Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Board to attend workshop

Despite such matters as school closures, budget deficits, contract negotiations and PSSA scores, the most serious issue of all is the conflict within our school board. It didn't get this way overnight. It's been many months, even years, in the making.

Many of last night's meeting attendees were expecting fireworks as rumors of an all-out war between board members were abound, but there was none. Just prior to last night's session, all nine school board members agreed that the situation was preventing them from focusing efforts on decisions that benefit the community. We agreed to meet soon in a facilitated workshop to hammer out our differences.

For those of you who came to the last two board meetings or who have been so vocal in recent weeks about what has been going on in our school district, I thank you for your input. All of us on the board benefitted from hearing/reading your opinions, and now it is up to us to put our collective effort into making positive strides forward.

During the next couple of weeks (until the board has met), I would appreciate your comments to be focused on primary issues such as the budget, facilities, test scores, the students, etc. Please refrain from any personal attacks on individual board members at this point as I want our board to head into the meeting without any further conflict. Please trust me when I say that your opinions have made a difference, and now I want to turn your sentiments into action when I meet with the board in the coming days.

Thank you!

NMS, Tawanka closures under consideration

As I reported to you a couple weeks ago, the board agreed to consider closure of Neshaminy Middle School for the upcoming school year. The process calls for a public hearing followed by a 90-day period before the board can render its final decision. Due to scheduling difficulties which would have conflicted with Spring Break, the board agreed to hold the hearing on the only other business day available to them - Friday March 14th at 6:30pm. Please keep in mind that the public can continue to address building closure issues at any public meeting.

The board also agreed unanimously to close the Tawanka Learning Facility at the end of this school year. No firm plans have been made as to where the alternative education program will be housed next year.

The board was divided on the subject of closing an elementary school for the 2008/2009 school year with 6 members opposing the idea. As you might expect, the large crowd on hand was divided mostly along generational lines with younger adults applauding the choice not to rush a decision, and seniors upset that the board wasn't doing enough to reduce expenditures.

Click here to read the Courier Times' recap of the meeting.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What's wrong with a good Mr. Fix It?

That's the title of a column appearing in Sunday's Courier Times sports section, and the author borrows quite liberally from our superintendent's struggles with the school board as the inspiration for this article.

Click here to read the article.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Important Note about Voting

Since the reader polls are designed to allow only 1 vote per IP address, district employees using their neshaminy web account won't be able to vote if another employee has already cast a vote. But I do want to hear from you, so please log into your home account and vote.

Grade Alignment

The McKissick Study has offered us several different considerations for grade alignment. Putting aside money considerations for the moment, tell me which grade alignment you prefer by completing the poll over in the right nav bar. As always, you can also add your comments to this post.

Note - there was a typo in the second option of the poll which should read K-4/5-8.

Fulltime Kindergarten

Advocates of fulltime K say that the program enhances a child's early educational development while opponents say that it's fulltime childcare at taxpayer expense with no history to prove the expense is worth the effort. What do you think?

Select your answer in the reader poll in the right nav bar, and feel free to add your comments to this post.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Kadri stays in Neshaminy for now

The Plymouth-Canton area school district did not choose Paul Kadri for its superintendent's job last night because they saw him to be a person who brings great change to a district in need of it, and they believed their district only needs a little tweaking.

Sounds to me that their reason for not choosing Mr. Kadri is the very reason we should keep him.

This information was provided to me via the reporter, Tony Bruscato.

*** Updated Feb 20, 9am *** Click here to read Mr. Bruscato's article.

*** Updated Feb 21, 1pm *** Click here to read the Courier Times article.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Decision on Kadri due Tuesday

The Plymouth-Canton school board will decide on their next superintendent early next week, and Mr. Kadri is still among the finalists. You can read the latest by clicking here.

How many of you out there are hoping he doesn't get that job? Unfortunately no matter what happens out in Michigan, the elements making life difficult for him here in Neshaminy still remain. Under the circumstances, I can't imagine any person wanting to be a superintendent in this district.

Someone recently pointed out to me that the PA School Board Association (PSBA) website contains a voluntary Code of Conduct that includes "We should respect that the superintendent of schools and his or her staff are responsible and accountable for the delivery of the educational programs and the conduct of school operations." On that same site is a list of school districts which have agreed to honor this code - notice who hasn't signed on. Coincidence?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Next Meeting is February 26th

Just received word a few minutes ago from the board president that we will not be rescheduling this past Tuesday's school board meeting. I regret that this board could not pull together a meeting for next week, but apparently scheduling difficulties made it impossible.

That just gives y'all more time to prep for the 26th. See you then.

Building closure discussions to continue

At our last meeting, the board decided against any middle school closure options for the 2008/2009 school year by a 6-3 margin. The consensus opinion was that we didn’t have sufficient information to make such a decision within 6 days of the latest McKissick study update, and we instead opted to consider building closures for the following school year.

Earlier this week, we received clarification that we can still consider building closure for the upcoming year without having to make a final decision at this moment. I’m sure many of you will be confused and concerned by this development, and I want to reassure you of exactly what this means and what will happen next.

No later than the February 26th meeting, the board must agree to consider (emphasis on the word “consider”) closure of a particular building in order to keep our options open for the upcoming school year. The next step will be to hold a public hearing sometime in March, followed by a 90-day period during which the board has an opportunity to collect more information about the various options discussed in the McKissick study (keep in mind that the board still has yet to decide between the 6 options covered in that report). At the end of the 90-day hearing period, the board then will take a final vote on whether or not to close the building for the 2008/2009 school year.

I regret any confusion or anxiety this situation causes, and it’s imperative you understand that my position in this matter has not changed. I have always committed myself to fact-based decision making after a thorough examination of necessary data. The reason I voted no last week is because I understood (as most other board members did) that would represent the board’s final opinion in the matter, and as of that moment I did not have all the information needed to decide otherwise. By agreeing to consider a building closure now, I am simply giving myself and the other board members the time and opportunity to make the right educational and fiscal decision.

The last thing I would want is for you to become skeptical as to why the board may agree to revisit a building closure for next year. When something like this occurs, it’s natural to assume that something sneaky or unethical may have happened, or that we buckled under some sort of political pressure. I promise you that neither is the case. The only reason this is happening is exactly as I described above.

The important thing now, and always, is that you stay informed and stay active, and come to the board meetings in person. Don’t leave it to the Courier Times or your neighbors or even this blog to tell you what’s going on. There is no substitute for YOU.

As always, I value your feedback and encourage your comments to this post. If you prefer, please feel free to contact me directly via email.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Bad decisions yield bad results

We’re expecting a large crowd at Tuesday night’s board meeting including a number of residents who will complain that we did not agree to close a middle school for the upcoming school year. While their frustration is understandable, they must realize that the current financial crunch we find ourselves in didn’t just happen – this has been years in the making and has a trail of bad decisions in its wake. We cannot allow ourselves to be rushed into another bad choice.

The current teachers’ contract (the most expensive in Neshaminy history) and not building a new high school (which would have been finished this past summer) are very real examples of how our community’s inability to look even a few years down the road has come back to haunt us. Yes, the promise of saving money by closing a building is very tempting, but we must be absolutely sure that we’re making a good educational and financial decision.

Another example of bad decision-making came to light last week with the revelation that the previous board agreed to shelve the McKissick study for 6 months so that it was not made an election issue last November. While that may have made perfect political sense, it was an incredibly short-sighted move that deprived us of important information. Yet the very board members who put the McKissick study on a 6-month hiatus are now criticizing the other members for not being able to make a rush decision. Instead of having 6 months to consider this data, we had 6 days.

I still have many questions regarding the various options in the McKissick study, the benefits of grade realignment, the impact of redistricting, and the true cost savings associated with building closures. And without the opportunity to resolve these issues, it’s nearly impossible for me to make a fact-based decision to close a building now. I respect the opinions of those who seem to be able to make such choices based on faith rather than fact, but that’s not something I can do.

Regrettably I am out of town this week on business and cannot be at Tuesday’s meeting (I offered to participate by phone but was told that was not within Neshaminy’s bylaws, and the matter is under review by our solicitor). Since I cannot be there to speak for myself, I wanted you to understand that not closing a middle school was not an easy decision. If the McKissick study wasn’t delayed unnecessarily, perhaps my vote would have been different. But unfortunately that’s what happens when people don’t consider the long term implications of their actions, and ultimately it’s the children and the taxpayers who suffer.