Fireworks at Octorara Board Meeting

The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held their monthly Work Session Meeting, and Facilities Committee Meeting, on August 10, 2015. Eight Board Members were in attendance at the Work Session. Shawna Johnson was absent.

During the Work Session, the Board was presented the Agenda Items to be voted on at the Regular Meeting on August 17th. Additionally, the Board received a presentation from the Field Development Task Force, and unexpectedly voted on two items other items.

Field Development Task Force

Dr Thomas Stickley, DPM, and Charlie Koennecker gave a presentation to the Board about why they believed renovation of the Track was essential, and cost scenarios with a list of several options. I can’t speak for the other Board Members, but for myself, the presentation left several questions I was looking for unanswered. Most of the very specific information revolved around cost, which ranges between $389K to $501K.

I questioned the Field Development Task Force representatives, “What percentage of the cost where they looking to split with the District?” It was a question they were unwilling to directly answer, but instead wanted to discuss the issue in terms of District obligation and responsibility.

Other Board Members also weighed in on the financial realities of the District. The District is on the path to hit a Budget wall in 3 years, and then negative Reserve in 4 years. The remaining $1.7 Million in the Capital Fund will also be depleted in 4 years, possibly sooner once the District’s Ten Year Facilities Plan is complete, and we have no realistic way to replace the money once spent.

A rephrased version of the question came for Hank Oleyniczak who wanted to know, How much money from the District means this is not worth talking about? If the District can only, at the very best, afford to put $100,000 toward the project, and the Task Force can only realistically raise $40,000 – $60,000 per year, then maybe discussion of the Track renovation needs to be placed on hold until the financial winds change.

Fireworks over Music teaching position

Some may recall last month an action to hire a new music teacher, replacing one retiring, was tabled. This week, Dr Newcome provided information requested about the impact of losing the position. That memo described a system relying on no less than five full-time Music teachers, and losing one would cause major issues.


In discussion of the memo, Board President Lisa Bowman and Vice-President Brian Norris used apocalyptic terms to describe the consequences, stating that failing to hire this one teaching position would cause a systemic failure within the Music Department, and irreparable harm to students for years to come.

Sam Ganow challenged not only the idea not hiring this one teacher would have such a long-term negative impact, but directly challenged the contents of Dr Newcome’s memo, describing it as “manufactured.” He also challenged Board leadership regarding the way they have conducted themselves with the issue’s discussion, the presented information, and procedures of the vote. 

Brian Norris wanted to know, what changed? He stated that it had been the tradition of the Board to work with the Budget, Once the Budget was passed, hold to it and fill positions accordingly. He did not understand why concerns were not brought up during the Budget Process, when there could have been greater public input on which positions, if any, were eliminated.

I stated my belief was the “what changed” was that earlier in the year there were still Board Members not willing to embrace the reality of the District’s financial situation. There were those that did not believe we were going to end the year with a deficit, nor did they believe that the long-range financial outlook was weak. Norris responded that I had no place saying what other Board Members may be thinking.

I reminded Mr Norris of a past conversation which both he and Ms Bowman aggressively came after me for repeatedly bringing up both Mr Carsley’s Reserve Projections and the Long Range Plan, in Facilities and Finance Committee Meetings and on this blog. My original post left out names and the more aggressive behavior. Obviously, another lesson learned.

In that exchange, both Norris and Bowman described those reports and just numbers on a page, and that Carsley was merely providing a very unlikely worst case that they did not believe was realistic. Yesterday, both denied their past united efforts to dismiss the District’s bleak financial outlook.

Hank Oleyniczak stated that he does see the direction the District is going financially, but is not yet ready to make personnel cuts.

Sheri Melton stated that she would vote in favor of hiring the teacher, but did not appreciate the issue being described with such exaggerated and emotionally charged terms. She was not convinced losing one teacher could not be managed.

Leon Lapp stated that he hoped to see as much passion from leadership in getting control of the next Budget, as there was defending this one position.

A motion to remove the action from the table was made and passed. Approval to hire the new Music teacher passed 6-2. The two dissenting votes came from Sam Ganow and myself.

Catastrophic failure costs District $100,000

Back in early 2014, when the last Long Range Facilities Plan was presented, the Board was reminded that of the Elementary School’s two boilers, only one was working. And the one that was working was being kept running with paperclips and bubblegum. Additionally, of the school’s two hot water heaters, also only one was working. The other one was being cannibalized for parts.

This week, there was a catastrophic failure of the Elementary School’s working boiler, when the maintenance department was doing an inspection. This issue with the boiler was known by the Board. Parts for the boiler were no longer available because they are so old, and they were long past their life expectancy. However, despite being on the Long Range Plan, there were no plans in the pipeline to fix the problem.

The Administration has acquired pricing, and the cost will be $100,000 with in-house installation. The price includes upgrading both boilers, and both hot water heaters. A motion to authorize the replacement was unanimously passed. The project will be paid out of the Capital Fund.

Thank goodness this happened in August, and not January. There is a 6-8 weeks lead time ordering the boilers.


8 thoughts on “Fireworks at Octorara Board Meeting

  1. So we are still spending more and more money . The people in the School District can not keep footing a growing budget .The board needs to make a stand and stop spending. The board is crushing people in the area with a heavy taxes.

  2. Thank you to the board for approving the filling of the music position. Music is a universal language that transcends cultures and nationality and can often act as a catalyst for improving international relations. Not everyone becomes an accountant or business person. Many go on to seek careers in the arts and this makes music an absolute necessity in a well-rounded education, in my opinion. I believe we are all ‘touched’ by music all the time, be it in church, on the radio, on TV, on our personal devices, and in many more ways. The band and the chorus are ambassadors of good will and conduct for the school in our community and beyond. There is always a struggle when well-meaning people disagree on priorities and our board has struggled at times, but in this particular instance I applaud your outcome.

    • Agreed…but with a little creativity and some thinking outside of the box I’m sure that this position could have been covered by the four existing music teachers..this board is completely out of touch with not only how to differentiate between wants and needs but reality in general.

  3. Its time for a new board and people that know what’s going on. Taxes can’t keep going up like this its crazy is the going to house us when we lose our homes?

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