The Octorara Board of Directors and Finance Committee met on Monday, November 21, 2016. All nine Board members were in attendance.
The Board meeting opened with the OIS Sax Ensemble performing the National Anthem. Unfortunately, if you want to watch the performance on The Cube or YouTube, there is an issue with the sound. Regardless, it was very nice to have the students perform. Other students performed a short Reader’s Theater, which included costumed students reading aloud to the Board. Reader’s Theater is an educational tool in which students read literature, collaboratively develop scripts, and then perform. Kudos to them. At that age, I would not have had the juice to perform in front of a School Board.
Recapping the 2015-2016 Budget
The Finance Committee has not received the auditor’s report. However, we have received some basic numbers. The 2015-2016 school year ended with a surplus of $649,955. But, before you go and look back that the 2015-2016 tax increase, and start calculating how much the District has overtaxed us all, there are some details we need to talk about. Of course, the discussion of if taxes could be lower overall is a separate issue.
Within the total surplus is a $590,000 debt service refund from PDE. The funds were owed, but not within the budget because we did not know if or when payment would arrive. This reduces the surplus to $59, 995. If this was the end of the story, things would be fine. Having a surplus this small is not terribly awful. But wait… there is more.
The Finance Committee was also informed that the Cafeteria had a deficit of roughly $40,000. It was caused by changes in practices, and paying Cafeteria’s retirement out of the Cafeteria’s own budget. At the end of it all, this is just about moving piles of money around. Nonetheless, it created a deficit within the Cafeteria and increased the surplus of the regular budget. Therefore, when we take this into consideration, the real and actual surplus (leaving out the PDE bonus money) is around $19,000. That is outstanding and about the best balance of costs versus revenue that one could possibly produce… especially since the state had not passed their budget at the time ours was passed.
I give all the credit for this to Jeff Curtis, Octorara’s Business Manager. Since his hire, I have been extremely impressed with his abilities and foresight. I have not;always agreed with him. However, he does not look at the annual budget with blinders on. While he is still at the mercy of the Board, we really lucked out. Things are literally night and day compared to when I first came to the Board.
Projections for the 2016-2017 School Year
These are preliminary numbers. So, things can change, up or down, based on several variables.
- The budget was for $51.6 million in costs, but current projects show ending the year at $50.6 million, a difference of $1.3 million.
- We also budgeted revenue at $50.8 million. However, actual revenue is expected to come it at $50.6 million, or $286,283 less.
- State revenue is down $168,780
- Federal revenue is down $316,319
- Local revenue is up $198,817
- Debt service savings increased from $340,000 to $585,738 because of another debt refinancing.
The budget shows a $1 million deficit with an anticipated use of Fund balance of $316,883. However, with the current projections and when we minus out the budget contingency, debt service savings, and other expenditure savings, the new anticipated use of Fund balance is down to $73,000.
Other Finance Committee Items
EHC Agreement – EHC is the District’s asbestos contractor. NO, there is not an asbestos issue. However, there are parts of some schools that are very old. If something unforeseen is discovered, EHC is essentially on retainer.
Capital Reserve Fund – Mr. Curtus wants to take the $649,955 surplus from last year to set up a Capital Reserve Fund, and essentially start planning for future facilities repairs and upgrades. This is all Mr. Curtus and another reason why I say we are lucky to have him. While I have brought up the need for this kind of planning for years, it was Mr. Curtis who got it done.
Althouse Transportation Contract – While their contract does not end until 2018, Althouse Transportation has approached the Finance Committee about negotiating a new contract. I have expressed a desire to put the contract out for bid, and it was shot down. Sam Ganow, Finance Chair, believes that while another company is likely to put in a lower bid, that eventually it will cost more.
Here is Mr. Ganow’s belief. Althouse Transportation exists only because of their contract with Octorara. If a lower bid comes in, Althouse will go out of business and the new bus company could jack up the cost, unchallenged. Think about this, I am really concerned that Althouse Transportation only exists by the grace of the Octorara Area School District. How does something like that happen? Is anyone familiar with the term crony capitalism?
What do you think of building consolidation?
Ok, so, last week’s blog post inspired a response from Nelson Stoltzfus. He stated what while he agreed with some of my comments about School Performance Profile scores, he took issue with the final statement.
So, what will the Octorara Area School Board of Directors do to adapt if this becomes the new reality? Nothing.
Mr. Stoltzfus seemed to conflate my comments about President-elect Trump’s plan to pass the School Choice And Education Opportunity Act, with my comments about School Performance Profile scores. I explained that what I was talking about was the dramatic decline in student enrollment over the years, and based on the conversations we have had, most of the Board do not see it as a real problem. This started a lively conversation, and you should watch it on The Cube or (eventually) YouTube. However, here, I am going to touch on a few points.
Regardless, before we get started, and if you watch the video, every argument made by other Board members is for the sole purpose of making sure we don’t even take a preliminary look at building consolidation. They don’t want any kind of preliminary report. They don’t want an audit. For whatever reason, they just want to throw opinions back and forth, and make it so not even a remote possibility exists.With that said, here are some of the points made.
1. The-It Is Still 2006-Argument – Nelson Stoltzfus,Hank Oleyniczak, and others talked about the days leading up to building the OIS and the use of trailers for students.However, what they fail to acknowledge is that our enrollment is lower than when the OIS was built, lower than when it was approved, lower than when the feasibility report was completed, lower even than when the PLC was built. In fact, a while back, the Board was given a report showing enrollment going back to 1990 (26 years ago). Our student enrollment is lower than all that. We are at a historic low for enrollment.
2. The-How We Teach Now-Argument – This is one of the most infuriating arguments. You know, if my family moved into a much larger house, my wife would find a way to fill and make use of the space. The idea that the District has found their level does not prove that the extra space is actually needed. However, this argument is a way to keep the discussion away from the actual facts (like enrollment numbers) and focused on a debate of opinions based on opinions.
3. The Birth Rate Argument – This is not really about consolidation specifically, but more my assertion that the decline is caused by (primarily) taxes and (on some level) the poor performance scores. I have to give Mr. Norris credit here. This is actually an argument that seems to be based on current data. We haven’t seen the data, but I doubt he would bring it up without having something. Apparently, Mr. Norris knows someone who does population and enrollment projections. However, I disagree with his conclusions.
Mr. Norris stated that the enrollment issue is caused by birth rates and not taxes or performance. My initial reaction was to turn it around and state, If the Board scrutinized the birth rates on the 2003 Feasibility Report, we likely would not have built the OIS to begin with. Regardless, in retrospect, I think Mr. Norris proved my point. I believe declining enrollment is firstly caused because young, first-time buyers don’t want to (or can’t) pay our high taxes, but that school performance may also be a factor. Well, who makes the babies? It is young families. Therefore, fewer young families would mean a lower birth rate. Makes sense. right?
4. You’re So Vain. You Probably Think This Blog Is About You – Two things were going on in this part of the discussion. First, it was a way to stop talking about enrollment facts, but also to make it about me rather than an unwillingness of the Board to look deeper. Lisa Bowman stated that the conversation was good, and that if any Board member want to discuss something (I wonder who she is talking about), they should do it in meetings and not make public statements. My response was concise.
The reason why building consolidation has never been discussed is NOT because I have not repeatedly brought it up over the years. No one else wanted to dig into it. It is also a FACT that this blog is not for discussing or debating issues with other Board members. It is for speaking to my constituents. Other Board Members are welcome to read it, comment on it…. call me a liar on it if they want. However, the purpose of the blog is to explain my positions and votes to the public If other board members don’t want to explain themselves to taxpayers and voters, and want to leave all conversation in meetings, that is their choice. However, as they already know, I have a right to keep and maintain this blog.
Of course, Bowman walked back her comments slightly after. She knows she does not have the power to shut down this blog, limit my ability to speak directly to the people, or stop me from expressing my voice. She also knows it is not a good idea to in any way imply that Board members should be tight-lipped outside of meetings.
5. The-Why Are We Even Still Here?-Argument – Watch the video! This is the REAL REASON that building consolidation has never been discussed in meetings… they just don’t want to dig into it. Scattered throughout the conversation are comments from various Board Members like “we have spent too much time on this,” “Tim is the only one interested in this,” and “I would like to get home.” Ultimately, building consolidation is a non-starter no matter what
Other than myself, not one Board member wants to explore the idea at all. Moreover, they feel it is a waste of time for Dr. Newcome to investigate the option because it would not matter. Regardless of absolutely anything, this Board has made up their minds and are immovable. Therefore, last night was more about trying to shut me up than having an actual conversation.
Again… The Need for Streaming Committee Meetings
So, you know, when I comment about what someone says at a Board Meeting, sometimes they may respond with “that is not what I meant,” or “you took me out of context.” However, they don’t ever really seem to say that I completely made stuff up. Why? It is because those meetings are recorded. There is a record, and if someone says I misrepresented what they said, anyone can go to the video and make their own judgment of what they really meant. That cannot happen with a Committee Meeting.
During last night’s conversation, Sam Ganow basically stated that I outright lied about when the Finance Committee looking at Special Education as a savings option. He said that it was never being looked at that way, despite the notes from the meeting. He said that he already knew that Special Ed could not be cut, and thought I knew as well, despite that he bellyached about students he felt would be better served institutionalized (among others concerns). Moreover, most of the other Board Members agreed with Mr. Ganow’s version of events.
Mr. Gannow said the REAL REASON for the presentation and discussion was to get the information out to the public. Think about that for a moment. Committee Meetings are held in a small back room and uninviting to the public. We do not readily provide the public with meeting minutes. Nor do we create transcripts or record the meetings. Moreover, the Finance Committee Meeting Report tends to be about 5 sentences long and without any depth or detail. I asked, receiving no real response, If it was for the purpose of making the information public, why would you conduct it in Committee?
Live streaming and videoing Committee Meetings is something that I have been talking about for a long time… and by “i” I mean me, alone. Just like with building consolidation, the Board just don’t want to discuss it. It is a non-starter. There is no reason to talk about it, because talking about it is a waste of time and they want to get home. Why waste time when they already know their position will not change?
So, if I am the liar who makes things up, why would I ever want these meetings on video? How does it benefit me to create such a record of meetings?