Continued discussions about the Track Field

The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held their monthly Work Session Meeting, and Facilities Committee Meeting, on January 13, 2014. Seven Board Members were in attendance at the Work Session; Sheri Melton and Samuel Ganow were absent..

During the Work Session, the Board was presented the Agenda Items to be voted on at the Regular Meeting on January 19th. There were no Presentations, Visitor Comments, or Informational Items. However, Dr Newcome did ask that Board Members be prepared to provide him with what they want to see out of this year’s Budget Process.

Track Field Discussions

Track and FieldDuring the Facilities Committee Meeting, and on behalf of the Field Development Committee, Nelson Stoltzfus showed photos of “damage” to the Track Field. While the Track is obviously not at Competition Standards, there has now been created a debate as to the condition for general school use, which was initially stated to the Committee as adequate for general school use. While the Track is not in pristine condition, it is not in a condition all too different than walking or jogging on a regular road surface or even a walking/jogging trail.

Estimates to bring the Track up to Competition Standards have ranged from $350,000 to $400,000 over the last several months. It was also stated that it is not unheard of for Track & Field teams to exist, train, and compete without the luxury of a competition level Track.

During the meeting, there was concern that the Track Field was not included in the District’s Long Range Plan, a document used to list and prioritize Facilities repairs, upgrades, and renovations. The Committee was assured it would be listed in a revision of the document that will be provided in upcoming months.

Generally speaking, the Facilities Committee was in agreement that there are necessary Capital Expenses and Facilities Repairs that make the Track Field a low priority. However, now that the debate revolves around the Track being an overall safety issue, the District may be obligated to do something.

The Committee seemed to limit what they were willing do to resolve the possible safety issue to either removing the Track altogether, or replacing it with easily reparable gravel, both solutions would not require the removal the the slag under the Track, which is a major issue in why the Track Field is not meeting Competition Standards but has also been determined to be non-hazardous. In this scenario, the Board may be willing to contribute Taxpayer Dollars up to the possible obligation of removing a safety hazard, and the Field Development Committee would need to raise the funds to create a Competitive Track.

It was also discussed that no Taxpayer Dollars were technically used for the Soccer/Football Field. The only thing the District paid for with Taxpayer Dollars was the bleachers, which were in need of replacement, a hazard, and had use beyond Soccer and Football. If the bleachers were included in the total cost of the Soccer/Football Field project, the Taxpayer contribution would represent roughly $1 out of every $5. This would translate to a Taxpayer contribution, if the full Board agrees, for the Track Field of up to $70,000 out of the $350,000 needed, but also depending on and limited by the cost of just removal.

More Facilities News

There has been no movement on resolving the High School Water Infiltration problem. The Architect and Foreman Group have not reached out for additional quotes, beyond the initial, to get the work done. Frustration seems to be building with all Facilities Committee Members.

The inventory of the Junior High School doors is complete, and it was noted that the building uses 5 different locking systems. The District will get pricing to convert the Junior High Key Systems to the same used by the High School.

The District is looking at costs to repair a section of the High School Roof, above the Girls’ Lockerroom.

The District had hoped there was a State Contract in order to complete the repair of the Junior High Elevator. There is not. The project will have to go out to bid.

The Flashing Light at Rt. 10 & Highland Ave is fixed as of December 30th. We don’t know how, or by who, but it is fixed.

16 thoughts on “Continued discussions about the Track Field

  1. Thanks for the update Mr. Alexander. I do find the talk about the facilities interesting and especially the language used. Terms like, “Taxpayer contribution” and “The board may be willing to contribute taxpayer dollars.” The use of this type of language can create an image that somehow the taxpayers are separate from the school instead of the reality that we are the ‘owners’ of the school. As the ‘owners’ of the school it is our responsibility to maintain the facilities. I know there are land owners within the district who just want to see their taxes go down or at the very least, hold steady and that’s not a bad thing. However, we have a school and we have children in ‘our’ school and it is our duty to provide them with a safe and adequate facility to pursue their education. I believe the school is like our homes. If we do not attend to general and preventive maintenance these issues do not go away, they come back at a later date and at a more expensive cost. My point here is not to argue one perspective over another, but to simply let my board representative know that I am in favor of paying to fix the track even though I agree it is a lower priority than other facility issues.

    • Thank you for your comments.

      The idea that we must provide a safe and adequate facility for students to pursue their education, and that we must provide for a specific extracurricular activity are two absolutely different things.

      If it is a choice between replacing a boiler (something on the “to do list”) or creating a Track to Competition Standards, then I will choose replacing the boiler.

      The Long Range Plan has tens of millions of dollars listed for Facilities to repair, replacement, or renovation many specific issues over the next 5 years and, in the grand scheme of things, the Field Track is a want not a need.

      The money for extras, like the Track Field, is sitting in the debt to pay for the overbuilding of the campus. There is roughly 6.67 Mills of the current 36.66 Mills going to pay the debt every year, and we have a necessary renovation of the Jr High that needs to be planned for, to start within 5 years, that is expected to cost $25 Million… adding even more to our debt.

      Currently, I am not convinced that the Track is a safety issue. When it first started being discussed, we were told it was adequate for general school use, just not for Competitive use. I get the impression that the only change is an attempt to create a sense of obligation and urgency.

      Moreover, the 2013-14 year ended with a Deficit of around $124,000. The current school year kept taxes flat again, but increased the Budget by 3.5%. That means we should expect a much larger Deficit at the end of 2014-15. Of course, no one is willing to give us a projection. Next week, the Board is expected to adopt a resolution not to increase taxes beyond the Index limit of 2.4% while the Draft Budget shows an increase of 3%.

      So, we have 2 years of flat taxes, while Budgets increased at a rate greater than inflation, causing compounding Deficits, followed by a resolution to keep taxes at the Index limit while the Budget is allowed to grow well beyond the Index limit. We are in deep trouble, and there are not enough Board members willing to acknowledge it at this time to make a difference. If nothing is done to slow the growth of the Budget, it is my belief we will need to be at 40 Mills within 3 years to keep us from a truly painful financial catastrophe.

      • Tim; This school is a money pit of epic proportion.There is always something that needs repair or replace.This is none of your doing this was caused by years of school members being complacent in there duties.I have lost over 70,000 on my home assessment also who would want to buy here when you are surrounded by better school districts.Would it not be better to close this money pit and be absorbed by avon grove and pequea.Some how these districts have kept there budgets in line.I am also tired of hearing how rural the district is when solanco is alot more rural then octorara and has a millage rate of 11 mills .

      • Thank you for your comments, Martin.

        Digging our way out of this problem may not be impossible. It would be difficult and painful, but not impossible. However, it needs a certain level of consensus among Board Members that does not yet exist.

        The District being rural has been a go to excuse for some about our financial woes. It is true that the lack of commercial and industrial property, coupled with massive property taxes breaks to farmers, does create a larger than average burden on homeowners. However, as you know, it does not absolve the District from bad financial choices.

        Prior to getting on the Board, I offered the idea of merging with another District as a way to solve our issues. We just may be too small to exist. However, I have had conversations with officials within and outside the District, and that option is really off the table as a voluntary action. Any District that we would merge with would have to take on our debt, and nobody wants that.

  2. My guess is he means he has lost $70,000 of “appraised and/or market value”, not assessment. As you probably know, there is a HUGE difference. One hurts your pocket book and one helps. He speaks about it as if it hurts.

    • When your initial assessment is at 50% common level ratio and when you have to pay someone to assess your property so you can go to have your property assessed at the court house and the new clr is 63% all you do not have to be a rocket scientist to do the math.

  3. Tim,
    Have you had the chance to look at the PA Performance website today?
    How did our school score an 82 in the PLC to a 65 in the Jr/Sr HS? (75 in the OES and OIS) That is a huge problem!

    • I did. Check out the posts The Annual Report, Budget Discussions, and Student Drug Policy, Octorara Previews School Performance Profile Scores, and Chesco High School Academic Score Comparisons – 2014. The PLC is only K-2 and does not have a whole lot to be graded on. The performance tests are in the low 70s (they get held accountable for 3rd Grade PSSA scores), and things like attendance and promotion rates are in the high 90s.

      In all areas of performance testing, the Jr/Sr High fell below standards, with the exception of Reading/Literature that they skimmed by with a 71.88. However, the big hit was in Science/Biology in which not only was the performance score a disappointing 36.78 but the growth rate was only 56.50. In fact, growth rates, which in the past we were told were the District’s real strength, were below standards across every subject tracked. The Jr/Sr High scores were a wakeup call to some who had been unwilling to acknowledge a problem.

      • So, who is to blame? The kids? The parents? The teachers? The administration? There has to be some reason why the scores continually decrease. Obviously pointing fingers never works, but it would be a nice change of pace for the administration to start acting pro-actively in trying to figure out where the shortcomings are and address them. If it’s a lack of parental involvement, then figure out a way to get parents involved. If it’s teaching technique’s, contact other schools that are doing well and mimic what they do. If it’s mismanagement or a lack of leadership, then either fix the problem or replace certain individuals.

        Octorara is a good school. There is no reason why it shouldn’t be a great school. Something just isn’t working.

      • On some level, everyone has a certain amount of responsibility. However, the ones with the most responsibility are the Board and the Administration. Back when I first started coming the Board meetings, before becoming elected, there tended to be a message coming from the Board and the Administration that the District did provide a world-class education, and an attempt to downplay and almost discredit Adequate Yearly Progress reports. There also was a time, when confronted with reality, a tendency to point fingers… at parents, at economically disadvantaged, and others. In two years, the tone has changed a bit, but there isn’t the kind of call to action, and actively soliciting involvement I would like to see. There also lacks a “the buck stops here” attitude that I believe is essential. The lack of outcome based goals for the Administration and the Board is something I believe is a big issue.

        However, it is not like nothing is being done. Learning Focused Schools provides leading edge training, coaching, support and resources on frameworks that integrate research-based strategies, exemplary practices, and standards-driven content. This may be the key to help turn this ship around. LFS has been embraced by the teachers in the lower grades, and we are starting to see some improvement, and are hopeful for continued and sustainable performance increases… but it is slow going. At the Jr/Sr High level, we are not getting the full support of LFS as with the lower grades. Some teachers have embraced it… others not so much. At the end of it all, there really is not outcome based goals for the program. If at the end of the experiment with LFS there is no real improvement, no one is truly being held accountable.

        At the end of the day, the community (not just parents) have to take on some responsibility. We never have a large pool of people to choose from come election time, and few people come out and vote in these off year elections. You (the general you) get the School Board you deserve. The community needs to hold the Board accountable if they ever expect the Board to hold the Administration accountable.

  4. The community needs to hold the Board accountable if they ever expect the Board to hold the Administration accountable.Tim ; That is a great quote. I would like to know when Tom Newcome came on board.I believe it was the late 90’s then became the superintendent please give dates when and where you can . Thanks for everything you do.

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