The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held its monthly Regular Meeting, plus Finance and Policy Committee Meetings on August 17, 2015. There were eight Board Members were in attendance. Sheri Melton was absent.
During the meeting, the Board approved all but two listed recommended action items. An action to approve a second reading of Policy 916 “Volunteers” was removed. Changes from the State will require additional modification of the policy. Also, a last minute addition to the agenda, to vote for PSBA officers, was postponed until September, giving Board members additional time to consider their votes.
PSSA Preliminary Data
Dr Elana Wilson gave a presentation to the Board about the PSSA Preliminary Data and “what it means.”
Heightened difficulty and increased rigor of PA Core, plus that the State provided limited time between adoption and implementation of the new PSSA, has resulted in fewer students, across the State, scoring Proficient or Advanced.
The Administration wanted to stress the idea that it is “not useful” to compare student scores on the new assessments to previous years. The 2015 PSSA measures different content than previous years.
Some content, especially in Math, is now being taught a full grade level earlier. The content also required deeper knowledge, stronger problem solving, and critical thinking skills.
There was also insistence that PSSA scores should not be compared to other schools with different grade configurations, because this does not provide a true comparison. However, after questioning by Sam Ganow, the Administration did acknowledge that grade to grade comparisons could be made between Octorara and other districts.
Hank Oleyniczak asked if the State understood the impact their scores had on Real Estate, and families wanting to move into the District, when sites like Zillow and Trulia translate them into ratings?
I asked if the Board could get a report of the District’s 2014 vs 2015 scores, compared the the State average 2014 vs 2015 score. This, in addition to Mr Ganow’s request for comparisons to other local districts, will allow us to determine if the impact on Octorara is consistent.
The District plans, taking advantage of low interest rates, to refinance a portion of our bonds again this year. The savings could be around $500K, which would be split between 2015-16 and 2016-17. This will add to the savings from last year’s refinance. A Parameters Resolution was passed by the Board in September 2014 that approves this action.
The Finance Committee will be presented with a very rough 2016-17 Budget in September to begin early discussions on how best to deal with the District’s financial issues. Talk still continued on holding the budget flat, using personnel cuts and other cost saving techniques to have a zero increase. Sam Ganow stated he believed the District would still need a combination of property tax increases and Reserve Fund use to balance.
On the issue of personnel cuts, Hank Oleyniczak proposed having Dr Newcome work with Principals to cut personnel from each school. The idea was that rather than the Board simply voting against hiring retirement replacements, that we seek out cuts that have minimal impact. Oleyniczak thought was every organization has waste, and it is best to have the Administration find and eliminate that waste.
Dr Newcome informed the Committee that Signal 88 currently does not have the Armed Security Guard position filled for the start of school. Understanding the financial stress the District is under, Signal 88 gave the District the opportunity to walk away from our contract without penalty.
I was the only member to speak out in favor of canceling the Signal 88 contract. The Board hired security knowing the District did not have the money to fund it, and today we are talking about teacher cuts to address our financial issues. I personally cannot support paying for security by eliminating a teaching position.