June's P&F meeting covered bond financing, the advertising broker agreement, several new and amended policies, and charter school funding. A theme I noticed was some board members' unwillingness to share motivations driving their decisions, and a push to reign in the actions of some while allowing one's own actions to remain unchecked.
A large portion of the meeting was spent discussing the refinancing of existing debt (at more attractive interest rates) and the issuance of new debt (to support the ongoing plan to renovate the district's elementary schools). The decision regarding which bonds to refinance when is a complex balancing act that must take into account the money that will be saved due to lower current interest rates vs. the money that will be "lost" due to additional savings that would be recognized by waiting to refund bonds closer to their call date. On the borrowing side, the original plan was to borrow $10M in August 2012, April 2013, November 2013, and February 2015. However, it was recommended that the district instead move up the April 2013 borrowing so that the November 2013 bond can be classified as "bank qualified". Bank qualified bonds are more attractive purchases because banks can deduct the majority of the carrying cost, and a more attractive means of borrowing for the district because a lower interest rate can be paid. In order to meet the requirements of a bank qualified bond, the district cannot issue more than $10M in bonds in a calendar year, hence the decision to move the April 2013 issuance into 2012. It appears as if the district will move forward with the refinancing of $20M in existing bonds and the sale of $20M in new bonds at the end of July.
There was limited discussion on 2 new board policies: Policy GAO Intellectual Property (second reading) and Policy DJF Food and Beverage Expenditures Guidelines. Policy GAO is pretty straightforward and includes the same parameters that you would expect in any business where something intangible is produced--it basically says that if a district employee creates something using district resources, within the scope of their job, or during work hours, it is the property of WCASD. The part that received some discussion during its first reading deals with student created work. The policy states that the district has no ownership for work created by students to satisfy course work, but that the district has the right to use this work for its own purposes. The acknowledgement was made that since students are not signing off on this policy, they could challenge this assumed right in the future.
Policy DJF was created in response to a recent report by the Auditor General that accused the Reading School Board of spending excessive amounts on catering (http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=357366). In response, the district felt it prudent to have a policy regarding reasonable use of district funds for food and beverage expenses, and the policy outlines under what circumstances such purchases can be made. These include events that serve the public interest, that last for 2 or more hours, and at which the location and timing are not conducive for a meal recess. Since board members receive catered food prior to board meetings, the question was raised as to whether this should be continued. Members of the administration and board stated that their catering costs are minimal (about $5k per year for board meetings and $30k district wide) and they are eating ham, not filet mignon. It is interesting however, that a big deal was made of the district purchasing replacement locker doors at Rustin, while a second thought was not given to whether this cost is necessary. Every little bit does help, and I'd bet that $5k could pay a good portion of the ground cover at elementary school playgrounds that is on the list of potential future cuts from the last task force findings. It's all about priorities.
The contract with School Media, the organization that will broker advertising arrangements for the district, was reviewed. There was some concern about the language prohibiting the district from entering into or negotiating any future contract with any advertisers or alternative ad brokers for one year following the expiration of this agreement. Ms. Raileanu made a valid point that while it is expected that the district would not contract with organizations brought in by School Media, that expectation should not extend to advertisers with which the district develops its own relationship or with the district's right to work with other ad brokers once this contract ends. Dr. Moore agreed to pursue this language change with School Media, however noted that this area of the contract had been one of the more difficult to negotiate. It was also brought up that the list of advertisers with which the district has existing relationships and which would be excluded from the terms of this contract did not appear to be complete. This will also be looked into.
Next up for discussion was new policy DFF-Grants from External Resources. This is the first time the word grant has been uttered since it became public knowledge that the district had been awarded, and then rejected, the Keystone to Opportunity (KtO) Grant without a single discussion in a public forum and with the board refusing to answer any related questions but instead deferring all inquiries to Dr. Scanlon. Can you tell I'm still incensed by this? Basically the policy states that all potential grants over $10k will be put on a list with key info for the board to review, and the board will decide whether to pursue the grant based on a list of criteria. The board must approve applying for the grant, and then must approve accepting the grant if it is awarded. Dr. Scanlon assured us that all grants will be placed on this list and reviewed in public, and there would not be another situation where decisions were made via non-public discussions whereby taxpayers only learned of their existence through other means.
I have a few problems with this policy. First off, it states that grants will be prioritized; however, all grants do not come in at the same time and they have specific response timelines, so how is one to know that a particular grant is more or less worthy of our time than one that may present itself in the future? Second, the same nonsensical financial criteria is included in the policy that certain board members used as a reason for not accepting the KtO Grant: priority will be given to grants that "supplement an existing program or a new program providing there are commensurate reductions in other programs and there is no impact to the total General Fund Budget". Yet to date no one has explained the logic of this thinking, although many have asked: if the net impact to the district's bottom line (revenue less expenses) is ZERO, why do we have to cut other programs and not allow the expense line to increase in order to accept a grant???? I in fact asked Mr. Carpenter if he or Mr. Murphy could speak to the rationale of the rejection of the KtO Grant since to date no questions directed to the board had received responses but only deferrals to Dr. Scanlon, who clearly cannot answer for the board members' mindset. However Mr. Carpenter stated he wished to keep the discussion to the policy (huh? the policy is on grants and I'm asking as to the decision making process for accepting grants) and that Dr. Scanlon could in fact speak to the board's rationale. He asked if any other board member wished to address my question, and there was silence. Does that mean no one can explain why it was rejected, or they don't feel they are required to?
I had significant email and verbal correspondence with Dr. Scanlon over this grant issue, as did others, and while Dr. Scanlon stated that the board did not wish to increase the expense side of the budget, never once did he explain to anyone the reason why that mattered when the bottom line financial impact was slightly positive. So, Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Murphy can keep hiding behind Dr. Scanlon, but that is certainly not in keeping with this transparency they keep professing to have. There is a real reason that they did not want to accept this grant, and as our elected representatives they have the obligation to explain to us what that rationale is. Otherwise I have no choice but to assume it is because they are trying to appease someone for raising taxes by keeping the expense number static, a talking point that Mr. Carpenter has enthusiastically brought up on many occasions. That does raise an interesting point though--they were willing to raise taxes and take money from local taxpayers (which I wholeheartedly supported as the cuts necessary without that additional income would have been painful), but they're not willing to accept money from the government (which it will spend whether we take it or not) that will likely reduce our costs (and thus the taxpayer's burden) in the future? Explain that to me.
Next up for discussion were revisions to policy KDC Flyer Distribution. It is no secret that some board members were incensed when West Chester VOTE put flyers on cars during some school events during the 2011 election season (oh, no, not the spread of pro-public-ed information!!!!!). One individual who was a board member at that time but who has since moved on commented on Facebook at the time that "there is no Board policy against that sort of thing....BUT believe me that will be fixed real soon!!!" Well, it seems she is still holding influence over current board members and has gotten her wish. A line item for "prohibited activities and materials" has been added for "political campaign materials", and just to ensure no one steps out of line the policy now states that anyone "seeking to distribute information on school property must have approval of the Superintendant".
I'm still not sure they've accomplished what they want to with these changes, however. The policy deals with materials that groups would like distributed to students by the school. It discusses posting materials on school owned property such as fences, doors, lockers, etc., but no mention is made of people's personal cars. Could that be because they have no real jurisdiction in that area? Similar to the acknowledgement that the Intellectual Property policy could be challenged by students since they have not signed off on the loss of their rights of exclusive ownership, can the district create a policy that cannot be legally enforced; can they take away people's rights just because they write a policy saying they can? We shall see. Board members can make political phone calls, they can hold partisan committee positions, they can even preach from the pulpit of their churches against public schools, but parents can't put papers on people's cars asking them to support public education? There is something terribly wrong with that picture.
The last discussion item of the night was regarding the district taking a stand on the current charter school funding methodology as brought forward by Mrs. Tiernan. Mrs. Tiernan made it clear that no one is criticizing the existence of charter schools and she recognizes the value they have for some students; I wholeheartedly do as well. What Mrs. Tiernan is looking for the board to communicate to our state government is the flaws in the charter funding formulas that serve to move more funds from public schools to charters than these charters need to operate. Charters were started as an experiment in how to do things more efficiently (and with less cost) without the strings of government bureaucracy holding them back...so shouldn't they?
I'm sure I'll have much more to say on this subject later, but here are some of the issues we would expect to see in a commentary on the funding flaws with charter schools. Does it make sense that a cyber school that has few if any buildings and a significantly larger ratio of teachers to students would have the same cost per student as a district like WCASD that has 17 buildings to maintain and direct teacher interaction with students? Why is it that part of the costs factored into charter school payments include teacher retirement, yet the government also compensates charters for retirement costs, AND if the charters neglect to pay into the PSERS system, the public school must make up the difference? Why is the amount paid to a charter for every special ed student the same (almost twice the tuition for a regular ed student) regardless of the child's need--a child who gets some reading support surely does not cost the same as a child with severe autism? And why is the special education tuition based upon an assumption of what portion of a district's students are expected to be special ed, rather than the amount who actually are? Why is it so difficult to get detailed financial reporting from charters, and why can't they return the portion of funding they receive that they don't need to educate students? 21st Century Charter School which is headquartered in Exton and was started by the Intermediate Units of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties tried to do that (approximately $5k per student!) and was sued by a state charter advocacy group; apparently they did not want anyone to know that all the funding charters receive is not always necessary, and they certainly didn't want to set a precedent for giving any of it back! Why don't we get to see the details of the management fees that private companies are earning to run these schools, and why are taxpayers paying for them to advertise their schools? The other day while driving I heard the same local cyber charter school's ad on 3 different radio stations at the same time--that can't be cheap.
The board discussed this topic for quite a while, going back and forth on what they would feel comfortable saying about charters and how specific it should be. One audience member reminded the board that a resolution for charter school funding has already been created by PSBA, however Sean Carpenter said he had issues with some of the items in that resolution. When pressed to explain what specific items he disagreed with, he would not. There it is again, board members making decisions that impact our schools who are unwilling to explain their thought process. I don't get it. If you feel a certain way, then be willing to state it and defend it. Board members can keep their views to themselves in their private lives, but when they choose to run for office and decide how our money is spent and our children are educated, in my opinion they give up the right to keep the reasons for their decisions secret. In the end, Dr. Scanlon suggested he take a first stab at putting this document together (funny how with all his prior experience in this area no one thought to ask for his opinion). There is ample information out there from a variety of sources including 2 House bills under consideration to choose from, so I have no doubt that Dr. Scanlon will develop something fair and fact based.
As usual of late I left that meeting frustrated, feeling like questions were glossed over and real motivations impacting decisions were not voiced. My husband always asks me how the meeting was when I get home, and my response of late is always "different meeting, same baloney"...or should I say ham?
Friday, June 22, 2012
Friday, June 15, 2012
June 11 combined Pupil Services and Education committee meetings lasted less than an hour - all committee members present
Pupil Services Meeting - year-end review of Special Education and Gifted K-12 program
The meeting consisted of a year-end summary of Special Education Plan/Taskforce and a Gifted K-12 review *(below for highlights)
A few Board questions for clarification and meeting adjourned.
More special education news: On June 4th the Pennsylvania Senate passed, by a near unanimous vote, SB 1115 – all senators representing WCASD voted in support of bill. While the bill maintains current spending levels for 2012/13, it contains many provisions to reform special education funding and accountability. SB 1115 moves to the House Education Committee on June 18. Details of SB 1115 (and companion House Bill 704) at www.reformspecialedfunding.org.
Education Committee Meeting
In middle and high school Spanish classes, Aventura textbook replacing En Español, which has been in use for nearly 12 years. The remainder of discussion becomes a déjà vu from the May Education meeting and adoption of Pennsylvania Our Home textbook:
Board member Mrs. Snook questions: what is shelf-life of book, how many do we need and what is included in price?
Answer: citing that the previous one lasted approximately 12 years, this one could last that long also. Currently we need 900 books but number will be updated and finalized in summer. Current total approximate cost is $66,550. In addition, since District opted to purchase the print version of Aventura, we are receiving complimentary materials (online access, teacher resources, 12 teacher copies, etc.) valued at $55,919.15 – wow, what a deal!
Same Board member questions: is online edition included? Yes, the “complimentary” items mentioned are just that, “complimentary” , i.e., FREE. Mrs. Snook and administration admit it is hard to keep track of all the extra goodies and she requests a written summary from administration. Education Committee chair Mrs. Adsett recounts what an honor it was to be asked to be involved in textbook selection process, the delight she experiences when she hears the many positive teacher comments, the happiness that she feels knowing the textbook can be used in both middle and high schools, and so on and so on...
First reading of Policy JCDAC: Drug & Alcohol Abuse
Administration reports the need for following terminology revisions to policy:
-COAD (Council on Addictive Disorders) references are deleted, since the District no longer utilizes that service.
- Student Assistance Program (SAP) & Student Success Team (SST) become Child Study Program/Team .
Board member Mrs. Snook has two questions: Is “Child Study Team” an age-appropriate term, implying (we think) that students affected by this policy are not really “children”. Mrs. Snook references an earlier meeting where Dr. Missett informed us that Tot-Time before/aftercare would be referred to as the more age-appropriate Children's Place and now wonders whether "Child Study Team" is derogatory to an older population (we think).
Administration: Really do not see that as issue.
And the follow-up: Is there any evidence of the use of bath salts in our district schools?
Administration: no reports.
Still more with some final unsolicited commentary by Mrs Snook about the “absolutely diabolical” nature of bath salts.
Since the meeting , I have attempted to purge this “bath salt” exchange from my mind, yet it continues to haunt me. One trusts that District professional staff handle substance abuse struggles in a professional and confidential matter. Why, in a public meeting, is a school board director compelled to put a member of the administration in the position of answering sensitive questions about a particular substance abuse issue in our schools? Think ahead with me - what if the answer was “yes, there is evidence of bath salt usage in our schools” ? What then - gasps of horror, condemnation, follow-up questions about evidence of face-eating zombies? This question was irrelevant to the policy revisions being discussed, sensational, and crossed the line of professionalism and perhaps even student confidentiality. Yet with no objection of irrelevance or offense by committee chair, perhaps I overreacted. Or perhaps there are no “lines of professionalism” to cross. Wrongly, I did continue to hold on to my outrage and began to question what real recourse we have to express our collective embarrassment at these types of questions? Public comment at Board meetings has become just that: comment that elicits no response from Board. Letters and emails remain unanswered.
At the risk of sounding ungrateful, let us not forget Board Connections, the monthly Board newsletter initiated by the newly appointed Board Outreach Liaison, Linda Raileanu http://home.wcasd.net/files/_dGBRo_/928f5aecc0c6005f3745a49013852ec4/0612_Board_Connections.pdf.
Per the Board website, Board Connections is meant “to expand the dialog between the community and the School Board. As part of our ongoing communication and outreach effort, we believe that receiving clear, concise, and accurate information is critical and we invite you to stay connected via this publication.”
Granted, newsletters are indeed a great way to disseminate clear and accurate information. However, one questions if a newsletter serves to “expand dialog”, for dialog is a discussion between two or more people. One is also curious as to just how the Board can ensure that the target population - in this case, the "community" - is actually being impacted, i.e., "staying connected" via this newsletter. Most of the information contained in Board Connections is simply the regurgitation of Superintendent Board meeting summaries already available on the website and/or sent through District e-news. Realistically, one questions just how effective old news, a column devoted to Board “sightings” and inclusion of “insightful quotes” to ponder really are in extending the limits of Board “outreach”? A humble suggestion for more dynamic Board “outreach” programs: programs where the “community” is afforded the opportunity to "reach back” and engage in real dialog with Board members in a civil and productive manner.
Thankfully, the next bit of news helped me move forward from the bath salts inquiry because it exemplifies the power of positive leadership on behalf of students in our district: Taylor Music contributed $600 to Activity Fee Waiver Fund to aid families unable to pay the fees. We are beyond grateful to Taylor Music for realizing and addressing the needs of our students.
Tot Time before/aftercare update – contract is nearly finalized and will hopefully be brought to full Board meeting on June 25. The plan is to have monthly enrollment updates from elementary schools to compare to previous YMCA enrollments.
Property & Finance Chair Mr. Carpenter questions if District has "heard from YMCA”.
Answer: District has not heard from YMCA, but we know the YMCA is actively recruiting parents and providing a kindergarten enrichment program.
Meeting closes with the Education Committee chair Mrs. Adsett reminding all in attendance that it will be a “long summer”. Parents often tell her they are fearful that their children will lose all the knowledge they have attained during the year and reminds us there are various links on school websites for students to participate in summer math and reading enrichment programs. Chair commends District staff for providing such summer learning activities and conveys weekly plans for her own children to take advantage of the sites. Pupil Services chair Dr. Pimley chimes in with summer enrichment plans for her children also. Laughter and happiness abound.
I end with an “insightful quote”, actually more of a “mantra”, for all as we move forward together to face triumphs and challenges:
"Before you speak, ask yourself: is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence?" Sai Baba of Shirdi
Some "complimentary" stuff:
Legislative updates from last blog:
On June 4, Representative Mike Fleck , with the support of the PA School Boards Association, introduced HB 2364, providing for a more equitable funding formula and greater accountability of charter and cyber charters in PA. http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billinfo/bill_history.cfm?syear=2011&sind=0&body=H&type=B&bn=2364 . Local representatives co-sponsoring HB 2364: Barrar.
Representative Killion has also introduced charter/cyber legislation. HB 2352 provides for a statewide charter school authorizer but does not address the funding formulas for charters. To date, there are no local co-sponsors of HB 2352.
On June 11, the House Finance Committee “voted” to take no action on HB 1776, the Property Tax Reform bill. One will recall HB 1776 was discussed by our PSBA legislative liaison Mrs. Snook last month, who neglected to mention the fact that PSBA gave testimony against this particular legislation.
Also of interest on the property tax reform front is HR774, a resolution “establishing a select committee to investigate and review the interrelationship between all current sources of school district and local government tax revenue, with a focus on property taxes, the current system of Federal and State funding of school districts and other local government functions.” This resolution in on the agenda when the House Education Committee meets next week. http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billinfo/billinfo.cfm?syear=2011&sInd=0&body=H&type=R&bn=774
*Pupil Services Highlights:
Special Ed Plan/Taskforce summary covering five “goal areas”:
1. Least Restricted Environment (LRE) - Multiple Disabilities Support (MDS) program initiated at Starkweather Elementary this year, co-teaching/differentiated learning instruction has been expanded at high school level
2. No Child Left Behind #1 Student Achievement - child study team implemented consistently, with reviews of referrals and evaluation reports by supervisor
3. Qualified Staff
4. Transition – Needs Assessment and Assessment
5. Behavior Support Services -Chester County Intermediate Unit continues to be used for transition support, but additional cost analysis is needed and planned
Gifted K-12 review:
1. Elementary – 8 teachers with 4-5 days of support per building
2. Pilot program at Starkweather Elementary – third-graders will be assessed in Math and regardless of “gifted" assessment, will be eligible for Math enrichment based solely on assessment scores. It is hoped this program will be available at other schools in future
3. All gifted teachers will take part in full day training focusing on differentiated instruction
4. Middle school students will receive survey in August to pick enrichment modules
5. Fourth teacher added at high school level to focus on career activities, facilitate taking students to local businesses, etc. Plan for this program to be available to all students in second semester, not just “gifted"
Saturday, June 2, 2012
May School Board Meeting – all Board members present
WCASD superintendent spoke of upcoming graduations at district high schools and also of an awards and retirement recognition ceremony occurring before that evening’s meeting. Especially endearing this month were the final reports from the three district high school representatives. One young man reminisced that he had been in the district since kindergarten in 1999, and stated that he would not trade his experience in WCASD public schools for anything in the world. Congratulations and thanks to those young men for their service and to all our 2012 high school graduates. We know they will continue to make WCASD proud as they continue on their life journeys.
We are reminded that we are “fortunate in WCASD”, having collected 97% of our local revenue. State revenue has decreased, due to elimination of charter school payment and transportation subsidy reduction, likewise with federal revenue due to expiration of stimulus money. The district did budget for 70% of those state and federal revenue reductions and also for “conservative increases ” in local revenue. The district has realized savings “across the budget”, in salaries, benefits, utilities, debt service, transportation, supplies, and charter school tuitions. A savings of 3.4 million in expenses is projected by year end, and variances in actual expenses and revenues will be placed in a fund balance to be designated for the closing of 2013/14 budget gap (fund equals 3.1 million). The district’s unreserved/undesignated fund balance is projected to be 12.8 million, or 6.4% of budget, at year end.
More comment on new Pennsylvania, Our Home textbook selection, with committee chair noting that one of the benefits of chairing the committee - other than the fact of being able to choose the textbook her own child will use - was to hear the positive feedback from staff and she has heard much. Also of note was gratitude expressed to Education Committee chair by Personnel director for her assistance in interviewing and choosing the new assistant principal at Rustin High School.
No public meeting last month, but a teaser for June meeting, where the position of Special Education Liaison will be discussed.
May 21 executive session noted. One content area Lead Educator for World Languages was removed and the position title of Supervisor of World Language and Fine Arts was created. Before vote was taken (unanimous FOR), one Board member commented that she “heard good things about this candidate” - who is already employed with the district - and hoped the Board would continue to consolidate/shift positions in these “tough economic times”.
Our liaison is looking forward to attending upcoming district graduations, which are a “perfect opportunity for community outreach”.
Final group of CCIU secretaries take pay freeze, saving 2.6 million dollars. CAT Pickering to be known as Technical College High School – Pickering Campus and news of a Franklin Mint Credit Union location to be staffed by students.
Legislative liaison/PSBA representative
PSBA legislative breakfast hosted by Chester County Intermediate Unit. In attendance were Representatives Chris Ross, John Lawrence, Steve Barrar and a representative from Senator Dinniman’s office. PSBA continues to provide legislative updates to the Board, and reiterated need for PSER’s reform and prevailing wage relief – nothing we have not heard before.
What was new and of particular note was the detailed mention of HB 1776, Property Tax Independence Act, a bill introduced by PA Representative Jim Cox. Our legislative liaison went on to tell us that HB 1776 would raise the state income tax rate, now at 3.07%, to about 4%, raise the sales tax rate, now 6% in most counties, to 7%, and eliminate the sales-tax exemption on many goods and services that are now not taxed.
See Cox’s FAQ’s on the bill at http://www.repjimcox.com/proptaxindepact.aspx and also http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/state/proposed-legislation-would-end-property-tax-funding-for-schools-in-pa-637781/
One will recall the May 7 Harrisburg rally concerning HB 1776 and the unveiling of the “Declaration of Property Tax Independence” document. PA Taxpayers Cyber Coalition, a group contained within the larger PA Coalition of Taxpayer Associates, are a major lobbying group for property tax reform and this particular legislation, http://www.ptcc.us/index.htm. Of note are local representatives co-sponsoring HB 1776: Barrar, Killion, Lawrence, Hennessy, Truitt. There is a comparable bill in the Senate (SB 1400), with local co-sponsors Erickson and Rafferty.
While our legislative liaison admitted she “did not know where this bill would go”, she was very happy to see that our legislators are thinking “outside the box” when it comes to property tax reform. The “box”? Must be the box that the Pennsylvania School Board Association dwells in. On May 26, 2012, Dr. Dave Davarre, Director of Research Services for PSBA, testified in front of the House Finance Committee against HB 1776.
His closing comments:
The only way to ensure that a property tax reform plan has the intended impact on local property taxpayers and does not negatively impact the quality of education in the school district is to address those factors that continue to drive up the cost of education. For example, a comprehensive solution would revise the funding formula for cyber charter schools to ensure that school districts are not paying more to each cyber charter school than is necessary to educate a cyber charter school student. In fact, simply deducting retirement costs from the expenditures that are used to determine payment costs to charter schools to prevent a pension double dip would save school districts over $500 million by 2016-17 alone, which would make a significant impact on the overall cost of public education. A comprehensive solution to the property tax problem would also tackle the issue of funding for special education and provide a more fair formula that reflects the needs of the students in each school district and the actual number of students served, and it would alleviate the burden and cost that comes with some mandates such as paying prevailing wage and complying with the Separations Acts*, which drive up the cost of education and keep dollars out of the classroom. A successful and effective property tax reform plan must diversify the tax base while simultaneously address the costs that drive a school district budget. In conclusion, HB 1776 is a complex proposal, and while PSBA continues to review each facet of the plan to better understand the impact it will have on our school districts, we simply cannot support a proposal that eliminates school property taxes completely.
*The Pennsylvania Separations Act of 1913 requires public entity construction projects (costing more than $4,000) to solicit separate bids and award separate contracts for electrical, heating, ventilating and plumbing work http://www.alleghenyconference.org/PEL/SeperationActReform.asp
Let’s give our legislative liaison the benefit of a doubt here. Keep in mind that she was the only “no” vote on the WCASD 2012/13 budget which includes a 1.7% tax increase. She feels strongly about property tax reform and that conviction compelled her to share the news of HB 1776 with the community in her capacity as Board legislative liaison. What is concerning to some is the fact that she was not compelled, in her capacity as PSBA representative, to also share PSBA’s concerns about HB 1776 and its impact on the “quality of education in the school district”.
Liaison visited the Sankofa Academy Charter School and reports she will revisit and provide a more detailed report next time. Most encouraging news was shared of discussion she had with Board president and Property & Finance chair. Both gentlemen agreed for the need to address cyber/charter funding formulas, with emphasis on accountability for cyber/charter schools. We thank those three board members for agreeing to meet to discuss this critical matter and look forward to hearing more.
More encouraging news on cyber/charter funding reform:
This Monday, June 4 at 11 AM, Rep. Mike Fleck (R-Huntingdon/Blair/Mifflin) will host a news conference to announce the introduction of HB 2364, legislation supported by PSBA that ensures greater taxpayer protection and accountability of charter and cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania. Those who cannot attend can view the event through live web streaming at RepFleck.com.
(See http://capwiz.com/psba/issues/alert/?alertid=61400476&queueid=[capwiz:queue_id] for highlights of bill, such as removing the “double dip” for pension costs, funding for special education students set at the actual cost of service based on a year-end audit, year-end audit and reconciliation processes to ensure charter schools are being paid for actual cost of providing educational services to students and making all audits public information.)
Legislation supported by PSBA? Odd there was no mention of it in the legislative report, but maybe next time.
-Discouragement expressed that no Board or administration member attended erection of Rustin lights, along with suggestion to Outreach Liaison to include story of volunteer commitment to this project in next board newsletter.
-Discouragement expressed over Board’s lack of transparency in declining the Keystone to Opportunity grant.
-Question of why district installed automatic vs. regular flushing toilets, turf vs. sod, and fence spanning entire roadway vs. partial fence in past building projects – a respectful call to ‘dig deeper’ in district budget and commendation for the one vote against the 2012/13 budget.
- Speaker stated he was in attendance at church service on weekend where a letter was read, publicly to the congregation, by a Board member. The letter expressed the need to contact legislators in support of proposed legislation expanding the EITC program (Educational Improvement Tax Credit, see below for a refresher) and creating a school voucher program. Speaker continues, reading excerpts from PA Constitution (Article 3, Sections 15, 29) concerning the prohibition of public funds being used for sectarian schools, making the argument that vouchers/”opportunity scholarships” are unconstitutional.
-Final speaker of the evening questions why the Board is not informing public about the impact of expanding the EITC program, stating that such a move will cost the district millions of dollars.
No comments on any of the public comment from Board, other than Board president asking for an end to the applause given to some speakers.
On the letter read at church - apparently our Board “legislative liaison” also serves in that capacity at her parish, which in itself is not an issue as long as she is not identifying herself as a WCASD Board member while lobbying. In securing a copy of the letter, it was obviously written by someone who passionately shares the belief of many sectarian lobbying organizations: vouchers and an expanded EITC program will help students in “failing schools”. One hopes and trusts that a prayer followed the political lobbying from the pulpit, for the students, teachers and families struggling to survive in communities with such “failing schools”. And as to the last comment requesting more information on EITC from the board? We did have an unofficial, “second-hand” report via the disclosure of the letter read at church, and remain confident we will hear more “official” reports on EITC in upcoming board legislative reports.
According to WCASD Policy BBC-E, the Board Legislative Liaison is “the District representative on the Legislative Committee of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. The individual reports prospective legislation to the Board and makes the concerns of the Board known to the Association and to our elected representatives in Harrisburg.”
One person holds this title, with the assumption that the roles of “ legislative liaison” and PSBA representative would rarely conflict, since PSBA promotes legislation they believe will strengthen the public education system. However, this month, we did not hear from anyone on the WCASD Board about prospective PSBA supported charter/cyber reform legislation, but did hear, in detail, about property tax reform legislation that PSBA does not support. Thus, it can happen that these roles, held by one person, can exist in conflict. And what happens then is certainly something to think about.
In such cases where the Board legislative liaison is not in agreement with PSBA sanctioned legislation, does that individual still have an obligation to inform the community of such legislation and its impact on our district? Further, does that individual have an obligation to advocate on behalf of our district for PSBA sanctioned legislation that will benefit our school district, even if that individual does not support the legislation?
Remember last fall’s Senate Bill 1, the “Opportunity Scholarship and Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act” http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/BI/SFN/2011/0/SB0001P1711.pdf
"The lack of definitive evidence on who receives scholarships under Pennsylvania's EITC program is consistent with the overall lack of accountability in the program, which has now cost Pennsylvania taxpayers more than a third of a billion dollars".
Recent and much-talked about NY Times article on how “opportunity scholarships” help “failing schools”, PA cited a few times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/22/education/scholarship-funds-meant-for-needy-benefit-private-schools.html?pagewanted=7&_r=2&hp