Gerrymandering and Octorara Area School District Election Regions

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PARKESBURG, PA — When many think of gerrymandering, it is in connection with state and federal level elections. Additionally, it is often characterized as a form of partisan politics and a way for one political party to have an unfair advantage. Yet, gerrymandering is the manipulation of election boundaries for the advantage of any group, not just political parties.  In the Octorara Area School District, some would allege that School Board officials intentionally make use of gerrymandering “cracking” to dilute the voting power of Borough of Parkesburg residents.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Parkesburg has 3,593 residents and is the largest municipality within the School District. However, Parkesburg’s voters are split between Octorara’s Region 1 and Region 3. “Until recently I assumed gerrymandering was a fact of life- I have lived Parkesburg all my adult life and knew nothing else,” states Mel Keen, a former Parkesburg Borough Councilperson.  “I think Parkesburg was split to reduce Parkesburg voter power. Now we have little say since the majority of both regions is from townships.”

The claimed impact of “cracking” Parkesburg is for the “packing” of voters from less populated communities into election regions. Regardless, gerrymandering has significant impacts on the representation received by voters in any gerrymandered district or region. Ultimately, gerrymandering’s goal is to design election regions that increase the number of wasted votes among a certain segment and drastically alter that group’s actual share of the voting population. So, by diluting Parkesburg’s voting power, some would contend that the Octorara Area School District can ignore or dismiss the Borough’s needs.

Continue reading on MyChesCo… →

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The Daily Local News Compares Chester County High Schools

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The Daily Local News Compares Chester County High Schools

On April 25th, The Daily Local News compared and ranked Chester County High Schools based on analysis done by U.S. News and World Reports. Using publically available data and statistics, the analysis comparing Chester County High Schools created a list not all that dissimilar to when one compares the Building Level Academic Scores from the state’s School Performance Profiles.

Comparison of Chester County High Schools

1. Conestoga High School
2. Unionville High School
3. Great Valley High School
4. Avon Grove High School
5. West Chester East High School
6. West Chester Bayard Rustin High School
7. Kennett High School
8. Downingtown High School West Campus
9. Phoenixville Area High School
10. Octorara Area Junior/Senior High School
11. Coatesville Area Senior High School

As in previous analyses, the only school district with a worse performance than Octorara is Coatesville. Of course, this is not breaking news. We have known for a long time about Octorara’s declining academic performance.

However, what I do question is, why The Daily Local News did not list all Chester County high schools? For instance, Downingtown High School East Campus and Owen J Roberts High School also received scorecards from U.S. News, but the media outlet chose not to list them. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

Octorara Area SD: The Foxes Are Running the Hen House

Octorara Area SD: The Foxes Are Running the Hen House

You know, after five years of fighting with tax-and-spenders who are more interested in image than substance, I needed a break. Wouldn’t you? There is a lot of stress dealing with people who would place the wants of the few over the needs of the many. Yet, it did not take long for the Octorara Area School Board to fully embrace their spending ways.

At the very first voting session after the 2017 Election, the Board voted to absolve the Octorara Community Stadium Task Force of the remaining balance owed, which is roughly $2,260. Why? The fact is what I warned would happen did happen. Once the new track was in place, all enthusiasm for fundraising fell flat.

Download the December Meeting Minutes: Dec 11-17 Reg Meeting Minutes

It was, for this reason, that back during the September 2015 vote, there were Board Members (not just myself) who argued to limit the District’s liability and not move forward until the Octorara Community Stadium Task Force had cash-in-hand. Nevertheless, the Board leadership and Administration almost immediately began to work at working around that Board action. Continue reading

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.  Continue reading

Octorara’s Financial Challenges for This and Next Year

Octorara's Financial Challenges for This and Next Year

Those who have been paying attention know that in June, the Octorara Area School Board passed a budget with full knowledge that spending was far outpacing revenue. This means the DIstrict must either take active measures this year, like not replacing retiring teachers, or make cuts in the upcoming 2018-2019 budget. The Finance Committee Meeting, held on September 18, has revealed some “new” (notice the quotes) issues that will compound the problem. So, let’s talk about some of that.

Pennsylvania’s Budgetary Woes

This is not news. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is having some serious budget and revenue issues. Octorora’s budget relies on receiving roughly $14 million from the state. However, as a consequence of the problems, around $10 million of that funding is at risk. The District has around $8 million in Reserve. So, there is a potential for the DIstrict to literally run out of money before the end of 2017-18, forcing the need for a short-term loan to keep things rolling.

How did this happen? When people hear the term Progressive, they think about left-wing types. Yet, many Republicans love to self-identify as Conservative, when they are really right-wing Progressives. What is the difference between left and right-wing Progressives? Not much. They both love large, bloated, and intrusive government. They both love to spend your money. The only difference is their priorities and the issues important to them. And, that is what we have in Harrisburg, despite the Republican legislature… a fat, bloated state government that loves to write checks they can’t pay for. Continue reading

Dr. Newcome Announces His Resignation and Retirement 

Dr. Newcome Announces His Resignation and Retirement

The Octorara Board of Directors held their Facilities, Policy, and Finance Committee Meetings, and the Regular Meeting on Monday, July 17, 2017. Eight Board members were in attendance. Anthony Falgiatore was absent.

Yes, Virginia, There is a Property Tax Increase

Last month, for the first time, I missed a Board Meeting. It was caused by an unavoidable situation. Unfortunately, it also occurred on the night of the budget and tax votes. We all know that my one “no” vote was not going to change the outcome, but it is the principle of it all.

Nevertheless, on June 19th, the Board did vote to approve the 2017-2018 General Fund Budget in the amount of $54 million. Additionally, they approved to increase property taxes in Chester County to 39.49 mills and in Lancaster County to 29.45 mills.

Newcome’s Resignation and Retirement

At last night’s meeting, the Board accepted Dr. Thomas Newcome’s resignation, for the reason of retirement, as Superintendent of the Octorara Area School District. The resignation is effective June 2018, and the District will be announcing its plans for a Superintendent search.

Now, I know there are those who will be tempted to make negative comments about Dr. Newcome’s impact and legacy. Franky, my opinion about Dr. Newcome’s time as Superintendent is well documented. Yet, no good will come from beating that drum. Collectively, we need to see this as a new chapter for Octorara that provides opportunities for growth and improvement. So, going forward, I would ask that any comments on this blog be kind when speaking about Dr. Newcome. Continue reading