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

Newcome Provides List of Possible Budget Reductions

Newcome Provides List of Possible Budget Reductions

The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held their monthly Work Session Meeting on Monday, March 14, 2016. Prior were the Policy and Facilities Committee meetings. All nine Board Members were in attendance. Linda Bicking attended the work session electronically.

What Budget Cuts Do You Want?

From the Work Session, the major item of note was Dr. Newcome’s presentation of potential reductions. This was provided in advance of budget discussions at next week’s Finance Committee Meeting. The list is significant, identifying almost $5.9 Million in potential budget cuts. Items ranged from minor cuts worth only $1,500 in savings to individual cuts over $1 Million.

What was originally asked of the Administration was to work with each school to find $420,000. To accomplish this, the Administration tasked each grade with finding $30,000 in savings. The idea was that having each principle, working with the staff, would be able to find cuts that had minimal impact on programs.

However, the list presented was not all that dissimilar to potential reduction lists (aka cut lists) presented by the Administration in the past. The presentation was also only a list of what could be cut. There were no specific recommendations, but the list was segregated into two categories: those that may affect programs and those that will affect programs.

Potential reductions included:

  • Miscellaneous cuts to Administration spending.
  • Reduction to building budgets by 10%.
  • Teaching cuts:
    • Substitute teachers reduction by reducing administrative leave by 30%.
    • Choosing not to replace multiple retiring/resigning teachers in K-4.
    • Not replacing or reducing a Special Education Teacher.
    • Not replacing or reducing a Spanish position.
    • Cutting a Music teacher.
    • Eliminating an Instructional Assistant position.
    • Elimination of a Reading Specialist.
    • Eliminate Librarian.
  • Returning Kindergarten to half-day or eliminating altogether.
  • Eliminating In-School Suspensions (ISS).
  • Reducing coaching staff.
  • Reducing or eliminating the Security Guard Positions.
  • Eliminate all technology.
  • Eliminate Athletics.
  • Eliminate Non-Athletic supplemental contracts.
  • Eliminate Bussing.

Continue reading

School Board Work Session Receives Zero Public Attendance

School Board Work Session Receives Zero Public AttendanceThe Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held its monthly Work Session meeting on October 13, 2014, as well as the Facilities Committee Meeting. All School Board Members were in attendance, and with no members of the public choosing to attend.

During the Work Session, the Board reviewed the Agenda Items, including a transportation contract with Linville Hill Mennonite for the 2014-2015 school year, a student activity request for the Class of 2018, and regular hirings and changes in status, to be voted on at the Regular Meeting on October 20th.

Dr Scott Rohrer provided this video presentation, to the Board and public, about the Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week, a one-of-a-kind summer program that offers in-coming high school juniors and seniors a unique and challenging opportunity to see what it is like to run their own business.

Linville Hill Mennonite Busing

During the presentation the the agenda, Samuel Ganow expressed concern the language of the busing contract seemed to infer that Octorara was paying the cost to transport both Octorara and Oxford students.

Continue reading

A Potentially Major Unexpected Expense… or nothing at all

The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held its monthly Work Session meeting on September 8, 2014, as well as the Facilities Committee Meeting. Eight Board Members were in attendance at the Work Session, with Hank Oleyniczak absent. Also not present was Dr Newcome, who is out of town.

During the Work Session, the Board reviewed the Agenda Items, including Althouse Transportation drivers, bus routes, and regular hirings and changes in status, to be voted on at the Regular Meeting on September 15th.

Summer Projects Complete

The Facilities Committee received a report of completed Summer Projects that included:

  1. Painting (that included 7 classrooms),
  2. OES Paving,
  3. Bus Fueling Area,
  4. Culinary Arts Classroom,
  5. JRHS Cafeteria asbestos removal, and
  6. High School Cafeteria Floor repair and refinishing.

High School Water Infiltration

The District is waiting on a final solution to be proposed, but it appears fixing the “pipe to nowhere” will be an involved project. The Facilities Committee reiterated their commitment that this issue not cost taxpayers.

PLC Efflorescence & JRHS Masonry Specs

calculator-how-much-scaledIt appears that the Efflorescence problem, those ugly white stains on the masonry at the PLC, has the potential of being a Safety Issue. Therefore, the Facilities Committee is leaning toward recommending moving forward with core testing the brick. However, the current estimated price of the testing will be $15,000 – $20,000. The Committee has asked that multiple quotes be obtained.

The Efflorescence problem could, as had been believed for years, be just an aesthetics issue, but it could also be a serious safety issue if water has gotten behind the brick. It could become a major unexpected financial issue if a problem is found.

The Committee received word that the Specs for the JRHS Masonry project will cost at least $21,300. Additional information on the pricing was requested before moving forward.

School Safety: RAPTOR System Installed

Raptor is “the nation’s leading visitor management system for school security, providing instant sex offender and background checks to enhance school safety.” A visitor’s Driver’s License or other state issued ID is scanned, and Raptor will instantly screen for registered sex offenders in all 50 states, for individuals with restraining orders, custody issues, for suspended or expelled students, for known gang members, or for any custom alert. Implementation is pending policy creation.

The Cost of School Safety and Security

b-501The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held its monthly Regular Meeting on August 18, 2014, as well as the Finance Committee and Policy Committee Meetings. Only six Board Members were in attendance at the Regular Meeting. Sheri Melton, Shawna Johnson, and Leon Lapp were absent.

During the Regular Meeting, the Board approved all listed recommended action items, including hirings and changes in status. The only questions raised (first by me, then by Mr Ganow on my behalf) was that of several low-wage, hourly staff members… where they all collective bargaining positions (meaning, with wages defined under union contract)? They all were.

Why did I ask this? If you go back to my July 22nd post you will notice I got a little wild hair growing about the number of hourly employees at Octorara that are making less than a living wage. I wrote, base on what I spoke about at July’s meeting,

We live in a District with a very high percentage of Economically Disadvantage and, in my opinion, too many of the District’s own employees are getting paid less than a Living Wage. There are many that would say $10.20/hr is too low for Chester County, but this would be a step in the right direction.

We have, in my opinion, two distinct dichotomies within the Octorara School District. On one hand, we have the average Classroom Teacher being paid an above average salary, and far above neighboring districts. On the other, we have hourly employees that are being grossly underpaid for their level of service and commitment.

I don’t favor living wage legislation, nor do I support minimum wage laws. However, whether one is a government agency or a private business,  I do believe in paying a person a reasonable salary for the work they do, and I do not think that is the case at the moment for Octorara.

Do I think a teenager at McDonald’s flipping burgers should be paid $15/hr? No! Do I think the staff at Octorara, who work with our kids day in and day out, should at least get paid $10.20/hr? Absolutely!

Is Student Drug Testing Coming to Octorara?

After reviewing Lampeter-Strasburg School District’s Drug Screening Policy, the Policy Committee this evening instructed Dr Newcome to begin working on a version that makes sense for Octorara. If implemented, there could be random testing for all students who participate in extra-curricular activities or who have a pass to drive their car to school.

Lampeter-Strasburg’s program costs $12,000 per year to implement. Why would we spend this money? Because a Drug Screening Program addresses a real issue within the District, as apposed to a “ghost shooter.” (You may find it hard to believe, but “ghost shooter” was not at all my words.)

Looking at this was pushed by Brian Norris, and is something I can wholeheartedly get behind. It is a real student safety issue based on realities which exist in our area, not false fears.

Signal 88 Awarded Armed Security Officer Contract

The vote to award the Armed Security Officer Contract was not specifically scheduled for a vote at this week’s meeting, but a motion to award the contract was made by Samuel Ganow to end what was becoming a circular discussion on the topic. The contract was awarded to Signal 88 of Octorara with a 5 to 1 vote, with myself as the only “no” vote.

So, why did I vote no? Continue reading