Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Moving Forward Although Some Digress

The Board meeting opened with the recognition of some of the District's best in academics, service and athletics. The 12 National Merit Finalists from East, Henderson and Rustin who represent the top 1% of scholars in the country were recognized for the achievement as well as members of East's girls swimming relay team. These students exemplify WCASD at its best, illustrating that a quality education combined with exceptional co-curricular programs are valuable. Everyone in attendance was delighted for these students.

Hopefully, the full board meeting held last evening, March 26th, marks a turning point in positive interaction with the Board and community members. Although, the policy KCA was passed unanimously, the Board answered questions and addressed concerns from the public which it has been avoiding in recent months. Policy KCA effectively allows the presiding committee chair to determine the public comment period, allowing for comments before or after the meeting or on each agenda item during the meeting. All the Board members relayed the policy doesn't change how meetings will be run but provides additional levers to maintain an effective meeting. It does beg to ask why change a policy if nothing is actually going to be changing. Almost all of the Committee Chairs felt sure that meetings would continue to run as they always have in the past. Although, Heidi Adsett said that she couldn’t make any promises. Maureen Snook reminded us all that there are many avenues to communicate with the Board; but that “the staff knows much more of the details than the Board” (I am guessing she is referring to Administration).

Mr. Carpenter and Dr. Moore presented a 4 year budget outlook. The report was well done and clearly depicts the financial position and budget imbalance the District faces over the next 4 years. Click here to access the Budget Presentation.

I congratulate the District and the Board for presenting this outlook and providing their thoughts after the presentation. Mr. Carpenter indicated the earned income tax for the District is up year over year as a positive economic indicator for the increase; Mrs. Miller positively answered a direct question about agreeing to the Act 1 increase. Dr. Pimley graciously stated that although a lot the budget imbalance is due to the pension plan, this is no fault of the teachers. Mr. Coyle noted that the PSERS increase is beyond our control. He encouraged all stakeholders to contact their legislators to lobby for change in Harrisburg. Dr. Scanlon said that everyone has worked hard to increase efficiencies without affecting the programs but that we must continue to look ahead when making budgets. Despite that, not everyone on the Board remained constructive.

One Board member still bothered by comments made last year when parents were fearful of cuts to arts and music asked Dr. Moore to reminisce with her, back to last June, when members of the community affirmed their willingness to pay a slight tax increase, many actually offering “donations” when it became clear there would be no increase. Noting her “curiosity”, this Board member went on to question Dr. Moore about the actual number of “donations” received during that period. As luck would have it, Dr. Moore had those figures at her immediate disposal: 5 Board members and 3 members of the community “donated”, but no amounts were given. Head nodding and with a look of deep contemplation on her face, she commented she found that number “interesting”, but would have “expected more” from people. And that was it: no conclusion drawn, no solution offered or comment made on the CURRENT budget, just an indirect, unproductive and contrived joust at this community. She then voted yes to pass the budget resolution which I thought contradicted her statements. Maureen Snook was the sole vote against passing the preliminary budget that calls for the 1.7% tax increase.

No matter, it seems most of the new Board Directors as well as the veteran members are moving forward and are proactively addressing this year's budget and the years ahead implementing task force recommendations judiciously, cutting expenses where applicable, creating new revenue streams and agreeing to resolutions to get mandate relief from the State. Furthermore, any savings over the budget are put into the reserved fund balance to offset future imbalances.

For More Info:
From West Chester Patch
School Board to Increase Property Taxes by 1.7 Percent
School Board Changes Public Comment Policy
From Daily Local News
Pensions, mandates shackle schools in suburban districts
Budget proposal reflects 1.7% tax hike in West Chester Area
West Chester Area School District Board Meeting Highlights

Thursday, March 22, 2012

3/19/12 Property & Finance Committee Meeting

The 3/19 P&F meeting had a large agenda, but the meeting moved along well and lasted less than 2 hours. There were about 10 people in the audience which is less than usual, but some people were most likely attending the Attorney General's presentation at Stetson. That is where board member Maureen Snook was, and Maria Pimley was also not in attendance at the meeting but came later for the Executive Session.

Several administrative items related to the Westtown-Thornbury and Penn Wood renovations were covered by Kevin Campbell:

  1. Indemnity Agreement with Westtown Township: The committee agreed by a 4-0 vote for the district to absolve the township of any building inspections during the construction process of the 2 school renovations. This removes any risk to the township as they are held harmless, and allows the district to save on duplicate building inspection fees.
  2. Inspection Services: The committee agreed by a 4-0 vote to approve 2 firms for the construction testing and inspection services at W-T and PW.
  3. As-Built and Progression Photos: The committee agreed by at 4-0 vote to hire Multivista Construction Documents to provide photographic documentation of the renovations and additions at W-T and PW. The estimated cost is ~$41k and this cost is included in the existing renovation budgets.

The following financial items were discussed:

  1. Posting of Monthly Treasurer’s Report: Sean Carpenter recommended that each month’s Treasurer’s Report (which lists checks to be issued) be posted to the district website after board approval at the monthly meeting so that individuals do not have to request it.
  2. Financial Impact Study of Revised Transportation Plan: A summary report of the financial impact of the reduction in the number of buses due to bell schedule changes and bus stop reduction was reviewed (additional detail can be found on the district website). The report showed that 26 buses were reduced compared to the anticipated 23, and that taking into account vendor contract and fuel charge increases, the district saved $1,232k vs. the $1,150k projected.
  3. Review of Budget Forecast Model: Dr. Moore reviewed changes to the current financial projections.
    -2011/12: Projected expenses have decreased by $341k and this savings will be used to offset the anticipated gap for the 2013/14 school year. No changes have been forecasted for revenues, however they will continue to monitor tax collections and we could see some changes at the end of the school year. -2012/13: Revenues have increased by ~$362k due to the addition of activity and advertising fees which were approved at the last board meeting. Expenses have decreased by ~$982k, mostly due to the anticipated impact of Budget Committee Task Force initiative approvals (e.g., reduction of 7.9 FTEs). The result is a $1,345k favorable impact to our budget; $853k of it will be used to balance the 12/13 budget, and the remainder will be put in the General Fund Balance. If the Act 1 Index 1.7% tax increase is taken and $1.4M is taken from our fund balances ($1.2M from the PSERS Fund and $178k from the General Fund), our budget will balance. -2013/14 and beyond: the latest forecast still shows sizable gaps to be closed for the out years due to rapidly increasing PSERS expense and anticipated slow growth in the local tax base and state funding.
  4. 2012-13 Budget Calendar and Resolution for Approval: The board voted 4-0 to adopt a resolution to publish the Proposed 12/13 budget on 3/27 and to adopt that budget as final on 4/30 (it was stated that the 4/23 board meeting would be moved to 4/30). There are 2 things about this that puzzle me. First, the final budget is not due until June 30th; given the unknowns of the labor contract negotiations and any changes that will be made to the state budget, why not wait the 2 months so that the best data is used? Second and more importantly, the proposed budget includes the Act 1 Index 1.7% tax increase. I commented at the meeting that I had not heard anyone discuss their position on the tax increase, so was wondering when that was going to occur. Sean Carpenter stated that he believed the tax increase would be passed, but that any board member had the option to bring it up for discussion or express disagreement to it between now and April 30th. The room got very quiet and many of the board members looked down at the table, so I'm not quite sure what's going on there.

Next on the agenda was the discussion of 2 Board Resolutions. For those unfamiliar with resolutions, they are formal legal documents that the board votes on and if a majority approves, are signed by the board president and secretary. Depending on their topic and whether some action is being requested, these resolutions may be forwarded on; the resolutions that were discussed tonight would be sent to the PA General Assembly as they deal with state law and financing.

The first resolution discussed was the Resolution Supporting the School District Exemption from the Prevailing Wage Act (HB 709). This resolution requests that the PA General Assembly enact House Bill #709 which would exempt school districts from paying Prevailing Wage which they are currently required to do for construction projects costing more than $25k. Prevailing wage tends to be higher than the market driven rate and therefore forces schools to pay more for projects than they otherwise would. This added cost does nothing to enhance education, so school districts' exemption would be beneficial to WCASD and all other districts.

The second resolution discussed was Increased Funding for K-12 Public Education which Sue Tiernan asked be added to the agenda. This resolution highlights the shortfalls in current state funding for public education coupled with the unreasonable mandates that the state requires and is continuing to cut funding to support. It asks that the General Assembly increase K-12 state funding in areas such as Basic Education, Special Education, charter school reimbursement, and Accountability Block Grants which were reduced last year and are now being eliminated (these grants, among other things, pay for all day kindergarten). It was disheartening to hear some of the board members' opinion on this resolution. One board member stated that he did not feel comfortable simply asking for "more money" since not all school districts have made sufficient cuts, and another pointed out that because of the wealth of our district, we would get a very small portion of any increase in state funding.

This board has a duty to its local taxpayers, not the taxpayers of other school districts. This district has cut millions of dollars from its budget, and for every dollar the state takes away either the local taxpayer has to make up the difference or additional cuts need to be made. The board was elected to champion our school district, and part of that responsibility is ensuring that the state meets its constitutional obligation to provide for a public school system. Furthermore, one of the most dangerous aspects of this budget is a change in the funding methodology for transportation and Social Security. Historically these have been funded based on costs incurred, however it appears the Governor has changed this to a flat discretionary amount which relieves the state of all risk associated with increases to these costs, and puts 100% on the local taxpayer. Sean Carpenter, Sue Tiernan, and Dr. Scanlon will be working on revisions to this resolution and I plan to follow this closely as I believe the district needs to make a stand and this should be something everyone can support. If you agree, why not take 5 minutes to email the board that you would like to see such a resolution passed?

The last topic covered was the second reading of 3 policies related to board and committee meetings, 2 of which were revised and 1 of which is new. I wrote about the new policy, KCA-Public Participation in Board Meetings, in prior blogs. I still strongly disagree with this policy and wish the board would take the time to address the many concerns the public has voiced. Historically questions have been taken by members of the public after each agenda item at committee meeting. As Maria Pimley noted at the last board meeting, the committee meeting is where you really learn about what is going on...well a large contributor of that learning is in jeopardy.

While Sean Carpenter did have verbiage added stating that the committee chair has the discretion to take comments on certain topics, it will be on a case by case basis and is not required. While these board members might have the best of intentions, they will not be here forever and who knows how future board members will interpret this policy. Explanations from the board centered on 2 themes: 1) since the chair can still take commentary, not much will change and 2) committee meetings are for the board to do its work and the public is only entitled to observe, not to participate. This is exemplified by the comment of board member Linda Raileanu: “The working meetings are just that, working meetings. The only thing that is required is we allow you to observe us while we’re working. It’s only observational. We sit and we listen to everyone’s comments, technically it’s only a courtesy we accept anyone’s comment.” To point 1 I say if it ain't broke, don't fix it, especially given this board has such little experience on which to base such a large change in protocol. As for point 2, honestly I am offended by the suggestion that our elected officials taking time to listen to their constituents is merely a courtesy to us and not of any value. Refer to this article for more on this topic: http://www.dailylocal.com/article/20120322/NEWS01/120329880/west-chester-school-board-mulls-new-comment-policy&pager=full_story

Whether it is intended this way or not, this policy feels like nothing more than an attempt to stifle dialogue and keep the board from having to address questions in public. While a new communications plan was outlined in the March Board Connections newsletter, none of the methods listed will replace the existing dialogue that takes place at committee meetings. It states that questions can be handled via email or phone, but there is nothing that explains whether all questions will be answered or the expected turnaround time. Furthermore, there is often learning in hearing the questions and responses that others ask, since sometimes people don't even know enough to ask a question. This opportunity for the public to become better informed will be lost. If you also have a problem with this new policy, write the board and/or Daily Local before Monday because after that the new policy will be in effect. See this DLN opinion piece for more: http://www.dailylocal.com/article/20120323/OPINION03/120329793/west-chester-board-s-proposed-comment-policy-is-too-restrictive

Since I brought up the newsletter, I will end with a few thoughts on that. It does contain some high level information and I do appreciate their documenting the communications plan, although as I said I believe it is lacking a component that provides for any meaningful dialogue. The last page did not sit well with me, however. I appreciate that some board members contribute to our schools with their time and money, and I understand that they are trying to make themselves appear accessible. But there are many parents who spend innumerable hours in our schools, and they have neither the option nor [likely] the desire to publicize their service across the district. I just wish that space had been used for a more worthwhile purpose such as FAQs, budget information, an update on labor negotiations, or anything else that helps us understand what this board's plan is for our schools.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Don't tune out early, you'll miss the good part

No real surprises this month at Pupil Services and Education committee meetings and while it was an admittedly slow start to the evening, the end is well worth the wait, so please bear with.

Pupil Services Summary:
Policy JCDAEF, Audio, Video or other Electronic recording of meetings had its second reading and will go to full Board approval. http://documents.wcasd.k12.pa.us/dsweb/Get/Document-256686/JCDAEF-Audio%20Video%20or%20Other%20Electronic%20Recording%20of%20Meetings%2011-28-2011.pdf

The following Phase 2 Task Force findings were discussed:
1. Reduction of Gifted Supervisor (savings of $126,500) and 2 elementary gifted teachers (savings of $142,000)discussion is postponed until April.  Elementary gifted teachers were thanked by both Dr. Ranieri and Dr. Pimley for their diligence in creating a packet of information (which the public will see in April) that will hopefully help the Board make a final decision on number of elementary gifted teachers and need for Supervisor  of Gifted Program.   We were given a breakdown of caseloads and many, including Board President Vince Murphy, noted discrepancies. Dr. Ranieri agreed there are inconsistencies and affirmed the  need for her to oversee referrals and ensure continuity in process.
2.Reduction of one non-public RN (registered nurse) position (savings of $40,070).    The District provides this service 4 days per week to 5 parochial schools. Recommendation is to reduce to 3 days, which would equal 1 full-time RN position, thus making the parochial school responsible to obtain nurse for that extra day.  Per state ratio for school certified nurse (1:1500), Mrs. Snook makes the point that WCASD has “extra” nurses with 12.4. The principal from Sts. Peter & Paul was in attendance and suggested that the District find other areas, rather than the “health and welfare of our children” to cut costs.  Both Mrs. Adsett and Mrs. Snook suggested looking at our “extras” and possibly giving back some hours to parochial.  Ms. Railneau, speaking in her capacity as an RN,  expressed discomfort with placing this item on the consent agenda. Vote: Adsett, Yes; Pimley, Yes; Snook, No; Tiernan, Yes –  NOT on consent agenda for Board meeting
3.Reduce 1 caseworker position, decreasing from 7 to 6 (savings $52,753) – Dr. Ranieri reported somber 2/12 increases: 17% increase in students enrolled in school lunch program from last year, 26% increase in medical assistance, and the entire year 11/12 saw 113 homeless and in 2/12 we are already at 106.  Mrs. Adsett questions whether these numbers are a trend or just particular to this year “due to the economy”.  Dr. Ranieri did not have numbers to show “trend” but will provide Mrs. Adsett with them. Vote: Adsett, Yes; Pimley, Yes;Tiernan, Yes; Snook, abstain – NOT on consent agenda.

High School Guidance Survey results are in and were summarized by Dr. Salisbury, who noted “areas of need”.  Next steps?  Seven counselors and original PTOC reps involved in crafting survey will assess both strengths and needs. Results, broken down by school, will be made available by end of year or at latest fall 2012. After analysis of results, Board member comments of note:  Mrs. Adsett was befuddled at the results of guidance visits by students , questioning  if we were “reaching students” -she was assured by administration that we are.  Mr. Coyle asked Dr. Salisbury if she would look at “low numbers” and she reiterated she would assess “areas of need”. Ms. Railneau asked if we had counselors available for incoming 9th graders to make them aware of services and again, a unanimous “Yes” from administration. 

Education Meeting Summary:
Revision of 2011-12 calendar:  with no snow days, school is out with a ½ day on June 8 and graduation dates remain the same.

Second reading of 2012-13 calendar:  in large part due to parent input, the 10/11/12 in-service was moved to 10/18/12, allowing  more time to adjust into October, especially with the 9/26 day off.  February 6,7,8 ½ days/conferences moved to 13,14,15 which will greatly help travel plans, citing the 2/18 President’s Day holiday.

Before and After School programs: Dr. Missett asserts that we “will have before and after school care in all buildings next year” .  YMCA vs. Tot Time Child Development Center, a corporation that provides services in school buildings and is currently in both Centennial and Tredyffrin-Easttown districts.  At a glance, Tot Time base prices  appeared lower, but concerns were raised about what happens on days off, snow days, etc.  For example, is there not more cost to the District when school is closed, since Tot Time provides services in our schools?  Tot Time reps feel that, over time, the prices will be comparable to Y.  There was much back and forth between opponents, when  an astute audience member suggested we be provided with a side by side comparison of 1) cost to parent; 2) revenue to school and; 3), cost of keeping facilities open on days off, etc.  Dr. Scanlon recommended to the Board  the district go with Tot Time as before/after care provider.   Y reps noted that they would continue to offer competitive services AND transportation in an effort to keep its customers.  From its website, Tot Time appears to be a PA corporation based in Plymouth meeting, with a PO box in Plymouth meeting for contact information. More details at  http://www.dailylocal.com/article/20120312/NEWS/120319858/-1/news/pane

 “Transportation Plan Impact Study” for Fugett Middle School:  This was the analysis performed due to parent concerns about the impact of the 2011 bell change schedule at Fugett MS. Data was compiled for the period 8/29/11 -2/29/12 and impact in 4 areas analyzed:
                 1) Grades/achievement - results show gains over last year
    2) Discipline- no significant findings
    3)Attendance (lateness and absences) – here there was actually a significant increase in tardiness, deemed to be “logistical”  due to shortened homeroom period.  In response, Principal Whitehead will extend homeroom by 5 minutes
     4)Participation in extracurricular activities – no impact . 
Long story short – transportation plan/bell schedule change analysis produced “nothing compelling to intervene” (Dr. Bertrando).  Board comment: Ed Coyle recalled there was a man at the last Board meeting questioning this and suggested it should be on website.  “That” man was one of the parents who requested such an analysis and has already been in direct contact with administration, but they will post on website. Dr. Pimley wanted to see achievement benchmarks for other schools to make fair assessment and while Dr. Bertrando cautioned there would most definitely be variances, he will oblige.

And here it is, the stimulating climax of the evening under  “Other” consisted of  2 board polices introduced by Dr. Scanlon:
1)      Revisions to Graduation Requirements Policy IHF which had  its first reading at February Education Committee Meeting, had its second reading and will be on consent agenda
2)      Policy LEB, Relations with Parent Organizations.  It was a bit hard to hear (on that note, kudos to Pupil Services chair Dr. Pimley for using a microphone during her meeting) but we did pick up that it had to do with parent organizations, fundraising and “politics”.  Of course, the sticky part here was that none of us had a copy of the policy, including the Board. Much was said and there was general agreement that no one, Board or public, could discuss the policy without having it in front of them.  Dr. Scanlon said it would be on the website in the morning, but it was actually on last evening and warrants sharing.  Dated 1974 (the year Nixon resigned), it reads:

The Board is aware of the constructive role which the parent-teacher groups can play in the school
system. The effective leadership provided by these organizations is valuable to the improvement of
educational programs and community support of the schools. The Board shall offer these groups
its full cooperation, and urges parents, teachers, and administrators to become enthusiastic
The Board shall not request or expect parent or parent/teacher groups to be fund/raising
organizations for the public schools, but it shall seek their support for the approval of a District
budget that will provide for all essential services, materials, and equipment.
Based on practice and adopted 1974"

Makes perfect sense.  The first paragraph is just lovely and of course we shouldn’t be fundraising for ESSENTIAL things (there’s a word ripe for  interpretation).  But noting no mention of “politics”, we assume  the plan is to update this policy to include the “politics” bit.   Dr. Scanlon stated that PTO bylaws already affirm they are “non-political” entities (he knows this because he requested copies of PTO/HSA bylaws from all schools last year) and he wants Policy LEB to reflect the same.  Someone questioned last May’s legislative event and Dr. Scanlon said that was not “political” but informative as are PTOC Meet the Candidates events.  Mrs. Adsett expressed concern that the district could get in trouble with the IRS because PTOs are non-profits and should not be supporting political candidates/causes.   I do not know for a fact that all district parent organizations enjoy non-profit status, but still a valid concern by the Chair of the Committee.  Board President Vince Murphy expressed his feeling that if a particular piece of legislation, such as Prevailing Wage Act, would be beneficial to the district, then we would want to support that and encourage our parents to do the same. Ms. Railneau, who was now speaking in her capacity as a  Judge of Elections (who knew?),  clarified for all in attendance the distinction between an individual’s actions and that of an organization, I believe attempting to make the point that it is not a problem with the PTO, but only a “few members” . 

I  greatly respect the need for District polices to mesh with those of parent organizations to facilitate “full cooperation” as stated in Policy LEB.    However, I am admittedly puzzled by the timing of this.  As he does every month,  Dr. Scanlon will attend the PTOC meeting (comprised of all District PTO leaders) this Thursday.  Would it not have been a more prudent move, and certainly a less patronizing one, to  wait two days and communicate first with the group affected by this policy revision?  He couldn’t have been banking  on a first reading with no copies available for review.  But if nothing else, this “reading” (I hesitate to call it that) certainly proves  to the Board and the public that he is watching out for those pesky parent public education advocates, readying a hand-slap policy for the next time they get out of line.  On that note, one wonders if there will be consequences to “breaking” the policy: suspension or perhaps even expulsion from  PTO?   Realistically, where is this going?  Here’s an idea: how about we shelf the “revision” to LEB and draft a new policy, one that originates from the work of frank and honest communication between adults and without the baggage of the last election?  Let’s let it go.

Monday, March 12, 2012


On February 7th, Governor Corbett presented his first draft of the 2012-2013 budget.  The Governor touted increased education funding for K-12 by 3.7%, legislature decried cuts in basic education subsidy.  What does the data substantiate for our District?

Beginning this fiscal year, 2012-13, the Governor combined funding for basic education, school employees social security and transportation for public, nonpublic, charter and IU students into one line item entitled, “Student Achievement Education Block Grant”, (SAEBG) to provide school districts with more flexibility in their operations.

The budgetary data for WCASD is summarized below:
                       2011-2012                         2012-2013
SAEBG      $ 14,516,461                      $ 14,678,343
Special Ed  $   5,028,002                       $   5,028,002
PSERs        $   3,834,909                       $   6,026,432
Total           $23,379,372                         $25,732,777

A quick calculation using the Governor’s formula indicates SAEBG funding increased by 1% from last year and our PSERs funding increased 57%, the State’s mandatory contribution, with special education flat funded.  However, the data does not include the loss of an accountability block grant of $126,662 nor does it return funding eliminated in 2011-2012 for charter school reimbursements of $1,478,000.  Taking the loss of $126,662 into account, the adjusted increase in state funding is $35,220 or a 0.15% increase year over year.  The governor has shifted all funding for charter schools to the local level.  WCASD anticipates $7.7 million for charter schools expense in 2012-2013.  The long-term impact of block grant funding raises concerns that state funding will not keep pace with actual expenditures.  The Governor is effectively shifting more responsibility to the local districts for public education funding.  This could be problematic for WCASD in the long term if our current Board maintains we can continue to balance the budget through expense cuts and non-property tax revenues. The goal of WCASD should be to continue the work of a strong district without weakening it through cuts in staff and programs.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

February PSBA and Legislative Update

The February WCASD Board Pennsylvania School Board Association report noted the detrimental impact of two of the many unfunded state mandates on the district. It is interesting to note that both of these mandates are part of PSBA’s  FREE (Focusing Resources on Educational Expenses) Plus* initiative.

The FREE section of this PSBA campaign targets unfunded mandates in 3 specific categories:
1. Personnel Management – furloughs, collective bargaining, school nurses, etc.
2. School Funding – special education funding, cyber charter school funding 
3. Buildings, Construction, Operations and Transportation – bidding, transportation, delinquent real estate tax collection, and prevailing wage
*(The “Plus” portion deals with waivers that would allow school boards to suspend a wider scope of mandates)

The two unfunded mandates mentioned by WCASD Board PSBA representative, Maureen Snook, fall into FREE category #3:
       1. Delinquent R/E tax collection:  Mrs. Snook cited HB 1877, which  amends the Real Estate Tax Sale Law, allowing school districts to forego the commission paid to a local county tax claim bureau and  to utilize the services of entities other than the local county tax claims office for collection of delinquent real estate taxes.  Basically, the district would save the 5% commission paid to the County on delinquent taxes.  Read recent House Finance Committee testimony by Cheltenham School District business manager on HB1877: http://www.psba.org/issues-advocacy/advocacy-services/legislative-testimony/2012/HB1877-delinquent_property_tax_collection-02132012.pdf
      2.  Prevailing Wage Act, HB 1329: School districts must pay state-mandated prevailing wage rates for workers on every construction or renovation project in which estimates exceed $25,000. This bill would raise the threshold to $185,000 and create an annual inflation adjustment to that threshold. Mrs. Snook reports WCASD has six-eight  $25,000+ projects per year and the district could save between $120-180,000/year if the threshold were raised.   To see a great example of PSBA advocacy in action, read about the Donegal School Board who unanimously passed a PSBA resolution to support prevailing wage reform:  http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/599543_Donegal-board-supports-prevailing-wage-reform.html 

The introduction of the FREE Plus campaign, though admittedly implicit, is encouraging and we  remain optimistic that our Board PSBA representative will continue to provide us with  information about additional  unfunded mandates included in the initiative. (Visit http://www.psba.org/free-plus/  for more details on how local boards can  “encourage elected officials to approve legislation aimed at providing meaningful mandate relief”).

Mrs. Snook  also serves as our legislative liaison and that portion of her report cited the deficiencies of the STEB (State Tax Equalization Board) system.  We were reminded that both Dr. Moore,  through correspondence with PA Auditor General Jack Wagner and Dr. Scanlon, through discussions with legislators, continue to question the inequity of this system on behalf of WCASD.    One will recall this past December when the WC board unanimously approved the hiring of PFM/Civic Research as a consultant for a STEB appeal, believing their market values were certified as higher than they actually are. We are confident that our legislative liaison will also take an active role in reinforcing the administration’s opposition and continue to inform and empower the community through legislative updates. 

Who/what is STEB? The State Tax Equalization Board is appointed by the Governor and approved by the Legislature for a term of four years. The STEB determines annually the “aggregate market value of taxable real property in each political subdivision and school district throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania”.  Market values are certified annually to the Department of Education and the respective school districts on or before July 1 of each year and are used by the Department of Education as one factor in a legislative formula for the distribution of  state subsidies to each school district.   Want more?  Visit http://www.steb.state.pa.us 

What does PA Auditor General Jack Wagner have to do with STEB?  The Department of Education, school districts and taxpayers noted significant discrepancies  between 2007 and 2008 market values. Wagner’s office was asked by members of the General Assembly to review the STEB’s process for annually calculating and certifying market values of taxable property. The audit resulted in  the following findings:
 1) The Revised 2008 Market Value Report was incorrect and could adversely affect the recently published 2009 report:  the “incorrect” 2008 market value report was  originally released in June 2009, with a revised  report issued in August, 2010 . However,  in October 2010, Wagner’s office suggested to the STEB that it consider conducting a complete review of that 2008 revised report to ensure accuracy prior to releasing the 2009 market value report.  The STEB Chairman found additional review unnecessary and went forward with the release of the 2009 market value report without completing Wagner’s suggested review. 
2)  STEB certified and published inaccurate 2008 market values due to lack of management oversight  and controls, i.e., human error. For much more on the STEB audit and findings, see  http://www.auditorgen.state.pa.us/Department/Press/WagnerFindsSignificantFlaws.html

Or better yet, come hear about STEB calculations, school funding formulas and “The Real Impact of the Proposed State Budget on Public Education” when the Auditor General visits Stetson Middle School on Monday, March 19.  The Bayard Rustin High School Brass Ensemble will introduce the event with a performance at 6:30 PM and the Auditor General will speak to the public at 7.  He will also take a few questions from the audience after his presentation, so you are encouraged to visit  http://www.auditorgen.state.pa.us  before the event to familiarize yourself with the duties and responsibilities of the “independent fiscal watchdog for Pennsylvania taxpayers”. 
Other audits of possible interest/reading enjoyment:                                                                  http://www.auditorgen.state.pa.us/Department/Press/WagnerAgainUrgesFixFlawedCharterSchoolFunding.html http://www.philly.com/philly/education/20120306_ap_pasenatorstargetschoolsuperintendentbuyouts.html

I close with a  piece of legislation absent from the legislative report,  but mentioned by an audience member during closing comments: SB 327 is a bill that would take the office of school board director out of the primary election, thus abolishing the need for party endorsement of that position.  A candidate wishing to run for the office of school board director would circulate nomination papers for signatures (the number needed would depend on the “class” of the district) and their name could appear on the ballot in November, regardless of party affiliation.  I hope you will agree that such a  bill is a critical first step in attempting to remove party politics, personal agendas and political aspirations from the elected office of school board director.  Please stay tuned on where and when to find out more about SB 327 and how you can help Pennsylvania join the 47 other states who have non-partisan school board elections.  

A personal note: March is Women's History Month and I find the theme for 2012 particularly  fitting:  Women's Education and Empowerment. 2012 is the 40th anniversary of Title IX of the Education Codes of the Higher Education Act Amendments. This legislation was passed in 1972 and enacted in 1977 and  prohibited gender discrimination by federally funded institutions. I was not blogging in February for Black History month, and must also acknowledge what would be the 100th birthday of Bayard Rustin on  March 17th.  Rustin is not simply a building or a "lights issue". Bayard Rustin was a West Chester native who devoted his life to the causes of civil rights,non-violence and acceptance of all lifestyles.  So while you're raising your glasses of green "cheer" on St. Patrick's Day, please raise one for Bayard, thanks.