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

BREAKING NEWS: New Push For PA School Property Tax Elimination Expected

New Push For PA School Property Tax Elimination Expected

The Octorara Area Board of Directors and Finance Committee met on Monday, January 16, 2017. Eight Board members were in attendance. Anthony Falgiatore was absent.

2017-2018 Budget Update

While the overall agenda was limited, the Finance Committee and Board did receive an update on the 2017-2018 Budget. Some of the presentation was a formalized reporting of what we have already been told. However, there was some new data and projections.

  • Early State Funding Estimates – Our developing budget does not include increases in State spending for Basic Ed, Special Ed , or Ready to Learn. This is because Pennsylvania is suffering from a revenue shortfall of $260 Million, which is expected to grow to $600 Million. There are rumors that some in the General Assembly are working to add $100 Million to Basic Education, but, for now, it is just that… rumors.
  • Anticipated Use of Fund Balance –  In December, the originally reported Anticipated Use of Fund Balance was $577.285. After the actual Debt Service refinancing, this number has increased to $652,775.
  • Taxing to the Act 1 Limit – The current deficit of $1.2 Million and an Anticipated Use of Fund Balance of $652,775 are based on a 3.2% Property Tax increase.

The Blue & The Yellow

The Finance Committee has requested an update of the infamous Blue & Yellow List, which we will loosely describe as a list of potential cuts. Last year’s list included such things as: Continue reading

Starting Down the Road to Octorara’s 2017 Election

Starting Down the Road to Octorara's 2017 Election

The Octorara Board of Directors held their Facilities and Policy Committee Meetings, and the Work Session Meeting on Monday, January 9, 2017. Only six of the nine members were in attendance. Brian Norris, Samuel Ganow, and William Kloss were absent. Additionally, Dr. Thomas Newcome, District Superintendant, was also absent.

This week’s meetings were probably the lightest since I have been on the Board. As a result, there is not much to report. The Policy Committee is working on the DIstrtic’s “Unlawful Harassment” policy. It is a work in progress, and changes are being made to consolidate some redundant language. Also, Facilities received updates on some ongoing projects. They also discussed the positive impact of having the 10-year Facilities Report and the possibility of creating a Long Range Plan as an additional tool.

The Work Session Meeting was also a bit short. What passed as a Budget Presentation was limited to a statement that there have been no changes since the last presentation. However, Mr. Curtis did report that the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) is recommending that districts not budget any revenue increase from state for 2017-2018. As you may be aware, Pennsylvania is suffering from a tax revenue shortfall, and there is no expectation that the state will have the money to spend more.

If Not You… ?

It is that time again. School Board elections are on the ballot in 2017. Moreover, as we have discussed, voters have the capacity to replace 6 of the 9 Board Members, radically altering the balance of the Octorara Area School Board and the direction of the School District. Those positions include 2 seats in each of the 3 regions.  Continue reading

Octorara Eyeing Up 3.2% Property Tax Increase

Octorara Eyeing Up 3.2% Property Tax Increase

The Octorara Area Board of Directors and Finance Committee met on Monday, December 12, 2016. Eight Board members were in attendance. Hank Olejniczak was absent.

Board member absenteeism is a big pet peeve for me. It is something I mentioned privately to Board leadership about this time last year. There were several members of the previous Board that (to me) seemed over the top. In fact, one member, for two consecutive years, knowingly scheduled family vacations when the Board was voting on the budget,,, arguably the most important vote made. This year, I am taking it upon myself to make public the most egregious attendance violator… Hank Olejniczak

  • RS 12/12/2016
  • WS 11/12/2016
  • RS 10/17/2016
  • WS 09/12/2016
  • WS 06/13/2016
  • RS 05/16/2016
  • RS 04/18/2016
  • RS 02/23/2016

Mr. Olejniczak missed 8 of the 23 Board meetings (35%) and corresponding committee meetings. Within those numbers, 5 of 12 Regular Sessions (roughly 41% of voting meetings) were missed. Moreover, Olejniczak could have potentially lost his Board position under 24 P.S. 319 for missing two consecutive Regular Sessions, but the law is a bit vague in defining a “necessary absence”. However, while the law empowers the Board to remove someone like Olejniczak, who has an outrageous record for missing meetings, it does not seem to necessarily compel a vote. It all really comes down to the discretion of Board leadership to make it an issue.

Therefore, since friends don’t vote friends off the Board, it is up to voters to decide if absenteeism is a real issue. Regardless, the only way to know if your Board Members are showing up to meetings is by meticulous tracking absenteeism on your own. There is no reporting mechanism in place to inform taxpayers and the general public of a Board Member’s attendance record. You need to pick through each month’s meeting minutes and chart each them individually.

Hank Oleyniczak is up for re-election this year in Region 2. 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