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

Recapping the Parkesburg Borough Council Candidate Meet & Greet

Recapping the Parkesburg Borough Council Candidate Meet & Greet

On May 3rd, the Parkesburg Action Committee sponsored a Parkesburg Borough Council Candidate Meet & Greet at the Octorara Jr. High Multipurpose Room. Roughly 25 citizens listened to 5-minute speeches given by each of the candidates in attendance, and then had the opportunity personally ask questions.

Firstly, I would like to encourage people to vote for the Parkesburg Borough Council candidates who actually showed up. Two of the candidates, Joseph W Dynesko Jr and Willard J Marsh did not show up, but were invited. Moreover, I was the only Octorara Area School Director and/or candidate who made an appearance to listen and engage with the Parkesburg Borough Council candidates.

We have a total of 6 Octorara Area School Director candidates, across two Regions, asking for Parkesburg residents to vote for them. Only I showed up interested in what is going on with the Borough Council. What does that say about the other Octorara Area School Director candidates? You decide.

Each of the attending candidates made their speeches. There are only Republicans running for Parkesburg Borough Council, and these names will only appear on the Republican ballot on May 16th, These are my takeaways:

1. Kathleen M. Rick (Incumbent) – Kathy Rick talked about how she moved to Parkesburg in 1978, how she loves and cares about the community, and how active she has been over the years. However, what she did not talk about was her vision, goals, or any real issues facing the Borough. It was the same old “community service” and “giving back” rhetoric that we hear from many local establishment types elected looking to maintain the status quo. Continue reading

Octorara 2016-2017 Budget Passes 7-2, Taxes Increase

Octorara 2016-2017 Budget Passes 7-2, Taxes Increase

The Octorara Finance Committee and Board of Directors met on Monday, June 20, 2016. All nine members were in attendance. Brian Norris attended the meeting electronically,

The Budget Vote

In a 7 to 2 vote, the Octorara Area Board of Directors adopted the 2016-2017 General Budget Expenditures in the amount of $51,893,470 with a deficit of $1 Million. The shortfall includes a $350,000 budget contingency, $340,000 of debt service that will receive a credit from refinancing, and $316,000 in anticipated use of Fund Balance. The budget represents a 2.3 percent increase over the 2015-2016 school year. The two dissenting votes were Anthony Falgiatore and myself.

Mr. Falgiatore stated his vote was motivated because of the K-6 Librarian position. As Lisa Bowman (President) pointed out, the conditions I placed on my vote back in August or September determined my no-vote. I was willing to vote for a tax Increase up to the Act 1 limit only if the budget remained flat at $50.7 Million. This would have required additional saving measures of roughly $1.1 Million.

Samuel Ganow (Treasurer) addressed Falgiatore’s vote favoring the K-6 Librarian. He stated that even if the Board saved the Librarian position this year, it would likely be cut next year. In his opinion, the need for additional cuts means that saving the Librarian today will not remove it from the chopping block.

The tax increase on Chester County homeowners to 38.63 mills, and Lancaster County to 28.73 mills passed 8 to 1. I was the lone no-vote.

Blaming PSERS

If you watch the video of last night’s board meeting, you will notice there are Board members firmly pointing the finger at the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System for the District’s financial problems. The original Draft Budget showed benefits increasing by $805,820 (retirement was actually $912K but was offset by other benifit changes) and salaries by $662,383. However, the state reimburses the District 50% of their PSERS contributions, essentially reducing benefits cost increases to only $330K.

Are you glazing over from the numbers yet?

Anyway, they point their finger at retirement costs because, in 2008-2009, the District’s contribution was 4.76 percent of salaries, but today the cost is 30.03 percent. Retirement is growing faster than any other area of the Budget. Moreover, if you look at this year’s budget with blinders on, a person can make the argument that retirement is the main problem. Is it? Is it, really?  Continue reading

District Installs Updated Security Cameras

District Security Cameras

The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held their monthly Work Session Meeting on Monday, Feb,8 2016. Prior were the Policy and Facilities Committee meetings. Eight Board Members were in attendance at the start of the work session. Samuel Ganow arrived late.

The Facilities received a demonstration of new security cameras installed at the Jr/Sr High School. The District had many cameras that had gone beyond their life expectancy and/or were no longer working. The new cameras provide high resolution images, and can be accessed by Emergency Response wirelessly.

The CCIU continues to work to create an Infrastructure Report that the Facilities and Finance Committees can use for long range planning. They are spending 2 weeks in each of the District’s buildings to determine life expectancy of different aspects of the facility. The final report will be used to prioritize upgrades and repairs, and plan for capital fund needs.

The Board was informed that snow removal from “The Blizzard of 2016” cost the District $28,000. We will be applying to PEMA/FEMA for possible reimbursement. The maximum possible amount we could receive is $20,000.

The District’s electricity supplier is offering a 25% reduction in price in exchange for a 2 year commitment. The amount will represent a savings of 15% on the overall bill.

During the work session, the Board was informed Christine Sellers will transfer from a cafeteria employee to a lunch/playground supervisor at the Octorara Intermediate School effective February 16, 2016. (Replacing Tara Busby who resigned.)

The Board was presented with Agenda Items to be voted on at the February 15, 2016 Regular Monthly Public Meeting: Continue reading

Octorara Looking to Make $420,000 in Budget Cuts

Octorara Looking to Make $420,000 in Budget Cuts

The Octorara Finance Committee and Board of Directors met on Monday, January 18, 2015. All Board Directors were in attendance. The major discussions revolved around the 2016-2017 Budget, Legal services rates, and a potential efficiency audit by Leadership Consulting Consortium.

2016-2017 Budget Update

The current draft of the budget, based on the information at this time, includes a deficit of $1.5 Million. As we know from Herbein+Company’s Financial and Compliance Report last month, the District cannot continue to use the Reserve Fund to balance. The District not only has a policy that places limits on Reserve Fund usage, but protection of the Reserve Fund is necessary for the overall financial health of the District. Additionally, a strategy to replenish the Capital Expenditure Fund is needed in order to have sufficient funds to pay for capital expenses.

As a result, the Administration has created a plan to cut the 2016-2017 Budget deficit by $420,000. The strategy is for each grade (plus the Administration as an additional “grade”) work to find roughly $30,000 in cuts. The hope is that the grades could find creative solutions, but all options are on the table, including a reduction in teaching staff.

During the Finance Committee meeting, I brought up my concern that non-academics should be cut first. I did not want cuts that would affect Academic Performance and Growth, if it could be avoided. I don’t know if Dr Newcome was being intentionally obtuse, or was playing Devil’s Advocate, but he asked, “There is an argument to be made that everything is for the benefit of academics. What are you advocating, the elimination of sports?”

As an example, I noted that Octorara’s score for the Keystone Biology test is around 40, when the minimum standard is 70. Overall, the Octorara School District struggles with meeting minimum standards across all grades. I do not want cuts that would negatively impact Math, Reading, Science, and other core academics.

I also noted, the former Athletic Director was developing a plan to save the District by limiting the range teams would be allowed to travel for away games. This had the potential to save a considerable amount of money caused by travel. I would like to see cuts like this before any reductions in teaching staff, or other cuts that could negatively impact academic performance.

As a side note, not mentioned at the meeting…. three cuts I have been advocating for a long while would get us to the goal, and I don’t believe would have a much of an impact;

  • Return to Half-Day Kindergarten – $240,000,
  • Elimination of iPad program – $170,000, and
  • Elimination of Armed Security – $70,000.

The total savings would be $480,000. However, I still don’t believe there is support for these changes. Continue reading