The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held its monthly Regular Meeting, and Finance and Policy Committee Meetings on June 15, 2015. There were seven Board Members were in attendance. Sheri Melton and Leon Lapp were absent.
During the meeting, the Board approved all listed recommended action items.
Passage of the Budget
The Board voted to approve the 2015-2016 (6 to 1 vote) in the amount of $50.7 Million, an increase of $1.5 Million, and approved (6 to 1 vote) to increase taxes in Chester County to 37.51 mills and Lancaster County to 27.20 mills.
The tax increase, which is the maximum allowed by Pennsylvania’s Act 1 Index without PDE exception or voter approval, leaves the District with a deficit of $1.7 Million.
I commented before the vote, and stated that I felt passing the 50.7 Million Budget was irresponsible knowing that the tax increase does not even touch the $1.5 Million budget increase. This sparked a lively, at times heated, discussion. You can watch on The Cube, starting at about 11 minutes in. [CLICK HERE for The Cube: Octorara Area School Board Meeting 6-15-2015]
A blog post from June 2013, from before I was on the Board, was entitled Gone in 30 Minutes. In it I wrote:
That is how long the meeting took. It started at 7:30pm, and I was home drinking coffee by 8:10. I bring this up because last night, more than any other meeting, I noticed a true lack of public discussion or debate…
So, I do have to apologize to my constituents. As a private citizen, and then as a candidate, I continually criticized the Board for not truly discussing items at the Board level. Some of that has changed since I’ve been on the Board, like the discussion of the Armed Security Officer and the changes to the District’s Drug Policy, But the majority of issues are hammered out at the Committee level.
When I came to the Board, there were those who believed I was unreasonable, unnecessarily harsh, and overly aggressive, and I would not be able to build conscious. However, after last night’s Board Meeting, I had a colleague tell me the issue was that I was not aggressively arguing my positions. Duly noted.
There are those that conveniently forget, I was the one that asked for the population report that showed we had an enrollment problem. When the other Board members didn’t want to discuss it, I wasn’t aggressive enough.
I am the one who asked for the “cut list” to try and control the Budget. When no other Board members had the political will to stretch the neck out, and discuss cuts to help our financial situation…. I wan’t aggressive enough.
When I asked for an audit of the full-day Kindergarten program to see if it was accomplishing the goal it was intended, I was not aggressive enough in forcing others to defend what has become little more than free daycare.
I have not been aggressive enough making my point that things like Armed Security and the iPad program are adding to Deficit without advancing our primary responsibility to improve Academic Achievement and Growth.
I was the only Board member that kept referring to Mr Carsley’s January 2014 projection that the District was on a pathway to Negative Reserve, while others wanted to put their head in the sand and pretend it wasn’t happening. Reality has finally caught up with us, and we finally have some Board Members realizing our financial situation, but they will cut teachers before the fluff.
The iPad program has already cost the District over $400,000, not including internal time and materials for implementation. It will cost the District another $500,000, plus other costs, over the next 3 years.
The lease for the iPad program in 2013-2014 was over $200,000. The audit of the 2013-2014 numbers relieved the District had a deficit of $123,681. We would have had no deficit if there was no iPad program.
This year, the iPad program was another $200,000, plus we added $65,000 for armed security. We are expecting a deficit of over $800,000 this year. The deficit could have been reduced to about $500,000 this year.
Returning to half-day Kindergarten could save the District another $170,000.
Building consolidation and District reorganization has the potential of save hundreds of thousands more by cutting administration and non-teaching staff, custodial, maintenance, and other costs.
July begins the 2016-2017 Budget process, and a reevaluation of how I have been conducting business.
I joined with Sam Ganow not to approve Ms. Laura Pillard as a seventh and either grade Reading Specialist for the salary of $53,392. The agenda item passed by a vote of 5 to 2.
I voted against the Lease Agreement with Apple Financial Services for iPads, which will cost the District over $510,000 over the next three years. The agenda item passed by a vote of 6 to 1.
The iPad program was sold on the idea that digital texts books would save the District. The fact is, which was confirmed by Elena Wilson, digital texts books are not discounted as initially believed.
I also do not believe, based on discussions at public meetings, the program has a real goal other than just getting teachers to use them. If the iPads are not improving Academic Achievement or Growth, then they are wasted money.
I joined with Shawna Johnson not to approve the contract for the Armed Security Guard with Signal 88, at a cost of over $65,000 for the year. The agenda item passed by a vote of 5 to 2.
The Board approved the Armed Security Guard last year knowing it would add to our deficit, and it is irresponsible to vote for it knowing our financial situation.
School Security is something I support, but the money spent on a Security Guard is money lost. The same amount spent on infrastructure is long-term, and provides benefits for years to come.
I joined with Sam Ganow not to approve Ms. Carrie Dickmann as assistant principal at the Octorara Area Sr High School, with a salary of $85,000 per year. The agenda item passed by a vote of 5 to 2.
My votes not to hire personnel replacements was in agreement with statements made by Mr Ganow. The District cannot keep running deficits year after year, cannot continue to allow the budget to grow at a rate greater than what we can tax, and we cannot keep kicking the can.
Towards the end of the Board Meeting, Mr Ganow asked be what would have got me to vote for the Budget, and if that would have been keeping taxes flat?
My response was that keeping taxes flat over the last 2 years have been irresponsible because the budget has continued to grow. Even if we get the $1 Million in additional state funds from the Wolf Budget, we are still looking at the $700,000 deficit this year. The only way to responsibly keep taxes flat is to limit budget growth.
Mr Ganow voted against hiring staff replacements to save money, but voted for Armed Security and iPads. The annual cost for Armed Security and iPads combined equates to 3 teaching positions. If it comes down to a choice between teachers or iPads, my preference is to save the teachers. Unfortunately, we are now locked into a 3 year contract with Apple. So, that is no longer up for discussion.