The Octorara Area School Board’s October meetings represent the calm before the storm. As ominous as that sounds, storms most often bring with them a renewed environment and growth. Yet, there is always the possibility that heavy rains, strong winds, and pounding hail will create havoc and cause real damage. Octorara is at the beginning of a transformational year, in more ways than one. It is very important that the public stay informed and actively participate as the Board addresses each concern. Below are just a few of those issues.
The Octorara Superintendent Search
As most are aware, Dr. Newcome is not seeking a new contract and the 2017-2018 school year will be his last at Octorara. While not much information is out to the public yet, the Octorara Board is in the early stages of the Superintendent search process. Becuase of the very nature of hiring a new executive, much of it is confidential. That said, there does seem to be a commitment to keeping the public as involved and informed as possible. In order to stay up to date, please watch for information releases that will be posted to the District website and attend future Board meetings.
Diminishing Captial Funds
At October’s Facilities Committee Meeting, Jeff Curtis provided members with an update to the 10-Year Capital Plan. At this time, we are looking at funds from capital sources being exhausted within the 2019-2020 school year, and a real shortfall of almost $1 Million. This deficit may require that facility repairs and improvements be put off. Regardless, once these sources are depleted, all capital expenses will either have to be paid out of the regular budget or the District will have to add to our debt. Everyone should have known this day was coming. Mr. Curtis did take action which has extended the life of our capital sources, but he came to our District a little too late.
Octorara’s Act 1 Index Limit
The base Act 1 limit for this year is 2.4 percent. Octorara’s adjusted limit is 3 percent. Those who pay attention to finance know that in June, the Board passed a budget trying to have their cake and eat it too. For most of the 2017-2018 Budget Process, the Board was looking at increasing property taxes to 3.2 percent. Yet, in an election year political stunt, they lowered the property tax increase to only 2.25 percent. However, they did this without making corresponding cuts to the budget. At the time this occurred, it was discussed and known that this would set the District on a trajectory for a growing revenue hole. There is no way to fix this without cuts of some kind. They can kick the can by eating into the Reserve, but it will all eventually hit a brick wall.
Pennsylvanians for Union Reform
In recent months, the District has received multiple Right-to-Know requests from a Mr. Simon Campbell through his organization Pennsylvanians for Union Reform. The Pennsylvania School Board Association has filed a lawsuit against Mr. Campbell in an attempt to silence him and stop his efforts. As a result, school districts across Pennsylvania have been inundated with Right-to-Know requests as Campbell attempts to defend real union reform.
Pennsylvanians for Union Reform is fighting for:
- Paycheck Protection – Stopping the use of taxpayer-funded computer systems to automatically deduct and remit political money from public employee paychecks.
- Pension Reform – The Pennsylvania School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) is an unsustainable, guaranteed benefit that is protected by law and not subject to the normal contract negotiation process.
- Right to Work – Teachers should have the right to resign their Union membership and stop funding the Union’s political activities.
In actuality, I think that Mr. Campbell is missing a few very important issues. Here are things I would like to see the Pennsylvanians for Union Reform add to their agenda:
- Tenure Reform – Currently, under the law, teachers receive almost guaranteed permanent employment status through the tenure system, in addition to their union contracted protections. This makes it almost impossible to get rid of bad teachers or reward good ones.
- Reform of Sabbaticals – A teacher can receive paid leave with benefits for education or medical purposes. This is granted under the law and is a benefit which is not part of the contract negotiation process. Plus, it is in addition to any other negotiated benefits, like tuition reimbursement and their ever-accumulating sick time.
- Negotiation Limitations – Since teachers have many guarantees, benefits, and protections under the law, I believe they should be barred from bargaining over things like health coverage, hours, sick leave or vacations. Negotiations should be limited to base pay, and even that should be limited in some way, either to the inflation rate or another similar index.
If you would like to show your support for Pennsylvanians for Union Reform, you can signup for their email list.