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 Lisa Bowman and Brian Fox did make comments that seemed to suggest they believe Librarians are outdated and irrelevant in today’s world.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.
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.