Saturday, June 2, 2012

No, they didn't mention that either...

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.

Financial report
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.

Education Committee
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.

Pupil services
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”.

Board reports:
Our liaison is looking forward to attending upcoming district graduations, which are a “perfect opportunity for community outreach”.

Intermediate Unit
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.

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,  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

 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”.  

Charter school
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  

(See[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.

Public comment:
-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?    

Need a refresher on EITC?
Remember  last fall’s Senate Bill 1, the “Opportunity Scholarship and Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act”
"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:

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