The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held its monthly Regular Meeting, and Finance and Policy Committee Meetings on March 16, 2015. All Board Members were in attendance.
During the meeting, the Board approved all listed recommended action items.
Support for Octorara Performing Arts Department
As you may recall, last week I wrote of Leon Lapp’s disappointment in the Octorara Performing Arts Department selection of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.. He felt a musical should have been chosen that did not included “bad language” and “sexual themes.”
Since that time, the Board and Administration received many emails in support of the Performing Arts Department, director Joe Lynch, the student actors, the supporting staff and parents, and for the musical in general.
At this week’s meeting, a crowd of approximately 175 parents, students, and teachers came to voice their opinions. All but one speaker voiced opposition and offence to the negative comments toward the production, several citing a LancasterOnline article written by Debbie Wygent. One lone parent voiced concern that high school students were asked to perform in a production with strong language and themes, and that parents were put in a position of supporting their child’s performance vs their moral sensibilities, but did want to make clear he was not at all criticizing the student actors.
Dr. Tom Newcome, Superintendent, stated that the responsibility for the decision to run the musical rests solely with him. He made the final call, and no one else should be held accountable. Additionally, he stated that the School Board is not interventionist, meaning they/we allow him to run the School District without being micromanaged. If there comes a point that the Board’s opinion of how he runs the District becomes poor, they will simply fire him.
Lisa Bowman, Board President, responded stating that while it seems the majority do not agree with Mr Lapp’s opinions, he has a right to voice them. She also assured the crowd that the comments were not negative toward the students, and asked that people watch the recorded Board Meetings on thecube.com, or read the Meeting Minutes, to get to correct context, and not rely solely on news articles.
Brian Norris, Board Vice-President, stated that he believed the LancasterOnline article intentionally overdramatized the comments, and left out Board comments praising the students’ work. The article left out Mr. Norris’ own comments that he had a child in the performance, and saw nothing wrong with the content of the musical. He believes Ms Wygent’s article was neither fair nor balanced, and was written with the intent to sensationalize and manufacture controversy.
Hank Oleyniczak, Board Member, explained to the crowd that this was nothing more than a discussion of policy between the Board and the Superintendent. “This is what we do,” he said, reminding everyone of the process the Board went through for passing the Armed Security Guard. “We express our opinions. We discuss. We debate.” It was simply a Board Member questioning if it was a good idea to perform PG rated material at our High School. It was not an attack of the Performing Arts Department, nor the students.
Sheri Melton, Board Member, stated that she was not going to express her personal opinion, but wanted to use the opportunity to question, “What does PG mean?” She remembered watching I Love Lucy, a sitcom from the 1950s, in which a married couple was shown sleeping in separate beds and a bad word was never spoken. Her point being that the PG rating has changed over the decades, for better or worse.
Finally, Mr Lapp spoke. He squarely placed blame for manufacturing a controversy on the shoulders of LancasterOnline correspondent Debbie Wygent. He stated that the article excluded his praise of the students’ performances, and did not provide a full picture of what was said.
This is not the first time the Board has called Debbie Wygent into question. You may remember that back in September 2014, Wygent manufactured an article about the Nepotism/Cronyism Policy discussions that had no basis in reality, and used false quotes from the Board President, Lisa Bowman, to support it. Revisions were made to that article, after Bowman contacted the Editor, but LancasterOnline continued to omit the true reason why the Nepotism Policy, along with the others, were being reviewed.
Mr Lapp then drifted off into comments questioning the idea that a Public School education should be a secular education, at least while there is no School Choice option for parents. He believes that his child being forced to learn Big Bang Theory is nonsense, and an infringement of his religious freedoms, just for his child to get a diploma.
Drug Testing and Code of Conduct Policies
The Policy Committee got their first look at draft policy for the 2015-16 Handbook regarding student-athlete use of illegal substances.
One of the goals, set by the Committee, was to replace the current “One Strike” policy with a more comprehensive and thoughtful policy, with appropriate consequences that include having violators complete Drug and Alcohol Counseling Services.
Questions focused on, “How do we handle Off Campus violations?” Currently, if there is clear and convincing evidence that an athlete was drinking alcoholic beverages or using illegal drugs, he/she will be dismissed from their team for the season on the first offence (One Strike). The Committee is looking for the Administration to create, along with more thoughtful consequences, a Burden of Proof standard that does not rely hearsay, social media, or rumours.
The Committee also wants to continue to allow coaches the right to establish conduct contracts for their respective teams. However, these contracts should conform to the Burden of Proof standard being worked on.
The discussion then moved to the potential Drug Testing Policy. Lisa Bowman questioned, “What are we trying to solve for?” She questioned the effectiveness of catching maybe 2 or 3 students a year, if others don’t ever get caught.
Those speaking in support of a Drug Testing Policy were Brian Norris, Hank Oleyniczak, and myself.
The issue is, and many agree, that we have a growing drug problem within the District. The Drug Testing policy would be a multipurpose tool. It does help identify students that may have an issue, but it also gives students a reason to “Just Say No.”
The Policy also helps to clearly convey to young people, what the Community Standard and tolerance level is for illegal drug use. A handful of parents expressed the notion that Drug Testing stomps on Parental Rights and Responsibilities. I disagree. This is about Community Rights and Responsibilities, and the Community’s Right and Responsibility to convey a message of intolerance to drug use in the face of a conflicting message from Popular Culture. In order to grow into a good person, it is my firmly held belief that a child needs three things: good parenting, a good education, and a good community. The School District, and the Community as a whole, has a responsibility to these children that they cannot wash their hand of.
Expect a vote on the Proposed Final Budget at the April Regular Meeting. The early vote is caused by the requirement to give the Public 30 days notice to review. If the Board waits until May, there will not be enough time.
Expect to see a Budget that has the Chester County property tax increasing from 36.66 Mills to 37.50 Mills, and the Lancaster County property tax increasing from 26.43 Mills to 27.20 Mills. The increase represents the maximum allowed by the Act 1 Index without making use of exemptions. There will also be a $1.7 Million use of Fund Balance.