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

Octorara’s December Calm Before The Storm

Octorara's December Calm Before The Storm

The Octorara Board of Directors held their Facilities and Policy Committee Meetings, Reorganization Meeting, and Work Session Meeting on Monday, December 5, 2016. Eight of the nine members were in attendance, William Kloss was absent.

This week’s meetings can be described as mundane. The few topics discussed in committee and at the work session meeting were pretty much routine and ordinary. It is the kind of work that needs doing, but is ultimately very procedural. In fact, next week currently includes only 5 action items scheduled for a vote. However, there were several items of note.

Help Wanted: No Experience Required

During the Reorganization Meeting, it became apparent that Octorara taxpayers have a unique opportunity for real change. This coming year, voters have the ability to replace 6 of the 9 Board Members, fundamentally changing the composition of the Board and the direction of the school district. Those seats include:

  • Anthony Falgiatore, Region 1
  • William Kloss, Region 1
  • Samuel Ganow, Region 2
  • Hank Oleyniczak, Region 2
  • Nelson Stoltzfus, Region 3
  • Timothy Alexander, Region 3

While Mr. Falgiatore and Mr. Kloss’ terms do not technically end until 2019, they were both appointed and can only serve until the next municipal election. Therefore, the persons who win those seats, in 2017, will be the ones to finish those terms.

So, if you are ready to make Octorara great again, then it is time for you to step up. It is time to stop just complaining about high taxes and low academic achievement. It is time to stop sitting on the sidelines grumbling about spending on pet projects and the influence of special interests. It is time for you to stand up and say, “I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”  Continue reading

WOW!! – Octorara Area School District’s 2016-2017 Projection

You're So Vain 

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. Continue reading

What Does Trump Mean to the Octorara Area School District?

What Does Trump Mean to the Octorara Area School District?

The Octorara Board of Directors held their Facilities and Policy Committee Meetings and the Work Session Meeting on Monday, November 14, 2016. Eight of the nine members were in attendance, Hank Oleyniczak was absent.

2016 Student Achievement and Growth Measure: District and Building Response

Elena Wilson, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, lead a presentation to address questions and concerns about the 2016 Pennsylvania School Performance Profiles. For those interested, please go watch the video on The Cube or (eventually) YouTube. However, while interesting, it is dry. The presentation included a look at data points, a list of action items for improvement, each principal talking about their school, and look at the positives. It is a lot. Therefore, I am going to share some points I feel are important.

School Name 2012-13 SPP 2013-14 SPP 2014-15 SPP 2015-16 SPP
Octorara Area JSHS 72.2 65.6 72.7 62
Octorara El Sch 75.1 75 NA 67.4
Octorara Inter Sch 72.8 75 NA 68.7
Octorara Primary LC 77.8 82.4 NA NA
District Average 74.5 74.5 72.7 66.0

Dr. Scott Rohrer – When he spoke to the Board, Dr. Scott Rohrer made the statement that he owns his building’s scores, but he did not feel they reflected the capacity of the JSHS’s students and teachers. Capacity! This is an important, informative, and a reassuring word choice. Moreover, taking ownership is a big deal. It is one of the main characteristics of an effective leader, and it should not be underestimated. Continue reading

Will Octorara Make Cuts to Special Education?

Will Octorara Make Cuts to Special Education?

The Octorara Board of Directors and Finance Committee met on Monday, October 17, 2016. Eight Board members were in attendance. Hank Oleyniczak was absent.

If you attended last night’s meeting, or watched the broadcast, you were treated to a ceremony recognizing  23 new Octorara Heroes.These are high school students who have volunteered to be examples, and pledged a commitment to academic and ethical excellence. What you didn’t see was the 90 percent of the Board conversation, held in a small back room, not broadcasted nor recorded.

Octorara and Special Education

Back in August, the Finance Committee Members were asked, “What big-ticket items do you want to look to find savings for the next budget?” This did not come out of the blue. In June, the Committee was told this question would be asked and to come up with ideas. There was only two: (1) Sam Ganow requested an in-depth analysis of Special Education, and (2) I asked that we examine building consolidation. This week, the Finance Committee started the conversation off with a long presentation and conversation about the cost of Special Education for Octorara.

It took about three-quarters of the meeting to get to this point, but, as it turns out, the Octorara Area School Board of Directors has no real power to reduce spending for Special Education. We could probably try, but it would not be without major consequences, such as lawsuits and  the State and Federal governments withholding funding. I don’t often have nice things to say about Harrisburg and Washington, but this time, they got it right. Special Education children are our children, and our community is responsible for providing for their educational needs. Therefore, the law protects these vulnerable children from School Boards who would use them to balance a budget. Continue reading