Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pennsylvania: a textbook and funding formula in need of an update

May Education Committee Meeting  -all members of committee in attendance,  Board president absent.

Ian Kerr, WCASD Supervisor of Mathematics and Business Education, gave an informative and interactive presentation, focusing on the need for “vertical articulation” of “common core state standards" in math.  Question from a Board member: What is “vertical articulation” in math?  Answer: Vertical articulation ensures that all areas of common core curriculum are being covered,  from kindergarten upwards, i.e., vertically,  through grade 12.  Mr. Kerr affirmed that while the need to “teach to the test” remains, the “tests are changing”, with 40-45% of Keystone exam material taught by end of Algebra 1.  So, will such vertical articulation become a reality by spring 2013, the proposed date for the Keystone Algebra 1 exam?  Most emphatically yes. Why? Because in our district, the “triumvirate of need”, comprised of involved parents, engaged students and committed teachers, is strongly met.  Thank you, Mr. Kerr, not only for the beautiful turn of phrase, but for validating the positive strength of parents, teachers and students in the district to meet any and all challenges together.   

Dr. Elisha Ozer, WCASD  Supervisor of Social Studies and Library/Media,  informed us of the adoption of a new  4th grade Pennsylvania social studies textbook,  Pennsylvania, Our Home, published by Gibbs Smith.  The current textbook has been in use since 1998.  Laudatory comments from a board member who, as a parent  “lived through” the current textbook, and cited not only the lack of proper representation of women and minorities  in PA, but  also the need to better convey economic changes in the state.  Another board member questioned the cost and “shelf-life” of the new text.  Book cost is $46.95 and the district requires 1000 copies. Online access of text is available and Dr. Ozer  is confident the book will last up to 15 years.  The updated textbook will also help meet requirements of common core standards. 
Of interest here:  Policy IFAA “Textbook and Core Novel/Non-Fiction Selection and Adoption” outlines the selection process of textbooks.  

Dr. Marc Bertrando, Assistant Superintendent/Secondary Education, provided update on student activity fees.  Question from board member: should the board consider adding an “escalation”  provision to activity fee policy so as not to have to revisit fee schedule each year?   General consensus  from board and administration was that the policy will need to be revisited next year to determine impact of fee schedule, thus no such provision was necessary.  

Superintendent Dr. Scanlon  addressed yet another second reading of Policy LEB “PTO/HSA Guidelines”  with the following updates:
   1.  “Definition” of PTO/HSA now reads:
                 All parents/guardians of students registered at a school in WCASD and all  
                  administrators, faculty and staff employed at that school.  

Apparently, this “definition”  was taken directly from the bylaws of a particular district PTO.  Public comment:  some PTO/HSA require dues in order to be a “member” while some do not.  In effect, not ALL parents at ALL district schools consider themselves PTO/HSA “members”.  Also questioned was the inclusion of “administrators, faculty and staff" - are they now covered under Policy LEB?  Conclusion: since  PTO/HSA “memberships” vary throughout  the district, why not revise “definition” to “per individual school PTO/HSA by-laws” ? All agreed…for now.

    2. Addition to “#3. Authority”:  
                      4. PTO/HSA may not use school district property and facilities for political 
                           campaigns.PTO/HSA may host non-partisan Meet the Candidates events.

This distinction allows the use of district facilities and property by other “partisan”  groups in the community. PTOC can continue to host Meet the Candidates events. (For those unfamiliar with PTOC, it is an organization comprised of all district PTO/HSA leadership.  In school board election years,  PTOC hosts a public Meet the Candidates forum at a district high school, inviting all prospective school board candidates.  The intent is simple and most definitely “non-partisan” : afford all candidates the opportunity to introduce themselves, answer questions and  tell the community why it is they want to serve on the school board.)

The meeting continues with a bit of  “calling out” by board members, accusations that “partisan” literature was indeed distributed by PTO/HSA during “the election”.  Public comment volleys back, asking for evidence of such “partisan” behavior but none provided. Rehashed arguments from both public and board about  the distinction of actions we take as “individuals” vs. “official members” of an organization.

In the midst of all the election “baggage” surrounding discussion of Policy LEB, one BIG question remains unanswered:  does the school board  lead by example by adhering to comparable guidelines such as those proposed for parent organizations in Policy LEB?  Well, it  appears they do. On the Pennsylvania School Board Association  website, West Chester Area School District is listed  (#404) as “having adopted”  the PSBA  “Standards for Effective School Governance”.  Included in those “standards” is the  PSBA Code of Conduct .  The  following excerpts from that Code are “comparable” to the “non-partisan” provision in Policy LEB:

·                           “Board members should work together in a spirit of harmony, respect and   
                             cooperation, despite differences of opinion.
·                            Personal decisions should be based upon all sufficient facts, we should vote 
                             our honest conviction without partisan bias, and we will abide by and uphold 
                             the majority decision of the board.
·                            Individuals have no legal authority outside the meetings of the board, and should  
                             conduct their relationships with all stakeholders and media on this basis.
·                            We will not use our positions as school directors to benefit ourselves or any  
                             individual or agency.”

While one realizes that PSBA guidelines are no more binding than those set forth in Policy LEB, we can at least be assured that the community can hold all board  members accountable to some ‘professional’ guidelines comparable to Policy LEB.  
Check out the entire PSBA “Standards for Effective School Governance”, including the Code of Conduct,  at

May Property & Finance Committee – 3 of 4 committee members in attendance, Board president absent

Approval of contract with Berkheimer to collect real estate taxes.  This will save the district  a minimum of $50,000/year in operational costs due to the fact that  2012/13 staff vacancies in the business office will absorb the tax office staff, thus avoiding furloughs and unemployment costs.  The only “negative” will be that customers needing  to speak face-to-face with a Berkheimer representative will need to travel to their West Whiteland office.  Fulton Bank will still accept tax payments.

Approval of Bid Awards - all approved  jobs  are “under budget”
Partial roof replacements at two district schools, including “alternate” bids to fix issues that will worsen with time.   Board question:  Explain  need for “alternate” bids in addition to "base" bids.  Answer from administration:  repairs are less expensive to fix while contractors (in this case, roofers) are mobilized  vs. having contractors come back at a later date for a problem that will inevitably worsen in the near future.  A clear example was provided to the board:  a current “alternate bid” for  $112,000 will cost the district approximately $200,000 if pursued 2-3 years from now.

      Additional lockers are needed at district high school at a cost of approximately $16,000.  Included is “alternate” bid for  $790 for 12 locker doors, some to replace damaged and some “extra” in case of future damage.   Board question:  if a student destroys their locker door, shouldn’t that student be liable for replacement cost? Answer from administration: students usually do not destroy their own locker doors,  along with reminder that  many community groups rent our school facilities.   In the end, high school locker doors get damaged and it is prudent forethought to have a few extra on hand shipped with a large order vs. ordering and shipping individually at a later date.

Second reading of Policy KE: Advertising and Sponsorships, with one major addition  “Construction and Maintenance of Advertising on Property” , basically clarifying what entity is responsible for construction, installation, removal, repair, etc.of advertisements.

Dr. June Garwin, Director of Information Technology, introduced Policy GAO: Intellectual Property, created to “clarify ownership of intellectual property produced within the scope of an employee’s job and to limit where district files may be stored”.  There was much board and public comment here that will be taken into consideration as this new policy evolves. 

Ending public comment/questions:

Public: What was the cost of the recent negotiations and budget videos starring Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Murphy? 
Board answer: The matter will be discussed “internally” and an answer provided after such discussion.  Stay tuned.

Public: Citing and applauding both the prevailing wage and pension reform resolutions recently adopted by the board, will the board now adopt a resolution to reform cyber/charter school funding formulas?
Board answer: Any member of the board can suggest a resolution, but three members – a “triumvirate,  if you will -  must agree to “move forward” with the resolution. To date, that “triumvirate of need” for cyber/charter school funding reform has not been met on the board.
No one can dispute the fact that cyber charters and charters work, sometimes better than traditional public schools, for many students in this district. No one can dispute the right of any parent to choose what delivery method of public education works best for their child.  However, there are few in the state that will dispute the fact that the current funding formula for cyber/charter schools is in desperate need of reform.  In 2010,  Auditor General Jack Wagner warned the PA General Assembly that the charter/cyber funding problem was “accelerating at an unaffordable rate”.   Wagner is a supporter of charter schools, having voted for the original charter bill in 1997 while serving as a state senator. However, he believes that the funding method for charter and cyber charter schools is a “bad deal for taxpayers”:
  "The big problem is that we are trying to finance 21st century education with 19th century methods.  With Pennsylvania still mired in its greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, we can’t afford to be wasting precious financial resources on schools whose costs have absolutely no basis whatsoever on what is actually needed to educate our children." *                                                                                                 
Perhaps another, admittedly simpler, way to look at it: if our 1998 Pennsylvania textbooks are in need of updating, isn’t it time to give our 1997 charter funding formula serious review?                                                                                                
Pennsylvania School Board Association sample resolution for school boards,“Reform of the Cyber Charter and Charter School Funding formula”:

1 comment:

  1. My takeaway's from the meeting:

    Perhaps Mrs. Snook should move to the Property & Finance committee as none of her questions demonstrate any concern for "education" or "pupil services" (paraphrasing):
    1)are we sure we need a new social studies book when history doesn't change?
    2)shouldn't the Activity Fee policy have an escalation clause so we don't need to readdress this every year to increase the fees?
    3)shouldn't students be responsible for replacing their own locker doors if they've been damaged?
    Community Outreach Liaison would definitely not be the place to move her, however, given her outright accusation that PTO/HSA members, acting in their capacity of those roles, campaigned for/endorsed specific candidates on school grounds using school resources. Yet when asked for specific examples of this she was not able or willing to produce any. Funny, too, that as preoccupied as she is with the cost of things, she showed no interest in the cost of the videos that the board produced on the topics of the budget and negotiations when that question was asked.

    Clearly, the changes to policy LEB regarding acceptable behavior by PTO/HSA members was changed due to the fact that the general statement that school facilities can not be used for political purposes had to be removed since the district does in fact rent out school facilities to political parties. So, instead, the definition of PTO/HSA (and as a result the rules established in this policy) was broadened to not only include the officers of these groups, but every parent/guardian in the district. Maybe some people haven't paid their dues. Maybe some people don't WANT to be members of the PTO. How can someone be assumed to be part of a group and subject to rules that limit their rights as a member of that group, when they haven't even consciously joined it? And why is it ok for Mrs. Snook to ask her fellow Republican Committee people to attend board meetings to support "their position" and Mrs. Adsett to make an election day robocall representing herself as a board member and asking people to vote for the candidates she supports, but parents can not circulate information on pro-public-education activities because the board considers them "partisan". They are only partisan if you are against them, and isn't a public school board director being against public education an oxymoron?

    Why was Mr. Carpenter dancing around the question of the board passing a resolution asking for changes to the charter school funding methodology? Doing so is not saying one does not believe charter schools should exist--I think we all acknowledge that there are some good charter schools out there and that they are better learning environments for some children. It's about the manner in which they are funded which is completely extraneous to their cost structure, especially in the case of cybers and with special ed formulas. It's a simple question--do you or do you not see issues with the way they are funded and believe the current methodology is financially damaging to the public schools? Citing parliamentary procedure rules about who can request a resolution for committee or make a motion for consideration during a board meeting is nothing but evading the question of where this board stands on the issue.

    Lastly, somewhat surprisingly no one asked a question about the Keystone to Education grant that the district declined. It would most definitely have been fitting for it to be mentioned by the Chairs of the Education or P&F committees, or both, but the board continues to ignore the issue in the hope that it will fade quietly into the sunset.