Discover the 2017 Candidates for the Octorara Area School Board of Directors

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School Board Elections Matter

The Octorara Board of Directors held their Facilities and Policy Committee Meetings, and the Work Session Meeting on Monday, March 13, 2017. Eight Board members were in attendance. Sam Ganow was absent.

No, we did not receive a snow day. Regardless, I am going to push my update until next week with a combined post after the Regular Meeting. Today, I want to focus on the 2017 Octorara Area School Board of Directors Election.

Unofficial Candidate List

The Unofficial Candidate List is provided by Chester County Voter Services. Within each Region, voters may vote for 2 candidates. Region 2 Democrats should note that you will have only one candidate on your ballot. Additionally, Region 3 has 4 candidates to choose from, which is kinda exciting. Don’t you agree?

⇒ Region 1 (Atglen Borough, Christiana Borough, Parkesburg-North, West Sadsbury Township)

  • William Kloss (Dem/Rep)
  • Anthony Falgiatore (Dem/Rep)

⇒ Region 2 (Sadsbury Township-Lancaster County, West Fallowfield Township)

  • Samual Ganow (Dem/Rep)
  • Jere Lee Zimmerman (Rep only)

⇒ Region 3 (Highland Township, Londonderry Township. Parkesburg-South)

  • Charlie Koennecker Jr (Dem/Rep)
  • Robert Matthew Hurley (Dem/Rep)
  • Rocco Pirozzi Jr (Dem/Rep)
  • Timothy Alexander (Dem/Rep)

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Is Octorara Falling Further Behind in Education Achievement and Growth?

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Is Octorara Falling Further Behind in Education Achievement and Growth?

We have been waiting for the Pennsylvania Department of Education to release their School Performance Profile Scores. At the end of September, PDE did release PSSA and Keystone scores. However, they were still working on the SPP scores which take into account more data points, including academic growth, graduation rates, SAT/ACT college readiness, and more. Those of us who are concerned about Octorara;s academic achievement and growth, and follow these numbers, are going to be disappointed but not surprised.

Today’s post shows the building level scores, makes some comparisons with other districts, and gives those data points that I feel are the most disturbing. However, I encourage every parent and taxpayer to review each report on the state website. This article only touches on a few of Octotara’s shortcomings and it is not a complete picture. It is best that you personally evaluate these reports unfiltered, without the political spin and Clintonesque language used by some Administrators and some other members of the Octorara Area School Board.

Octorara’s Building Level Academic Scores

Key takeaways from the Octorara’s Academic Performance reports:

  • Each school FAILED to meet the state minimum score of 70 – Currently, the PLC’s number is not being reported.
  • District-wide, Octorara is FAILING at Math and Reading – The average combined building score for both PSSA and Keystone tests is 45.68 for Math/Algebra and 59.78 for ELA/Literature. Regardless, none of the buildings reached the minimum standard of 70.
  • Octorara starts out well with Science but quickly drops like a rock. – The Elementary School (3rd and 4th Grades) received a score of 80 for Science, but the score drops to 51.16 for Science/Biology at the JSHS.
  • Octorara 3rd Grade Reading is not improving – The 3rd Grade Reading Benchmark is critical for student success, and the District falls short of minimum standards.

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Octorara’s Enrollment Continues Freefall

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Octorara's Enrollment Continues Freefall

The Octorara Board of Directors held their Facilities and Policy Committee Meetings and the Work Session Meeting was held on Monday, September 12, 2016. Hank Oleyniczak was absent.

How Low Can We Go?

Earlier this year, Dr. Newcome provided the Board with the District’s student population history from 1990-91 to 2015-16. It showed that Octorara’s enrollment had dropped to its lowest since 1994-95. The 2489 student population was a drop of 248 students (a 9% loss) since 2008-09. At the time, I wrote, “Any more losses and we will have to look back 25-30 years to find a lower enrollment number.” Well, get ready…

Last night, Sam Ganow asked Dr. Newcome for Octorara’s 2016-17 student population. At the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, the District has reached a historic low of 2404 students or a 3.4% drop in just one year. This is a loss of 333 students or a 12% decline within 8 years, and a population so low we will have to look back to the 1980s or maybe even 1970s for similar numbers.

I have been trying to make people aware of Octorara’s population problem for a long time and argued for building consolidation. Back in 2013, there were 2,502 students and the trending decline was obvious. Regardless, many Board members at the time were unwilling to accept this reality. Even today, there are Board Members who will describe building consolidation, as a budget-saving measure, as “a stupid idea.” This is despite the fact that the students that were the reason for building the OIS never appeared. Moreover, the children that were the reason for building the PLC have completely vanished.

Why is this happening? I think it is because young families do not find our area attractive. The property taxes are the highest in the area, and continue to go up drastically yer after year. This makes Octorara properties less attractive than other adjacent communities. Add to this the reality that our area has virtually no jobs, no shopping, and no entertainment. Worse yet, businesses are leaving the area or closing faster than new ones coming in. The combination of the District’s high taxes, and a general unwillingness of local municipalities to develop and revitalize the area, means young families are choosing other places.

Push to Change Track Terms… Again

At last nights Facilities Committee, Dr. Newcome gave an update on Track progress, Additional stone for the base has increased the cost by $26,575. Under the terms of the agreement and vote from September 2015, this cost is the responsibility of the Field Development Task Force. The Board approved spending 50% of the cost, not to exceed $210,000. Nonetheless, the total project has increased to $445,508. The Field Development task Force is now responsible for $235,508. Continue reading

UPDATED: Lancaster Online Investigates Raccoon Shooting

Lancaster Online Investigates Raccoon Shooting

Early Wednesday morning, I was contacted by a Lancaster Online staff reporter regarding Octorara’s recent raccoon incident. The news organization had received a call from a citizen, concerned about how the whole episode unfolded. Lancaster Online found the controversy to be newsworthy, and went to look deeper into what happened.

Read their article here: Octorara parents upset they weren’t told district security officer shot, killed raccoon on campus

Have you ever heard the saying, “It is not the crime, it is the coverup”? Well, I think that all perfectly encapsulates this situation. Another Board Member is quoted as saying, “I think that Dr. Newcome acted very appropriately in not notifying so as to keep it from becoming more of an issue than it really is.” This is exactly why open records and transparency laws exist. Government agencies should not withhold information because they fear a negative public reaction.

This week, I attended the CCIU Board of Directors Meeting. Talking about a different subject, an official from another district stated, “The best policy is to share bad news, and share it often.” The public does not trust officials when they believe they are not being completely upfront and straightforward. Making information open and easily accessible goes a long way. Democracy relies on a government that is transparent, participatory, and collaborative. Don’t you agree?

All that said, Lancaster Online interviewed Dr. Newcome, three Board Members, the security officer, Pete Mango (the local Signal 88 franchise owner), and the Chester County Health Department. There was an attempt to contact the West Fallowfield Police Department, but they could not be reached. As with other conversations, others seemed much more focused on talking about the “how”, as in how the raccoon was killed and if it was procedurally correct. Of course, my focus is on the “why”… as in, “Why were the parents not notified,” and “Why did the incident happen at all?” Continue reading

Lice Infestations, Property Taxes & School District Transparency

Skyrocketing Property Taxes & School District Transparency

I want to start my blog by thanking every person who showed up at last night’s meeting. In my opinion, believe it or not, that was probably the most productive School Board Meeting that I have attended. That was all because motivated people came out and spoke up. Before today, I don’t believe that some of my Board colleagues thought I expressed the real opinions of real people. They needed to hear what I have heard for the last 4 years. That said, real change will require citizens to become activists.

Many of those who attended last night’s meeting passionately spoke about the real impact of our high taxes. One speaker offered to provide the Board with a powerpoint report that revealed her own independent research about spending and return on investment. Others talked about the negative impact on home values, the difficulties selling properties, and how young families are not choosing our area. There are those who like living here, but taxes are forcing them to leave.

In addition, there were parents who were angry that the District did not think to communicate with parents when the security guard fired his weapon to kill a raccoon. The idea that parents should have been notified seemed confusing to some Board members. Parents expressed genuine outrage, sometimes shouting from the audience, when Board members attempted to defend the lack of communication.

= Firearm Use & Transparency =

The recent incident with Octorara’s security officer using his firearm is an almost perfect example of why I originally ran for the School Board. When I first started going to Board Meetings on a regular basis, I created this website to document my experience. Very quickly, one of the main focuses was highlighting issues that I believed the District was not being completely forthright about. When I was elected, one of my promises was to keep the public informed about issues they may not find out about just by attending a Board Meeting,  Continue reading

Gunshots Fired by Octorara’s Campus Security 

Gunshots Fired by Octorara's Campus Security

On March 29th, the Octorara Area Board of Director’s received a collective email from Dr. Newcome. There was an incident on the Octorara campus. An unwelcome trespasser was spotted. The West Fallowfield Police were called, but they were not on duty. Luckily, the armed Signal 88 security officer was ready and leaped into action. The intruder was quickly found and a foot chase ensued. The individual was about to get away. So, the security officer drew his weapon, then shot and killed the intruder.

Who was this monster who forced our security officer to use his firearm? A raccoon. It was a small, furry critter who was on our property, behind the High School and near the Agricultural Building, probably looking for food. Last year, during a similar situation, the District contacted animal control. The advice they received was to let the local police department handle the situation. From the memory of that conversation with an unnamed and unaccountable person on the phone, this year our District jumped to the decision to use our security officer as pest control and authorized the use of a firearm to handle the situation. Goodness knows how many countless lives were saved as a result. (I hope I don’t need to explain sarcasm.)

It took me a few days to process, but this was my written response:

I had to take some time to think about this. I am not comfortable with a discharge of a firearm on or near the campus to deal with a rodent. From the account, Pete and Rick were able to “shepherded the raccoon off the campus” and the animal does not seem to have been any kind of threat. Regardless of any training or experience, firing a weapon does have inherent safety risks. Ultimately, I believe this was reckless and inappropriate.

I presume, since it was not noted in the email, that parents were not made aware of this action. I believe it is important to make the public aware of what happened. Moreover, I think we need to have a public discussion about what constitutes the proper use of a firearm by our security officer. Personally, I don’t believe it is ever appropriate for the security officer to even draw his weapon without an imminent threat to students and staff.

The security officer has an intended purpose of dealing with active shooters and acts of violence. He is not there for pest control. In the kindest terms, this incident has me pissed off.

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Are You Prepared for Another Property Tax Hike?

Octorara Enrollment History

The Octorara Area Board of Directors and Finance Committee met on Monday, March 20, 2017. Seven Board members were in attendance. Sam Ganow and Hank Oleyniczak were both absent.

Push Back on a False Narrative

If you watched the live-stream of last night’s meeting, you would have heard Lisa Bowman, Board President, claim that there had been no suggestions or support for Budget reductions from any Board Member. I had to push back and spoke up. I had to remind Bowman that just in November, we had a heated discussion about building consolidation. In fact, since the very beginning of the budget process, I have suggested other ideas like returning to half-day kindergarten, eliminating the 1-to-1 iPad program, and getting rid of the armed security guard. I have even advocated taking a close look at CTE programs.

While these ideas may not be popular with other Board Members, the notion that no Board Member has supported reductions, that would limit the budget’s growth, is a complete and utter deception. If you watch the video, you will see that Bowman did immediately walk back her statement when confronted. Regardless, this has become habitual behavior from both her and Brian Norris. Almost every year, since I have been on the Board, either she, Norris, or both have tried to make claims like this or that certain votes meant more than written. Each time, I have had to push back.

There is a reality with our financial situation. Years before the 2016-17 budget, I warned that cuts were inevitable, while certain other Board Members were describing me as Chicken Little. I stated that if we did not control the growth of the budget, the choice of making cuts will be taken out of our hands. That is exactly what happened. Last year, the Board passed a budget with roughly $600,000 in cuts and taxed up to the legal limit. Even with that, it required a significant use of Fund Balance. That said, we did really luck out with interest rates and being able to refinance more debt, and that savings may end up eliminating this year’s deficit. But we all need to appreciate the luck that was involved that this was able to happen. Continue reading