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.


  1. Not sure why our District has chosen to make an issue out of keeping politics out of our PTOs. I wasn’t aware that politics were being discussed (other than legislation) at PTO meetings. I can say that I’ve been to quite a few and it isn’t happening. PTOs have by-laws stating that they are to be non-partisan and to my knowledge there have been no issues.

    Our school board should be focusing on much bigger issues at the moment – tax increases, budget gaps, contract negotiations – not trying to control parents to keep them in line at board meetings and at their own PTO meetings. Actions speak louder than words - especially when the board was discussing or rather mumbling about this agenda item. We had to struggle to hear what they were saying. No handout was given and the microphone used in the previous meeting had disappeared. Another change in policy trying to be slid in to the consent agenda.

    I feel that we should keep politics out of our PTO meetings. For that matter, keep politics out of our school board too. Perhaps the parents should write policies to control what school board members do or might potentially do. Many of our school board members are also elected Committee people for their political parties. Why is there no issue with them? Keeping politics out of education is one of the primary reasons West Chester VOTE exists.

    PTOs should inform parents of important legislation that will effect education and our children. We should support public education. We should be permitted to discuss and analyze current economics in association with projections of the future situation. The School District shouldn’t try to control this dialogue. PTOs are their own entities. I can see that the policy needs to be updated, but I question the timing and intentions of the board majority.

  2. I totally agree. The only reason that support for public education is suddenly being classified as "political" is because the politics of many of our board members does not value public education, but rather privatized education using tax dollars. If their political views do not support public education, then they should resign as directors of the public school board, not try to prohibit people from upholding the institution they themselves were elected to champion yet at times seem loath to do. Who exactly gets to decide what is political and what is not? It's a very murky line and one not easily defined.