that the District was interested in having Mr Jones help update it.

I responded that a Pennsylvania School Performance Profile score of 70 is a minimum standard, but is not and should not be considered a target goal. My understanding of Mr Jones’ question was more, does the District have statistically significant goals they are attempting to achieve to increase performance, rather than calling regular fluctuations improvements? It can be said that, since the No Child Left Behind has had schools tracking performance, the District has not truly improved over time.

Board Member Sheri Melton stated that she also has questioned the statistical significance of some of the score changes, without a satisfactory response. She stated that a 1 point change with a number of 10,000 subjects could be statistically significant, while that same change with only 1,000 subjects may not. The question then remains, what is a real improvement and what is not?

2 thoughts on “The Annual Report, Budget Discussions, and Student Drug Policy

  1. I think the most interesting part of the whole evening was how few people were in the audience. Other than the newspaper reporter and employees of the district, there were 3 of us. Two of us don’t even have children in school. This makes me wonder how much people really care about the performance standards. I feel certain that the parents whose children are doing well care about the standards, but if I had a child who was struggling I would want to know what the school was doing to improve support for students and parents. I think this also reinforces my belief that parental involvement is one of the two key indicators for student performance.

    • I know and have talked to parents that go to every parent/teacher conference and/or IEP meeting, and are very concerned about standards. They come in for events, and sometimes volunteer, but still do not come to meetings, and I have asked why?

      There is a laundry list of very valid reasons. However, I have been arguing for the District to do more to encourage people coming out. I believe using social media (Facebook, Twitter, and so on) would help. The District also uses email and rebo calls for many events, and I think using those tools (already in place) could go a long way to encouraging people to come out. I don’t understand the resistance to at least trying to do this, but there is not enough support yet to make it happen.

      However, I do suspect that as we get into the budget that we will see a few more people, especially with this being an election year.

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