The Octorara Board of Directors and Finance Committee met on Monday, October 17, 2016. Eight Board members were in attendance. Hank Oleyniczak was absent.
If you attended last night’s meeting, or watched the broadcast, you were treated to a ceremony recognizing 23 new Octorara Heroes.These are high school students who have volunteered to be examples, and pledged a commitment to academic and ethical excellence. What you didn’t see was the 90 percent of the Board conversation, held in a small back room, not broadcasted nor recorded.
Octorara and Special Education
Back in August, the Finance Committee Members were asked, “What big-ticket items do you want to look to find savings for the next budget?” This did not come out of the blue. In June, the Committee was told this question would be asked and to come up with ideas. There was only two: (1) Sam Ganow requested an in-depth analysis of Special Education, and (2) I asked that we examine building consolidation. This week, the Finance Committee started the conversation off with a long presentation and conversation about the cost of Special Education for Octorara.
It took about three-quarters of the meeting to get to this point, but, as it turns out, the Octorara Area School Board of Directors has no real power to reduce spending for Special Education. We could probably try, but it would not be without major consequences, such as lawsuits and the State and Federal governments withholding funding. I don’t often have nice things to say about Harrisburg and Washington, but this time, they got it right. Special Education children are our children, and our community is responsible for providing for their educational needs. Therefore, the law protects these vulnerable children from School Boards who would use them to balance a budget.
Now, I guarantee you, there is going to be some political spin if you confront certain Board Members. Not all Members were on board with this path. Brian Fox seemed acutely uncomfortable. Nonetheless, there are going to be those Members who try to explain this away… “no decisions were ever made”… “this is just part of the budgetary process”… or some other totally BS answer. The fact remains, the Finance Committee was looking for savings, looking to cut spending, and the best idea they came up with was going after the children with the most need. And no matter how they spin it now, if they could have cut, they would be cutting. A portion of the Board would have no guilt sacrificing those children who need to most help to save themselves from cutting pet projects and programs, added over the last 15 years.
What I learned in that meeting…
- Some Board Members begrudge the State and Federal government mandating the services that special needs children require.
- There are Members who are irritated the District (a government entity for all the people) must provide special needs testing to private, parochial, and homeschooled children…. children who otherwise cost the community little to nothing.
- There are members who believe some children are just not worth the investment.
- Some resent the parents who will fight for the services their child needs, and take issue with the outside government agencies who help them.
What was not new was the reaffirming, at least in my mind, that there are Board Members who approach the School District more as a private entity than a government agency. They are annoyed by any law that limits their ability to work for those they deem most worthy.
I’m sure the other Members of the Board will circle the wagons, and I will get some push-back from these statements. However, keep in mind, there is a reason we looked at Special Education this year and so early in the budgetary process. And, that reason is because they don’t want it ever to come down to building consolidation and district reorganization, cutting iPads, eliminating armed security, returning to half-day kindergarten, or looking at any of the other pet programs from the past 15 years. It is their country club, and you better hope you and your child or grandchild are members.