Everybody cut, everybody cut… everybody cut Footloose

The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held their monthly Work Session Meeting, and Facilities Committee Meeting, on May 11, 2015. Eight Board Members were in attendance at the Work Session; Hank Oleyniczak was absent.

During the Work Session, the Board was presented the Agenda Items to be voted on at the Regular Meeting on May 18th.

Dance Club Proposal

Delanie Rogers, 8th grade student at the Jr High and resident of Atglen, provided the Board with her proposal for a Dance Club at the Sr High School. Her vision is to create a team of students, who would initially perform dance routines during basketball games, but later expand to other events.

Several parents have offered to volunteer as advisers, and Ms Rogers already has twenty students who have shown interest. The club intends to be self-funded. The only initial costs would be uniforms, which students would be required to purchase, but would be supplemented with fundraisers.

The Board was assured performances would be “clean.” The team would have an administrator approve all dance routines before they performed.

Budget Presentation

Jeff Curtis, Business Manager, provided the some additional numbers, about the budget, based on questions last month.

The history of the School Property Tax rate is that Chester County was 20.52 mills in 2001-2002, is currently 36.66, and is expected to increase to 37.51 mills this coming school year. Lancaster County was 16.87 in 2001-2002, is currently 26.43, and is expected to increase to 27.20 mills for 2015-2016.

The State Property Tax Allocation for the Octorara Area School District will be $1.1 Million. Those participating in the Homestead/Farmstead Property Tax Reduction program will see a reduction of $269.

Budget Reduction Considerations

Dr Newcome provided the Board with a list of options for reducing spending. Most of the items have been brought to the Board in the past, but have received little to no support in cutting or eliminating.

  1. Bussing… $2,500,000
  2. Do not replace retirees or resignations
    1. Teachers… $355,000
    2. Assistant Principle… $100,000
  3. Reduce Instructional Assistants by 4…. $60,000
  4. Eliminate Technology Assistants… $60,000
  5. Eliminate Security Officer Contract
    1. Traffic… $25,000
    2. Security Officer… $62,000
  6. Eliminate Kindergarten… $761,500
  7. Reduce Building Budgets
    1. 10% Reduction… $61,800
    2. 20% Reduction… $123,600
  8. Non-Athletic Supplemental Contracts… $138,000
  9. Athletics (General Fund)… $247,000
  10. Summer Literacy Camp… $35,000
  11. Website… $5,000
  12. Automated Calling System… $5,000
  13. Eliminate use of Color Paper… $2,000
  14. Reduce Paper use… $3,500
  15. Energy Savings
    1. Eliminate Classroom Appliances…. $6,000
    2. Closing Buildings at 5:00 PM…. $6,000

I asked Dr Newcome to find out the savings, rather than eliminating Kindergarten, if the District returned to a traditional half-day program. I also asked if he could provide tangible evidence full-day has positively impacted Academic Achievement or Growth. Newcome stated that he was initially opposed to a full-day program because research showed any positive benefit evaporated by 3rd Grade, but also said he was not sure, since our full-day program was on 3 years old, if there was evidence to show it has not had an impact.

Dr Newcome also stated that the reason behind the full-day program was not to improve Academic Achievement or Growth, but to compete with Charter Schools that had the program. Brian Norris said that, at the time it was talked about, some parents stated they were choosing Charter School Kindergarten because of the convenience provided by not having to find or pay for additional Day Care Services.

The idea was that if students started Kindergarten in Charter Schools, they would stay in Charter Schools, and the District would be stuck paying tuition. Some have made the assumption that since Charter School enrollment is down, and tuition payments are down, that full-day Kindergarten has fulfilled its mission. I’m not convinced. Correlation does not imply causation.

I reminded my colleagues that Dr Newcome provided the Board with a student population report earlier this year. It is well known that the District’s student population has plummeted since 2009-2010, and the current population numbers have not been this low since the 90s, before even the PLC was built.

How can the District’s population go down, if fewer children are attending Charter Schools? Dr Newcome’s report, from earlier in the year, showed that not only has the District’s student population declined, but also the total number of school-aged children living within the District (this number includes Charter, Private, Parochial, and Home Schooled children).

This report alludes to the total number of school-aged children living within the District being the primary cause for fewer students enrolled in Charter Schools, and a secondary cause being Private School options that did not exist in the area 5 years ago.

Dr Newcome agreed to create a report that looks at both issues… Is full-day Kindergarten providing a positive impact on overall Academic Achievement and Growth, and is there any authentic correlation between the District’s full-day Kindergarten program and the decline on Charter School students? He will also provide the Board with the amount that can be saves by returning to a half-day program.

I asked if the Automated Calling System was charged based on per use, or if it was a flat fee. The District is charged a flat fee per student. The District has unlimited use of the Automated Calling System, which also sends the District’s Bulk Emails.

Lastly, I asked Dr Newcome to provide a line-item breakdown of the $5,000 annual cost to maintain the District website.

12 thoughts on “Everybody cut, everybody cut… everybody cut Footloose

  1. Tim,
    I have a couple of questions regarding this, should I just email you directly? Is it still the homesinchesco.com address?
    Thanks.

  2. I would support losing the security guard , reducing the building budget and not replacing staff. We should not raise taxes again, we are taxing people out of the school district. we need to find ways to do more with less. we should consider a 10 percent budget cut across the board and not raise taxes.

      • More of a 10% cut over the next 3 years. Based on the previous years budget.

      • Personally, I believe it is doable, but it would be difficult It would require a lot of sacrifice, and I believe building consolidation and District reorganization would be essential for success. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have anywhere near the 5 votes to make that happen.

    • The people of Octorara school district are already over tax and for what? 11 years ago when my wife and I move to the school district we where sold on low taxes and ” up and coming school district “. Fast forward 11 years, two refinances to off set taxes later, What have we gained ? We still have an OK school district but with the highest taxes in the county . we keep maxing out on tax increasing but have seen no pay off.

      • I agree. If we look at the last 11-12 years, what taxpayers have received in return for higher taxes is less teachers and more building. Moreover, school performance over that time can be said to be flat.

  3. “Stuck paying tuition”…that really annoys me. The Charter Schools are part of the public school system – they do not charge tuition. They are getting a percentage of the school taxes we pay (a.k.a. – unequal funding) for the students they are educating. Not a forced tuition that each district must cough up. Pretty misleading to phrase it that way.
    And if Octorara’s enrollment is dropping – is the staffing decreasing as well? It would seem to be common sense that fewer students should require fewer teachers.

    • I know how it may sound, and it does kinda feels like a term that should be reserved for private or parochial schools, but tuition is the correct terminology. When a student attends the IU, the cost paid is also called tuition.

      The District did have some major teacher and administration cuts back in 2007 and 2008, just around the same time the Intermediate School was completed. Some spin this as the District working to control costs. I see it as the one of several signs the District realized their population speculations were severely flawed. One needs to look at what has been done, not what gets said.

      The very first action by the District, which I believe proves the District saw the enrollment drop early, was the creation of the Octorara Regional Planning Commission in 2006. Keep in mind, this was created at the peak of the housing boom. The Octorara Regional Planning Commission had a stated purpose of increasing the tax-base. Even at the highest point of the housing market, there was not enough planned development in the area to support the campus expansion. The Commission was also created around the time they broke ground on the Intermediate School.

      So, when construction started on the Intermediate School, the District spearheaded the Octorara Regional Planning Commission to help increase the tax-base to pay for it. The Commission failed, and by the time construction ended, the District was laying off teachers. This was also around the time the Jr High and Sr High were reorganized into a single school.

  4. Millage rate at 20.52 in2001-2002 to 37.51 in 2015-16 is a 83% tax hike in 13 years.Amazing the school board and dr. Newcome should be proud of themselves. When it comes to spending other peoples money no one seems to care.Watch out soon to be a 100% increase.

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