Friday, December 28, 2007

Political Innovation

An article in yesterday's Courier Times highlights my plan to eliminate pay-to-play in Neshaminy. My favorite part of the article is "Administrators in most Lower Bucks school districts . . . said they neither have such a policy on campaign contributions nor plan to establish one." This means we can be the first in the area, perhaps the entire state, to set an example of how to keep politics away from our schools.

Thanks to my fellow board members for seting politics aside and allowing this idea to be considered.

You can read the complete Courier Times article here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Just Say NO to Pig Farmers!

What do our high school students think about the board's interference in hiring an AD candidate not recommended by Administration? According to the student newspaper, The Playwickian, "The injustice of their decision is comparable to a pig farmer voting on the CEO of Microsoft."


You can read the entire editorial here.

You Can't Make this Stuff up!

Student arrested in Florida for cutting food with a steak knife . . . 10-year old charged with possession of weapon on school property.

If wasting time were a crime, the faculty in this school should go to prison!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Another View on an Outrageous Decision

Another letter in this morning's Courier Times says "I am appalled by the outrageous decision by Neshaminy school board members regarding the hiring of a new athletic director. I am speechless as to how a group of elected officials can undermine the educated and carefully thought-out recommendation of school administrators." Here is a link to the complete letter.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Issue that Won't go Away

A letter to the editor in this morning's Courier Times accuses former school board member Jason Bowman of influencing the recent hiring of an athletic director. The author of the letter, Steven Kramer of Middletown, adds that these actions represent an abuse of power and that any of the board members who were involved in this action should resign.
Please indulge me for a moment while I climb back on my soapbox . . .
1) To Mr. Kramer and all those who feel the board abused its power: I encourage you to focus on the issue, not the people. I have not seen any evidence which indicates that Bowman influenced this decision, and unless you have verifiable proof of inappropriate actions, please refrain from making baseless accusations. This makes an already bad situation even worse.
2) Instead of participating in the rumor mill, keep your argument grounded in fact. Talk about what you do know - the board, without any participation in the interview process, inexplicably went against the overwhelming recommendation of administration. Ask for answers. If you do not get answers, ask again.
3) To my fellow school board members: This is what happens when you take actions that contradict established best practices. Even if you made a decision with the best of intentions, people will assume the worst and make accusations as Mr. Kramer and others have done. I know you all wish this matter would go away - and it will, as soon as you can reassure the public that you understand their concerns and will act accordingly in the future.

Going Green

As published in an article in eSchool News, school systems nationwide are beginning to realize the benefits of "going green" when building new schools, according to experts who follow school construction trends. Though the initial building costs can run higher, schools are seeing a return on their up-front investment through a reduction in monthly energy costs.
You can read the rest of the article here.

Open House at NHS

For anyone who might be interested . . .
An Open House is planned for January 7, 2008, to showcase Phase I of the newly renovated Neshaminy High School .
The Open House will begin at 6:00 PM with a ribbon cutting ceremony in the “Hub” of the building. The “Hub” can be accessed by entering the building at the Performing Arts Center located at the rear of the building and following the signs. Tour guides will be present to assist visitors. The parking lot at the rear of the campus will provide the most convenient parking for accessing this part of the building.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

PSSA's as a Grad Requirement

While the district is mulling over how to motivate students to take the PSSA’s seriously, there is much disagreement over whether or not to make PSSA proficiency a graduation requirement.

From what I’ve observed, most within district staff don’t believe it’s a good idea, but clearly some administrators see it as a quick way to get results even though almost everyone would prefer positive motivation rather than negative reinforcement.

There is tremendous public pressure to raise PSSA scores immediately, and that may drive the decision regarding the issue of proficiency as a graduation requirement.

Getting Educated about Tech Ed

The myth that Neshaminy offers too many Tech Ed classes at NHS seems to have been debunked for now, but some questions do remain. Neshaminy offers 14 Tech Ed classes at the high school as compared to 22 in Bensalem, 29 at Council Rock, 16 at Pennsbury, 9 at Truman, and 9 at Tenant.

Now we have to figure out why our Tech Ed budget appears to be so much higher than those other districts. It’s probably because of how they are being classified (in other words, we aren’t really spending any more on Tech Ed, but our expenditures stand out because they aren’t lumped into another category as they are in other districts).

Out of our $9.3 million Tech Ed budget, $4.1 million is for tuition paid to the BC Tech School, and only a little over $500k is for programs at NHS. This leaves $4.7 million in expenditures that are classified as “Tech Ed” but we’re not sure exactly what they’re for.

Sounds like further research into this subject is needed.

Too Early to Panic

If the 2008/2009 school year budget was cast in stone now, the average homeowner would see a $287 tax increase. But the budget is far from final at this point, and it is standard operating procedure to include worst case scenarios in these early rounds of review. As the budget cycle continues through 1Q08, you’ll start to see some of those expenditures come down (most likely).

Unfortunately there’s a limit to how much we can cut under the current teacher’s contract. For the moment, we cannot make any new assumptions regarding salaries, benefits, class size, etc. Once the new contract is in play, the board and the district should have significantly more latitude in managing expenses. Hopefully that will occur before the 2008/2009 budget is voted on by the Board in June 2008.

You can learn more about the preliminary budget by reading this Courier Times article.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

We're Not the Only Ones

School board members in North Hills want to micro-manage the hiring process, and critics of this action say it will open the door to sub-standard candidates and who-you-know hirings. Don't these school board members have day jobs?

Click here to read the article.

Putting a halt on Pay-to-Play?

In case you missed the December 3rd board meeting during which I took my oath of office, below is a statement I made with respect to managing the perception of pay-to-play in Neshaminy:

During every political season, one of the most prevalent and controversial issues is pay-to-play where campaign contributors are given lucrative contracts as a form of payback. Pay-to-play is not a Republican thing; it is not a Democratic thing. It is a political phenomenon that exists everywhere. Fortunately Neshaminy is spared the perception of pay-to-play for the most part because school boards are obliged to go with the lowest bidder. One notable exception to the low-bid process is for our solicitor, and appropriately so.
Since we do not want to low bid on a solicitor because good legal counsel is invaluable, we as a school board should do everything possible to give the public confidence that our appointment of a solicitor is not tied into campaign contributions. We can do this by adopting a policy that precludes any solicitor from consideration of employment by Neshaminy if they have made a donation either directly or indirectly to a Neshaminy school board candidate during a recent campaign cycle.
We can make this idea even better by reducing a candidate’s dependency on raising campaign funds by providing them with a valuable communications tool at no cost - the Neshaminy Cable TV network. Through such vehicles as televised debates or candidate profiles, this will be target marketing at its very best. And I am confident that our active community members would appreciate this as an avenue by which to learn more about who they should vote for.
I’m not asking the board for consensus on this idea now - I’ll bring this forward again
in the new year and ask that we refer the idea to Board Policies committee for development. And if we work on this together as a bipartisan measure, we can craft a solution that will help to ease the public concerns over pay-to-play without creating an advantage for any one political party. I hope every board member will support this idea.

So what do you think . . . good idea or waste of time?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Interference not Limited to Just School Board

I was going to devote this post to the school board's controversial appointment of an athletic director (AD), but the public has been doing a better job than I could at taking the board to task over ignoring the recommendations of Neshaminy Administration. So I'll leave this aspect of the story by adding the wisdom of 20-year Centennial school board member Joan Jankowksy who recently told the Courier Times that board members need to remember they are there to govern and set policy for their respective districts — not run the day-to-day operations in the schools.

Sounds like good advice.

There are some other people who could benefit from that advice - people who should know better than to interfere in the hiring process. And I'm not talking about school board members. I am talking about those Neshaminy employees and members of various booster organizations who attempted to undermine other candidates in an effort to improve the standing of the person they supported. It's one thing to write positive letters on behalf of your candidate, but when people start spreading unsubstantiated rumors of scandal/favoritism, or publicly forecast gloom and doom if the wrong candidate is selected, that is a completely different situation. Such behavior is childish, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable.

I may not agree with what our school board did, but at least they did it in full view of the public and are being held accountable. To take a controversial stand that will be unpopular requires a certain amount of conviction and courage. Conversely, to bang the war drums in the anonymous rumor mill without concern for the repurcussions is the work of a coward. And quite frankly, Neshaminy needs to rid itself of such people. Anyone care to disagree?

In the meantime, the newly appointed AD deserves the support of the Neshaminy community. He is a qualified individual who is working to improve the lives of our students. If anyone objects to the manner in which he was hired, remember that your battle is with the school board, not the candidate.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Did the School Board Make a Mistake?

The recent board decision to accept the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) offered by Pennswood Village drew some sharp criticism from the public. An angry Flowers Mill resident chided the board by saying "I can't see how you can go home tonight and face yourselves." Another citizen said the board should have challenged Pennswood Villages claim of tax exemption. You can read this Courier Times article for more details.

It's easy to understand why people are upset. Pennswood Village pays Neshaminy about $650,000 each year in school property taxes. Under the PILOT agreement, that amount will be reduced to $550,000 next year; $450,000 the following year; and $350,000 in the final year of the agreement. Who gets to make up the difference - YOU DO! So the question becomes, did the school board drop the ball by not challenging Pennswood Village's tax exemption?

Despite the understandable frustration of the public, the Neshaminy School Board made the right call. If they refused to accept the PILOT offer, Neshaminy's operating budget would have been in the red by $650,000 instantly. It's better to get something than nothing.

Yes, the school board could have chosen the path of litigation and challenged the State's ruling that led to Pennswood Village's tax exemption, but that would likely have taken years in court and carried a hefty price tag with it - again, to be paid by Neshaminy homeowners.

And when considering the board's wisdom in accepting Pennswood's offer, remember that they approved the decision unanimously (8-0); for our oft-dysfunctional board to be in total agreement says that the facts clearly show discretion to be the better part of valor. Board President, Rick Eccles, said it best: "It's unfortunate that we're being put in this situation . . . but it was a business decision."

Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but the problem here isn't Neshaminy or Pennswood Village. The real problem is our antiquated method of funding education through property taxes. Harrisburg owes us a better solution than that, but don't hold your breath.

And give the Neshaminy School Board a pass on this one - they made the correct decision.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Funding Public Education

We are so preoccupied as a community by our school property taxes that we forget what the issue at hand is - how to subsidize our public schools. And until Harrisburg gives us a funding method that doesn't unfairly burden property owners, education programs will be sacrificed in favor of more reasonable property taxes. Unfortunately the alternatives offered to Bucks County residents only add to the burden.

They gave us Act 72, then Act 1, and now it's HB1600. These are some of the attempts at property tax reform given to us by Harrisburg; the first two went down to overwhelming defeat at the hands of the public and HB1600 is probably not too far behind. The problem with all these bills is that for most homeowners in Bucks County, they will pay more in increased income taxes than they will receive from property tax reductions.

Confused? You should be . . . currently there are approximately 11 measures being considered in Harrisburg to "reform" taxes, and the majority of them will increase the tax burden on Bucks County homeowners. Doesn't sound much like reform, does it? There is one bill authored by State Rep Sam Rohrer of Reading (pictured above), HB1275, that sets out to do the one thing the others do not - ELIMINATE school property taxes. HB1275 looks to broaden the existing sales tax base (not increase sales tax, just expand the items that are taxable) and increase state income tax by .85%. In exchange, HB1275 forever eliminates your school property taxes. Do the math . . . if you're a homeowner, you'll save a bundle. If you need help, here's a property tax calculator.

In order for HB1275 to be enacted, it must have the support of our locally elected representatives. Write to our friends in Harrisburg and tell them to support HB1275. Call them on the phone. Tell them not to give us tax reform measures that will increase the burden on Bucks County Homeowners. Whatever you do, don't do NOTHING. Contact your representative today!

You can contact State Rep Chris King by going to the following site; State Senator Tommy Tomlinson can be reached via

If you get any feedback from one of our representatives, please add comments to this post so that everyone can see what's being said.


I hope you will enjoy this new site. This blog will be a little different from what we used to publish on - I intend on being very issue-focused in my updates, and I want YOU to tell me what you think by adding comments under each post. This will be the best way for you to communicate with me. You can also reach me via email at

Thank you to everyone who supported my candidacy for school board. I pledge to bring my "A" game every single day to help make Neshaminy a better place for our students. You can help me by staying in touch, telling me what's on your mind, and showing up once in a while at board meetings.

William O'Connor