Octorara: Will This Be a Transformation Year?

Octorara: Will This Be a Transformation Year?

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.

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4 thoughts on “Octorara: Will This Be a Transformation Year?

  1. I am glad to see you are still blogging about the schoolboard. I have been paying attention, just not able to attend right now. I assume the same people on the board are still in denial that the money is going to run out and the same ones thinking there is no place to cut expenditures. I think they need to listen to Mr. Curtis although I think it may be almost too late. Thank you for mentioning “Pennsylvanias for Union Reform”. You are right… there are other issues they could tackle, but they are focused on the immediate top three. Those bills never made it through the House/Senate when there was Governor that would sign them. If we are to remain viable , as state employer for Teachers, we need to get these items through the legislature once and for all. These items are hurting all school districts.

    • Thank you for your comments. Yes, I am certainly still blogging and plan to for the foreseeable future. However, I am planning to limit posts to roughly once a month. I think that is more than enough unless there is an issue that needs consistent focus and updating.

  2. Glad you’ll be keeping your hand in, Tim, but I suspect I speak for many in saying that it just won’t be the same without you on the board. And if I had my druthers not only would you still be on the board, but your hand would be on the tiller, as president.

    Alas, to give the devil his due, Brian Norris, and others, were ultimately successful in their long-running, sometimes overt/sometimes semi-clandestine campaign to demonize you, to stop you. From the time you first announced your candidacy and certain rats came out of the woodwork to try to smear you any which way they could, to the last year of your service when Brian Norris felt compelled to start “that other website” (which was in fact a closed Facebook forum intended for true believers and to spread the swill that all was just fine with the OASD), the long knives of irresponsibility, unaccountability, and blithe smoking of pipe dreams were out for you. So as we sow, so shall we reap.

    Your absence from the board will have repercussions, some virtually certain, some just highly likely, but none that I can think of which will be positive:

    1. Fair, balanced, objective reporting and communication with all residents will dwindle to next-to-nothing. What — should we expect that Brian Norris, in a moment of conscience, will suddenly decide to pick up your mantle and start writing a newsletter or a blog to report on what the board is up to? Should we expect that any other board member will decide to become the conscience- and communicator-in-chief? No. So, largely, from here on the only way to keep up with what the board is up to will be to attend not just general board meetings, but committee meetings as well. But, but, since public attendance has in recent years been next-to-nothing, I suspect we’re about to find out how much lower it can go. (Somebody remember to turn out the lights.) So communication, the lifeblood of democracy, will almost surely suffer now that you’re gone from the fray, from the arena.

    2. Suffer also will almost surely be good, robust, debate and argumentation. While you were still on the board there always existed the possibility that not all voices would be raised in a uniform ‘aye’ to adopt whatever impractical spending was the current hot thing. Henceforth, I fear and suspect, there will be no one to say: ‘Wait a minute, let’s look at this more carefully…let’s look at this through the prism of cost and benefit…and above all, let’s consider whether the cash-strapped taxpayers can afford it.’ No, without you on the board, I fear there will almost always be near unanimous consent to go along with whatever Lisa Bowman and Brian Norris want. And that is a truly scary thought.

    3. I figure that the time of fact-based debate and argument is over, if it ever truly existed. During your tenure on the board, Tim, as near as I was ever able to tell, you were the only one who ever took the time to drill down into federal and state education policies, regulations, and a host of government minutia bearing on how schools should be run. And when you spoke or wrote you served it up chapter and verse. All or almost all other board members, it always seemed to me, could not have cared less, content to stay largely ignorant of the facts and to stupidly take their marching orders from Bowman and Norris. So sad.

    4. Like 99.95% of residents I do not regularly attend board meetings. I know I should, but so should all the others, especially the parents of OASD students. Shame, shame on them. And shame also on the board. The board does nothing — zero, zilch, nada — to encourage attendance. I really don’t think they want too many people in the peanut gallery, since the more people in attendance the more questions might be asked. And for anyone who has ever attended a board meeting it should be clear that they, the board, don’t make it easy to ask a question or to lodge a complaint. And even when an attendee manages to ask a question or speak his/her piece, he/she is most commonly met with stony silence, a placating ‘thank you for your input,’ or evasion. That’s just how it is in board meetings: pro forma dispatch of routine matters, with nary an effort to go beyond, to reach out and bring in, to make citizen taxpayers feel as though they count, as though they matter. It shouldn’t and it doesn’t have to be that way. The board surely has access to the street and/or email address of every taxpayer in the district. Imagine if the board extended a sincere invitation to all to attend an open-ended meeting where the routine business would be wrapped-up in 30 minutes or less, after which sandwiches, and pizza, and hors d’ oeuvres would be served along with refreshments. And imagine if all members of the board affixed their personal signatures to the invitation, signifying that they personally, and sincerely, wanted all residents to come out so that they and their colleagues could hear the personal views and concerns of the people who they purport to represent. And imagine if the board did this annually, or better yet semi-annually. Would that not likely cause a spike in board meeting attendance? And would that not likely be a good thing for all parties concerned? I know this: the board seems to have little difficulty in approving quarter-million dollar expenditures for new bleachers, half-million dollar expenditures to resurface the track, and I-Pads for every student, all in an effort to keep up with the far richer Chester County school districts to our east. And while I do not necessarily denigrate that effort, I will simply say that surely the board should be able to find within its budget a few hundred, or even a few thousand dollars to spring for some pizza and some donuts and some coffee and other libations to try to entice residents to come out, and hopefully to become engaged.

    Now that you’re gone, Tim, we will see what we shall see. Will communication be effectively snuffed-out? Will anyone step up to try to take your place? Will there ever again be debate based on facts rather than propaganda-driven emotion? Will the board, even if still led by Bowman and Norris, understand the need for reform, and for invitational welcomeness, such that all board members recognize, as you always did, that their duties and responsibilities do not begin nor end with their own attendance at general and committee board meetings. God love ’em all, they serve unpaid, but that does not exonerate them from doing the hard work, as you always did, of knowing the issues, and being willing to make the hard, practical decisions. They asked for the job. Let them live up to it as well as you did.

    C. Vail

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