Voters head to the polls today for local Primary Election

The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held its monthly Regular Meeting, and Finance and Policy Committee Meetings on May 18, 2015. Only six Board Members were in attendance. Hank Oleyniczak, Sheri Melton, and Lisa Bowman were absent.

During the meeting, the Board approved all listed recommended action items.

Full-Day or Half-Day Kindergarten

Last week, I questioned the full-day Kindergarten program. What would be the cost savings to return to traditional half-day Kindergarten? Is there tangible evidence full-day has positively impacted Academic Achievement or Growth? Also, since the purpose of the program was to help keep families from choosing Charter Schools, is there real evidence that has happened?

Switching to a half-day program, with full day sessions for “at risk” students would save the District at least $60,000 (an amount that could pay for most of the cost of the Armed Security Guard passed last year, and was funded with Deficit Spending). A half-day only program would save at least $240,000 a year. Even more savings can be found by eliminating mid-day transportation.

On the question of full-day impacting Academic Achievement or Growth, the District does have data for the first 3 years of the program, despite the first group not yet having their first PSSA tests (that will be next year). However, there was not enough time to pull that information together for this meeting.

The final question was about impact on enrollment. Since 2011, the benchmark year, Charter School overall enrollment has dropped by 32 students, while Ocotrara’s enrollment has dropped by 114 students, and Private School enrollment has increased by 11 students.

The report also showed that between 2011 and 2014, Charter School enrollment in grades K-3 had dropped by a total of 40 students. However, the overall decline in Charter enrollment by 2014 was only 29 students. The difference would seem to imply a significant portion of families are choosing Charter Schools after experiencing the Octorara Area School District, and full-day Kindergarten has little impact on overall enrollment over the long-term.

The overall increase in Private enrollment, between 2011 and 2014, was 13 students… a number very close to the difference between Charter School enrollment decline in K-3 and the overall decline. The report did not show caparisons between K-3 Charter Schools to the District nor Private Schools.

Based on the data provided, it would seem a declining school-aged population and increased Private School options are the driving factors for the decline in Charter School enrollment, and full-day Kindergarten has little to no impact. There may be a very small minority of families that would choose Charter Schools for solve for their personal daycare problem, but they are obviously too few to truly move the needle. Charter School competition cannot be used to justify the expense.

Historic Millage Rates

In the original Budget Presentation, a review of historic millage rate was provided only going back to 2007-2008. I asked for a comparison over 10 years, and received a comparison over 15 years. During that time, Octorara property taxes have increased by 84.96%. It was an average increase of 4.6% per year. Keep in mind, that is a 4.6% increase per year, even though the District has used Deficit Spending to have a 0% increase for the past 2 years.

The highest overall growth to School Property Taxes in Chester County was Kennett Consolidated, with overall growth of 87.85%. However, their 2014-2015 millage rate is 28.14 compared to Octorara at 36.66. Over the same time, Kennett increased their taxes by 13.16 mills, while Octorara increased by 16.84 mills. Kennett and Octorara tied for average annual percentage increase.

The District with the lowest increase was Avon Grove. Since 2000-2001, their taxes increased by only 7.3 mills, or an increase of just 36.14%. They also had the lowest average annual increase of only 2.3%, compared to other Chester County school districts.

Once again, there were Board Members who wanted to argue mill value.  Lets tackle this idea. West Chester SD has the lowest mill rate, at 19.7. Their mill value is about $6 Million compared to Octorara at around $900K. It makes it seem to the average person like West Chester is getting 6.7 times more money, and no wonder their taxes are so low.

What we have to keep in mind is West Chester’s $6 Million is spread over roughly 12,000 students and 14 schools, while Octorara’s $900K is spread over less than 2,500 students within 4 schools (5 depending on how you are counting).  The value of a mill in West Chester per student is around $500. The value in Octorara is $360 per student. So, the difference is not 6.7 times; it is more like 1.39 times. To bring in a proportionally equivalent amount of money, compared to West Chester’s per student mill value, Octorara’s taxes need only be 27.383 mills.

Keep in mind, West Chester provides many more opportunities, and much more vibrant student life for the money. It could be argued, when we take everything down to the per student level, they actually do more with less.

2015 Primary Election

Your Vote CountsToday are the Primary Elections for School District and Municiple Candidates. Expect to find few choices. However, lack of candidates leaves these races open to write-ins, who can win their Primary and make it to the General Election with any number of votes, as long as they’re the top vote-getting, A person could win with as little as just one vote cast in their name.

2 thoughts on “Voters head to the polls today for local Primary Election

  1. Thank you for the mileage value comparison with Weat Chester… That puts it all in perspective.

    Incidentally, I travel through West Chester every day and I actually see school board candidate signs all over the place… Not so in our area. Why is it that our locals can get fired up about what play the students will be putting on, however zero interest in the economic and educational issues our school district faces? How can we change this?

    Where does the private school headcount data come from? In other words, how does the district know that a given child exists and where they attend school?

    • I think the lack of involvement in our area comes from it being primarily a bedroom community (sometimes called a commuter community). Basically, a significant number of our residents leave the area for work, shopping, and entertainment. In West Chester, everything is there, and one is much more tied to the area, creating a truly vested interest and a more vibrant political landscape. So, if a family thinks Octorara is not doing a good job, or taxes are too high, it is easier to just move… because they don’t really “live here” anyway.

      I am not sure where the private school data comes from, but I would suspect there is some kind of reporting mechanism since children are required by law to attend school.

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