Octorara’s Libraries, Track Spending, and Locker Rooms

Octorara's Libraries, Track Spending, and Locker Rooms

The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held their monthly Work Session Meeting on Monday, June 13, 2016. Prior were the Policy and Facilities Committee meetings. Hank Oleyniczak was absent.

2016-2017 Budget Update

Ok, the original budget was $52.4 Million in total expenditures and $49.4 Million in revenue. The Budget next week will include a 3 percent tax increase for Chester County, a 5.63 percent tax increase for Lancaster County, and $537,800 in budget cuts that will include eliminating the K-6 Librarian position. The total expenditures are now $51.9 Million and the total revenue increased to $50.9 Million. This leaves a budget deficit of more than $1 Million.

The anticipated use of Fund Balance is only $316,883. This is because the budget includes a $350,000 Budget Contingency, and we are receiving a one-time Debt Service Savings of $340,000 from refinancing. Keep in mind, this means the 2017-2018 budget starts in the red by more than $656,000 before any budgetary increases.

Also, you may remember last month Mr. Curtis informed the Board that the state is delaying around $500,000 in reimbursement. Depending on when those funds are paid, we may or may not have a very large deficit for the 2015-2016 school year, creating a very large surplus in 2016-2017. This is the kind of insider baseball that is important to know. The 2016-2017 year may get misrepresented by some Board members as a successful budget. Don’t get duped when the time comes.

K-6 Librarian… GONE!

The K-6 Librarian is being cut. Julie Bowers of Atglen spoke to the Board on behalf of the Octorara Library & Literacy Team. Since mid-May, the group collected 384 signatures, from both parents and community members, hoping to change enough minds on the Board to save the position. Members of the community group have been calling and emailing Board members, and sending research documenting the importance of school librarians.

Board members did not change their minds, and most did not defend their positions or even address the group’s concerns. Lisa Bowman and Brian Fox did make comments that seemed to suggest they believe Librarians are outdated and irrelevant in today’s world. Anthony Falgiatore did again offer up cutting the Traffic Control Office position as a way to keep the Librarian, but it does not cover even half of the cost. While Falgiatore made the suggestion, he made no comments that the Librarian is a deal breaker for his vote.

I wanted to attack the notion, being put forth by the Administration, that either nothing changes for the children or that somehow things will be better. If nothing changes, how was the District able to take credit for Library as a Unified Arts Class before the cut, but after the cut, it is just “book exchange”. Dr. Newcome’s position is that it has been just “book exchange” for years. At the end of it all, I still had no idea how Library was a class yesterday, but not a class after next week and everything will stay the same.

I also wanted to understand the reorganization of the library and “genrefication.” Books will now be organized by genre rather than like a traditional library. I asked, how many local school districts are doing this? The answer was many across America. What about the Chester County Library? There was a lot of smoke and mirrors, but no one answered the question. What about local public libraries? Apparently, Atglen is using this system. Before things got farther, Lisa Bowman shut down the conversation because we were somehow getting off-topic talking about the specifics of what will happen to the library.

You Must Second Guess the Board

Toward the end of her remarks, Julie Bowers made a statement along the lines of knowing our choices are hard and not wanting to second guess the Board. During Board Comments, I thanked the members of the Octorara Library & Literacy Team who came to the meeting, thanked them for speaking up, and thank those who signed the petition, However, I challenged the notion of not second guessing the Board. That is what the public is supposed to do.

In a democracy, it is the public’s responsibility to challenge the decisions of elected officials. There were alternatives, non-educational alternatives, but there wasn’t majority support for those cuts. As an example, the majority of the Board felt the armed security guard was untouchable. The Board is supposed to represent the community, and if they are not representing the will of the local community, they need to be voted out! The public holds the Board accountable, and then the Board holds the Administration accountable.

There are Board members with a sense of infallibility because they are elected cycle after cycle, never being challenged. They get to smugly congratulate themselves, patting themselves on the back for their selfless public service. And why shouldn’t they? No one stops them from passing these budgets, adding spending programs, and raising taxes. They will not change because the public never votes anyone out of these positions.

Track Spending Moves Forward

The Facilities Committee discussed the Track Renovation. The Track and Field Task Force has raised $147,000 in cash and has $30,000 of “in kind” commitments. Dr. Newcome has a quote for the rubber surface but did not receive bids for the asphalt portion of the project. He has asked the Facilities Committee to give him permission to move forward if the numbers come in at or below last September’s resolution. If he waits until our meeting in July, there will not be enough time to get the project completed this year.

Now, I’m not going to rehash this except to say that I still believe the track spending is unnecessary and irresponsible, However, I do want something to sink in… the same Board members voting to make more than $537,000 in budget cuts, and are raising your taxes by another 3 percent, will also vote next week to allow Dr. Newcome to spend $210,000 on the track.

In February 2014, shortly after I started on the Board, the Capital Fund had over $2Million. This September, after completion of the Summer Projects plus the Track, the Fund will have only $1Million. That equates to roughly $400,000 per year of spending paid from the Capital Fund, and only 2.5 years left before it is at zero. When that happens, facilities repairs will have to be paid out of the regular budget or we will have to increase our debt. Think about that for a while.

Transgender Policy

The Policy Committee is working on a Transgender Policy which will allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity, rather than their genetics. This policy was suggested by Brian Fox before the Obama Administration mandated school districts create such a policy or risk losing federal funds. It was just days before, but it was before.

You know, the District was already dealing with this on a case by case basis. While I support LGBT rights, when this was proposed by Mr. Fox, I did not know if Octrorara was the right school district for an experimental policy. I certainly don’t think Obama is doing the right thing by intentionally misinterpreting a 40+ year old law. In my opinion, this is just not the best way to do things, but it is what it is.

7 thoughts on “Octorara’s Libraries, Track Spending, and Locker Rooms

  1. I am very interested in running for School Board. I have been a lifelong resident of the Octorara District, worked in the district as a secretary and playground aide for 11 years. I feel that it is time for me to be of service to the residents and students of the school district. Would someone please give me information on how I would pursue running for School Board? Thank you!

    • A while back I wrote a blog called “Everything you wanted to know about becoming an Octorara School Director but were afraid to ask“. Much of the information is the same.

      Next year, there is 1 seat in Region 1, 2 seats in Region 2, and 2 seats in Region 3 up for re-election. Early next year you can go down to Voter Services to pick of nominating partitions. Becuase school board is nonpartisan, you can run both as a Republican and Democrat. You will need a petition for each. All you need is 10 signatures on each for the Primary. This all starts in February for the petition.

      If you need any help, I am happy to meet with you and talk on the phone to get you through it.

    • It really is not that hard at all . it only takes a few hours of your time to get on the ballot.

      If a few things change for me here at work I may join you .

  2. I value the voice and perspective you bring to the board and often reflect on the questions you ask. You bring ideas forward that have me think differently and I appreciate that insight. Your summary of Monday night’s board work session and policy committee meeting though includes statements you’ve associated to me that forces me to reply.

    Before getting to those points, everyone should know what you didn’t include in your summary in case they don’t watch the Cube recording. You didn’t mention the two student presentations the board enjoyed. The first was from a 6th grade team of students led by Ms. Christine Gray that placed in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) competition. The Octorara students from 6th grade placed in a competition with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. We celebrated their success of winning against older competitors and congratulated them on their achievement.

    Turning STEM to STEAM by adding the Arts, we had a second group of students representing the high school band and chorus give us an update on their recent concerts and upcoming events. Noteworthy achievements from our students and future events to look forward to.

    Skimming a few of your other posts you miss mentioning those very good updates we get from students, teachers, and staff that highlight positive outcomes we’re achieving as a school district. You might consider providing a more balanced report. What we work through and our roles are not solely defined by the budget, taxes, policies, personnel, capital projects, etc. Those are important topics and ones worthy of keeping our attention, yet they are only a partial aspect of what I see included in board service.

    In what you did report, you use language like “seems to say” which implies I have made statements or intended meanings that I haven’t. If any statement I made seems to suggest I think librarians are outdated or irrelevant I need to clarify.
    * I did say I use an app on my iPhone to look up books within the Lancaster and Chester County library systems. I have library cards for both counties and extensively use them through the apps. The apps make it easy to find a resource, have it put on hold, and delivered to the library most convenient for me. Through the apps it’s faster to order a book or CD than ordering from amazon.com and it’s free!
    * I also said fiction sections within a library are easy to navigate because books are arranged alphabetically by author.

    My statements of the ease and convenience of access to material does not mean I think librarians are outdated. I hold quite the opposite view. Libraries, professional librarians, their staff and volunteers are essential elements making up the fabric of a community and we’re lucky to have 4 very close to us in Atglen, Avon Grove, Christiana, and Parkesburg.

    For our school librarian position, I approached this item with an open mind and sought to hear the concerns of parents by attending the parent meeting Dr. Newcome held on 25 May. I have a personal interest in the subject of literacy as I’ve been a volunteer in the adult literacy field for about 30 years. The focus in the adult literacy field is on teaching adults who, for whatever reason, need instruction to read and write. As we looked at the K-6 librarian position I thought about what impact this change would have on student literacy and I know I want to prevent any child passing through our Octorara K-12 system only to need the services of an adult literacy organization down the road.

    Hearing the concerns of parents, and because of my own bias to support programs that drive literacy, I have leaned toward using additional fund balance to support retaining the K-6 librarian position. Over the past few weeks though I concluded I am in favor of taking the cost-saving opportunity created by another teacher’s retirement to move the K-6 librarian into a teaching position in a classroom. The administrative team of Dr. Newcome, Ms. Wilson, and the building principals have put together an implementation plan that retains the experience the student currently has in our school libraries. Early in the process, I raised concerns about student use of libraries, the way the time will be used, the development of a love of reading within our students, and the relationship built between the librarian and the student. The plan for the libraries addresses my concerns as well as additional ones surfaced during the community discussions. My supporting vote is reluctant yet prudent.

    You mentioned you’d like to understand “genrefication” and that you perceived “smoke and mirrors” in the meeting discussion. Genrefication simply means books are organized by topic. Poetry, Nature, Science, Math, Geography, etc. It’s like when you walk into a Barnes & Noble and see how the bookshelves are organized. There are sections in the store for different topics. Libraries are moving to organize in a similar way. I contributed to some of this discussion and if my statements were unclear please let me know and we can discuss together after the next board meeting.

    On my suggestion we look at adding a policy to address transgender student rights I was following examples already set in other school districts within PA. These are not experimental. They are straightforward and reasonable. I brought to our attention the one at Great Valley. I specifically asked that we as a board consider it only if we as a body agreed to do so. I am happy to have raised it and glad to be part of a group that has chosen to begin discussion on a proposed policy. The first version of whatever policy we put in place will likely change over time yet to characterize it as experimental because of its potential to change is wrong.

    Last, you say board members engage in a kind of wrong behavior. Quoting from your blog: “They get to smugly congratulate themselves, patting themselves on the back for their selfless public service.” Although my time to-date on the board has been only a half dozen months I’ve not seen any board member behave in a way I’d call “smug.” If you truly have that impression we should as a group discuss your observations to get alignment as a group. Despite different viewpoints we should be able to engage in discussion without leaving each other with such negative impressions.

    I do look forward to continued board service with you. We will differ in some of our decisions and what we think are priorities for the school yet I do value the debate.

    • Thanks for your feedback Brian Fox. Let me start from the last comment, and work my way back.

      It is no secret how I think about certain members of the Board, and that certainly was not directed at you. However, for years, and even before I was on the Board, I noticed certain coded language about the “people evolved in the community” compared to those who are supposedly not, and the “involved parents” versus those who are supposedly not. And about Octorara’s literacy problem being the fault of the economically disadvantaged and people from certain kinds of families. Of course, with all those who use coded language and dog whistles, they always deny it, but I firmly believe it to be true. There are people on the Board who, in my opinion, are working for only a certain percentage of the community, not the whole community. The people who don’t have the time or luxury to “be involved” are not their concern.

      Transgender… I really don’t know why you are getting defensive. I stated what was going on, and my opinion of it. I think we probably agree on transgender rights at the core. I just don’t believe Octorara is the right community to be at the forefront of change, and I disagree with Obama’s misuse of power to get this accomplished.

      I understand “genrefication”. My focus was on if this is common locally, and it does not seem it is. In fact, I hear Atglen wants to abandon it. So, I probably have to investigate if that is true. The smoke and mirrors was the many words for a simple answer for which local districts… does Chester County…. and which local public libraries. There were too many words with too little answer, which is all too common.

      The cost savings… there are other reoccurring costs that could have been cut, but got zero traction. It is a false choice to say it was either take the savings from a retirement or dip deeper into fund balance. I believe there is a certain level of contentment with our district’s academic performance, and there is no real drive to get better. There is a little dog and pony show that goes on, but that is it. And I truly believe that. There are many kids in our District who’s only experience with a library is at school… for whatever reason. So, that single mom working two jobs… well, she is not one of the involved parents we should worry about. And if you think I am making an accusation of classism, that is exactly what I am doing and it is not the first time I made it.

      On missing all the good stuff. Octorara’s best and brightest would be the best and brightest in any school district. The merit of a school is not how well their top 10-20 percent perform. It is how well the bottom 80 percent are doing. It is great those kids did a STEM project that got them an award. But I also know we are failing our kids in Science. Take a look at the Jr/Sr High scores for Biology/Science. No matter what you think about testing, those scores are unacceptable.

      Also, my blog is not a transcript nor is it journalism. This one post has over 1100 words highlighting those things I thought were the most important, and my opinions on those topics. If you think other things are more important, you are welcome to start your own blog. I’m not saying that to be nasty. I truly believe more Board members need to speak to the community and defend their positions. Not just talking to so-and-so at Dutch Way, which in important too, but in a very real public forum way.

      The last point I will hit is the “librarians are irrelevant” thing. OK, I believe you. Nonetheless, that was my impression from what you stated in the meeting. And I wasn’t the only one who walked away with that idea. I get it. Sometimes things don’t translate. We all make gaffes and need to walk back statements or clarify things we say. Maybe you don’t think you did make a gaffe. I know others who would disagree.

      I said that was my last point, but I have one more. There is no need to have a group discussion about how I feel about certain other Board members. We have had those discussions. Until I see a real commitment to increasing literacy, especially at the 3rd grade benchmark, for all students, no matter their socioeconomic status or family situation, I am going to have a problem. Until I see a real concern on controlling taxes, and not just what the top 10-20 percent can afford, I am going to have a problem. As long as an “involved parent” is only those who participates in boosters or otherwise volunteers, I’m going to have a problem. And as long as I have a problem, I am going to speak my mind.

  3. It’s becoming apparent that the board does not have the residents & tax payers interests at stake. I am newer to the district and rent. However, I have a grandaughter here and am looking to move, instead of buying in this district. They spend what they want on what they want. Cut a librarian but keep an armed guard and traffic control? Keep a Homeland Security group, that only interests a few percent of our student body? Traffic control cam easily be done by a volunteer of the district. (Staff member, perhaps?) It seems to me that no matter what you present or fight to keep, certain board members vote against it anyway. Unless your an ex board member who presents services of their new business. Then you’ll be in line to buy wings for a fly! Wake up board members!

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