Saturday, June 29, 2013

Teamwork and Focus

June 24 2013 West Chester Area School District Board meeting

All Board members in attendance and far more empty than occupied seats at June 24 WCASD Board meeting.

Superintendent Dr. Scanlon reports successful graduation ceremonies at East, Henderson and Rustin and thanks Board members for their participation in the events.  A  grateful farewell and well-deserved standing ovation is given to Mrs. Bachtle,  retiring from the position of school board secretary.

Public comment on agenda items - just one from former school board director Jim Davison.

Citing agenda item, “Approval of Act 93 Administrator’s Compensation plan, July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2016” , Mr. Davison questions why there is no detailed information on the plan in  public meeting packet.  

Dr. Scanlon addresses Mr. Davison, foreshadowing the information now listed on District website concerning the plan:
  •  Healthcare savings of $425,000 by changing from a base plan of Personal Choice 10-20-70 to Personal Choice 320
  • Raises tied to the base Act 1 Index based on performance (1.7% for 2013-14)
  • Merit raises based on goals tied to the base Act 1 Index (1.7% for 2013-14)
  • Keeps the overall increases each year tied to the base Act 1 Index

Mr. Davison states that while he supports the Act 93 increase, he questions the “consistency” of the numbers, especially in light of January’s 1% support staff increase. He also wonders what impact this news will have on the ongoing teacher negotiations and reminds the Board  that the superintendent’s contract will soon be up for renewal and will need to be addressed. 

Treasurer’s and Financial Report -  positive, noting current trends “reflect recovery”. 

Personnel report

In addition to the Act 93 agreement, the Board approved a 3-year compensation plan for employees not  covered in a collective bargaining group (head custodians, maintenance supervisors, RN/LPNs,  case workers, technology staff, confidential secretaries, etc.) 
Per District website, the agreement consists of the following:
  • Healthcare savings of $439,000 by changing from a base plan of Personal Choice 10-20-70 to Personal Choice 320
  • Raises tied to the base Act 1 Index based on performance (1.7% for 2013-14)
  • Merit raises based on goals tied to the base Act 1 Index (1.7% for 2013-14)
  • Keeps the overall increases each year tied to the base Act 1 Index
Next item discussed is the Board’s Technology Reorganization plan,which  takes effect July 1. The plan, estimated  to save approximately $30,000,eliminates one technology position and shifts responsibilities within the department

And finally, Ms. Miller encourages all to welcome Mr. Geoff Mills as the new Principal of  Peirce Middle School and Ms. Nora Wheeler as the new Principal of Westtown-Thornbury Elementary School. Mr. Mills was previously the Assistant Principal at Peirce and Ms. Wheeler the Assistant Principal at Rustin High School.

Intermediate Unit Report

Mr. Coyle’s Intermediate Unit report sounds a bit like a commercial for SpectiCast, a company the Chester County IU has partnered with for the purpose of distributing  filmed events to schools.  Mr. Coyle declares that Specticast will enable participants to  “turn their schools into community theaters”.  From the CCIU website:

SpectiCast events can fundraise for your important programs, including the arts, drama and music classrooms that are often the first to feel tightening budgets.  Bring back the money, the audience, and the passion for performance in your school district!

One is struck by the irony of SpectiCast’s offer to fundraise for arts, drama and music programs through screening prerecorded opera, theater, and orchestra performances for the community.  

Encouraging news on the current and future state of the arts in WCASD:   At this month's Education Committee meeting, we enjoyed an  inspiring Fine Arts and World Languages overview presented by Supervisor Mr. Ehrhart.  The thorough and  enthusiastic report of District programs is evidence that the "passion and the audience" for the arts remain strong in the WCASD.  Need more reassurance? Following the overview,  Property & Finance Chair Mr. Carpenter expressed his gratitude to Mr. Ehrhart, wondering aloud how we, as a District, can continue to encourage even more students to remain in Arts and Music programs throughout  K-12.  

Legislative/PSBA report

Legislative/PSBA liaison Mrs. Snook prefaces her report with an account of her experience attending Rustin graduation. As the daughter of a West Point graduate and mother of children serving in  the military, she shares how especially happy she was to hear the numerous graduates pursuing military service.

Her characteristically cryptic legislative report follows. Mrs. Snook tells us that the PA budget must be finalized by June 30 and Harrisburg is busy discussing the big issues of transportation, liquor privatization and pension reform. All of which, we are told,  will have an  impact on education funding. She states that there are a number of pension reform bills out there, basic education will see a  “significant” increase from last year and special education funding will remain the same.   

Mrs. Snook reports that she, along with Mrs. Tiernan, recently attended a PA School Board Association regional legislative event where there was “lively and entertaining” discussion on education from local legislators.  Here, one anticipates the substance of the report will follow but alas, no.  Apparently the lively and entertaining legislative discussion was not meant to be shared with the masses and her report of the event is simply another tease to those of us waiting for specifics on how best to advocate on behalf of our District.  Yet Mrs. Snook ends with a call to action, reminding all of the importance of contacting our legislators.   

Charter/Alternative School report

With the school year over, there is little to report on the charter/alternative front.
However, Mrs. Tiernan does a lovely job filling in the empty spaces of her colleague's legislative report, informing us of two PSBA-supported pieces of legislation related to cyber/charter funding: 

Senator Judith Schwank’s SB 335 would remove a school district’s responsibility to pay  cyber-charter schools tuition for a resident student if that district offers a cyber program “equal in scope and content” to the non-district program. Currently, districts are responsible to cyber charters for a district resident’s tuition.  Example: Under SB 335, if WCASD had its own cyber program, they would no longer be responsible for paying the tuition of district students choosing to attend other cyber-charters.  Thus, families choosing to attend cyber-charters, other than the WCASD cyber-charter, would be responsible for paying their own tuition to the cyber-charter school of their choice. SB 335 encourages districts to offer their own cyber programs and places responsibility for cyber-charter tuition on families.

Senator Patricia Vance’s SB 812 would amend Section 1725-A of the Public School Code to  include school district retirement costs on the list of expenditures that must be subtracted from the total budgeted expenditures when determining the amount a charter school gets for each resident student attending.  In essence, the bill eliminates the pension "double-dip".  Charter/cyber schools are paid by a district for their employee retirement costs and are also reimbursed by the state for 50% of their own employee retirement costs. 

Public Comment, Non-agenda items

A teacher wishes to clarify the difference between the aforementioned Act 93 agreement and the current teacher negotiations:  Act 93 administrators accept an agreement whereas teachers must vote on a contract. 

Two Henderson students speak, one male, one female.  Both will be seniors in the fall and commend the excellent and committed teachers they have experienced throughout their career in WCASD.  The young man is “confused and upset”  by what he reads in the paper and asks the Board to stop “bullying”  his teachers. (Of interest here: recent article about impact of lengthy Neshaminy conflict on students)

At this point, Property & Finance Chair Mr. Carpenter responds to the students, assuring them the  Board shares their views and has great respect for the dedication and talent of WCASD teachers.

Another teacher, using the journey of her daughter’s lacrosse team as an analogy, asks the Board to “step up” and  be “team players”.  

To this Mr. Murphy responds, stating  the Board has “stepped up” and expressing his confusion about the teacher’s decision to decline fact-finding. He calls for an end to the “diversionary tactics” of attacking the board and the need for the teachers to focus their attention on the reality of a $6 million gap and the significant savings that can be found in healthcare costs.   Mr. Murphy continues, stating that it does not matter who attends negotiations. What matters is that the parties involved focus on the critical issues at hand in order to reach an agreement. 

Mr. Murphy’s remarks provoke a few unsolicited comments from the audience in attendance, but the gavel signals a peaceful adjournment.  And in the end, what remains painfully clear is the fact that to be a “team player”, all parties need to be playing for the same team or at least focused on the same goal.