Newcome Provides List of Possible Budget Reductions

Newcome Provides List of Possible Budget Reductions

The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held their monthly Work Session Meeting on Monday, March 14, 2016. Prior were the Policy and Facilities Committee meetings. All nine Board Members were in attendance. Linda Bicking attended the work session electronically.

What Budget Cuts Do You Want?

From the Work Session, the major item of note was Dr. Newcome’s presentation of potential reductions. This was provided in advance of budget discussions at next week’s Finance Committee Meeting. The list is significant, identifying almost $5.9 Million in potential budget cuts. Items ranged from minor cuts worth only $1,500 in savings to individual cuts over $1 Million.

What was originally asked of the Administration was to work with each school to find $420,000. To accomplish this, the Administration tasked each grade with finding $30,000 in savings. The idea was that having each principle, working with the staff, would be able to find cuts that had minimal impact on programs.

However, the list presented was not all that dissimilar to potential reduction lists (aka cut lists) presented by the Administration in the past. The presentation was also only a list of what could be cut. There were no specific recommendations, but the list was segregated into two categories: those that may affect programs and those that will affect programs.

Potential reductions included:

  • Miscellaneous cuts to Administration spending.
  • Reduction to building budgets by 10%.
  • Teaching cuts:
    • Substitute teachers reduction by reducing administrative leave by 30%.
    • Choosing not to replace multiple retiring/resigning teachers in K-4.
    • Not replacing or reducing a Special Education Teacher.
    • Not replacing or reducing a Spanish position.
    • Cutting a Music teacher.
    • Eliminating an Instructional Assistant position.
    • Elimination of a Reading Specialist.
    • Eliminate Librarian.
  • Returning Kindergarten to half-day or eliminating altogether.
  • Eliminating In-School Suspensions (ISS).
  • Reducing coaching staff.
  • Reducing or eliminating the Security Guard Positions.
  • Eliminate all technology.
  • Eliminate Athletics.
  • Eliminate Non-Athletic supplemental contracts.
  • Eliminate Bussing.

Average Class Size

Dr. Newcome anticipated my question about how we compared in class size to other local school districts. Newcome provided a report that included K-6 class sizes, the average class size by grade for several other districts, and historic trends going back to 2009-2010.

Overall, actual class sizes range from 19 to 28 students. However, there were several anomalies. The average class sizes ranged from 20 to 25 students. When compared to other districts, while one could argue Octorara’s class size is at the lower end of the comparison, there does not seem to be significant differences.

When we look at class size historically, the average in grades K-6 tended to be fairly stable, with the exception of Kindergarten. In 2009-2010, the District had 157 kindergarteners and 10 teachers, with an average kindergarten class size of 15.7 students. Today, we have 168 students and 8 teachers, and an average class size of 20.

At the Jr and Sr High level, individual classroom size was unable to be given. It is dependent on courses and course selections. Nevertheless, we were provided the sizes of each grade, and the total number of students in each building, The overall trend is declining numbers.

During the period reported, the Jr High’s population was 414 students in 2009-2010, which was also the peak. The 2015-2016 student population is 384, which is the low. Next year is projected to be 354, which will be a year-over-year decline and a new low.

The High School’s population was 854 students in 2009-2010. The population peaked, during the reported period, in 2010-2011 at 875 students. This year was a population low with 751 students.

Why is class size/student population important? When we are considering cutting teachers, and other positions directly related to learning, knowing the population versus class size is important. Cutting teachers because of a declining population is one thing. Cutting teachers in a way that increases class size is something different.

Talking About Track Again

Despite the Board having voted on the Track back in September, there is still a persistent push from the Field Development Task Force and some Board members.

Let’s remind every one of the action from September 21, 2015:

On motion of Mr. Stoltzfus, second by Mr. Norris and approval of all members present except Mr. Alexander who voted no the Octorara Board of School Directors approved the expenditure of 50% of the total cost, not to exceed $210,000, for the track renovation project. Work on the project will not be authorized to begin until the Field Development Task Force presents to the Board of Directors $134,000 toward the project. Further, the Field Development Task Force must commit to an additional $75,000 within two years of completion of the project for the Red Polyurethane Structural Spray Coats. The terms of this agreement will expire June 30, 2017. Board discussion preceded the vote.

At the time of the vote, the Field Development Task Force had roughly $45,000 banked. The Facilities Committee received an update, through Dr. Newcome, that the current amount is around $80,000 with an expectation of another $45,000 by June 2016 from fundraisers, and the difference in “other donations.” The Task Force asked that the District move forward with renovations before meeting the terms of the original vote.

Without skipping a beat, Brian Norris began arguing in favor of moving forward. My response was that (1) there is no reason to change the terms of the original vote, and (2) we are still waiting for the 10 Year Facilities Plan from the CCIU and have no idea if we even have our portion of the funds. The ensuing debate became heated.

Norris’ side of the argument is (1) the Task Force has worked hard to get this done and (2) the Board has made a commitment and should not back down. My position reasoning is there is no good cause to change the original terms. In fact, the original Board action was taken without consideration of the District’s own financial situation. We cannot move forward without knowing we have the funds.

The Track renovation was not included in the 5 Year Plan from several years ago. It was also not included in the rough draft of the new 10 Year Plan. Based on what we know now, the Capital Fund will be depleted within 3 years, with the District unable to take on new debt nor having a plan to replenish the fund. The CCIU report is expected in June. It is said to include many facilities issues that are beyond their lifespan, with items we had not considered in the past and will need to be planned for in one way or another.

In my opinion, the only reason for a sense of urgency is if there is worry the funds will not be ultimately available. It seems to be a push to get the work started so that it will get done regardless of the ultimate financial situation, either because the Task Force will not be able to raise their portion or the District’s 10 Year Plan is expected to uncover greater priorities for our limited funds.

Towards the end of the discussion, Lisa Bowman remarked that she would be comfortable obtaining bids in anticipation of the Task Force having cash-in-hand. But she correctly identified there would need to be Board action to move forward beyond that. She also stated that she is concerned about knowing the funds for the project are actually there. With that, the Committee “gave guidance” to Dr. Newcome to obtain bids.

2 thoughts on “Newcome Provides List of Possible Budget Reductions

  1. Given Octorara’s academic standing in relation to other nearby schools, every effort should be made to raise Octorara’s student achievement. Cutting early education programs like all-day kindergarten and increasing elementary school class sizes is not the way. In the best judgement of most educators, students and communities are best served with early educational involvement.

    I’ve argued earlier that sports should be club sponsored thereby saving school money for education. The track argument seems irrelevant if we are cutting technology from the curriculum in this electronic age.

    Eliminate bussing? “Let’ em walk to school. It’s only uphill one way.”

    • Thank you for your comments, Mr. Shoemaker.

      First, let me say I do not believe there is any risk of bussing being eliminated. The list Dr. Newcome included was of items that can be cut, not a list based on priorities or recommendations.

      When it comes to full-day versus half-day kindergarten, the information I have read seems to indicate benefits to achievement tend to evaporate by 3rd Grade. In fact, achievement was not even a prime motivator for its implementation at Octorara. The Board at the time was trying to compete with charter schools. However, what actually seemed to happen was that we ended up closing private full-day kindergarten programs. These were students that we previously did not have to pay for. Moreover, it was a complete misunderstanding of why parents choose charter schools over traditional public schools. Ultimately, we became a daycare solution.

      On classroom size, I completely agree. I do not favor teacher cuts. Only a teacher can teach, and those cuts should only be when all other options are exhausted. My understanding is class sizes are extremely important in grades K-3, and the ideal size for that group is 18 students per teacher. Nonetheless, I don’t see any Chester County school districts reaching that target.

      The track renovation was passed because of a lobbying group, the Field Development Task Force, that is aggressive and persistent. They have a narrow focus, and just do not understand the financial issues facing the District. It also doesn’t help that there are Board members downplaying our financial challenges, and unwilling to link past choices to the current need to cut.

      The track will be paid out of the Capital Fund, not the General Fund, but money is fungible. Earmarking money from the Capital Fund for a project that was not on the long range plan means there will be future projects that we will need to be paid from the General Fund. The General Fund’s Reserve is also limited, and we have been running deficits for years, using the Reserve to pay for it. When the Reserve goes to zero we will not be able to raise taxes to cover the difference and will not balance. At that point, the District goes into financial distress and there is a possibility of the state stepping in. No one wants to talk about the consequences of added spending and this possibility.

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