Thursday, March 27, 2008

Grad date changed

Originally scheduled for June 17th, Neshaminy High School seniors will now toss their caps into the air on Thursday, June 12th.

The rain date will be Friday, June 13th.

That should make the students and their parents very happy.

Just 78 calendar days remaining!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Survey says . . .

62% of readers believed that PSSA proficiency should be a graduation requirement while 38% said no (78 total votes). Undoubtedly this topic will remain controversial while it is being considered by the board, and I encourage any interested parties to attend an upcoming Education Development Committee meeting (date tbd) to learn more about this topic.

Next survey question . . . Should the board close the Tawanka Learning Center and move the alternative education program to another facility? Proponents of the idea believe it's the only way that Neshaminy can meet its Act 1 fiscal requirements, and it is prudent to make use of underutilized space in other facilities. Opponents of the idea say that the alternative program thrives at Tawanka because it is removed from the other facilities, and offers struggling students a safe haven away from the crowd of a larger building.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Enemy of the good

According to Voltaire, the pursuit of perfection should not derail what is good. Unfortunately when it comes to property taxes, Harrisburg cannot even achieve good enough.

A recent study published in reports that Pennsylvania is the worst place to retire based on taxes (click on the image to the right for an enlarged view). According to the report, “You might expect that Pennsylvania, second only to Florida in its percentage of residents 65 and older, would cut seniors some slack. While it does offer a property-tax rebate of up to $500 to some older homeowners, our hypothetical couple's $60,000 income was too high to qualify.” The table above shows the top (most favorable), middle, and bottom (least favorable) 5 states to retire in based on taxes.

This is another example of how our antiquated system of collecting taxes is strangling homeowners, and pitting seniors against parents in the ongoing battle to fund education. Unfortunately our elected officials in Harrisburg have been unable to agree upon an alternative to the current system. After failed attempts at half-measures such as Act 72, Act 1, and the under-consideration HB1600, Harrisburg has shied away from more substantive reform alternatives such as
the School Property Tax Elimination Act (HB1275). At the heart of the battle against true property tax reform are the special interest groups who seek to protect their turf despite the fact that many Pennsylvanians will be denied relief.

There was such optimism when the discussion of tax reform began last year. After Act 72 and Act 1 failed, the public thought it had sent a message to its legislators that they wanted change, not a tax shift. And it seemed like many in Harrisburg were listening. Our own state representative Chris King sponsored several local public hearings on the matter, and again the public was able to speak in favor of eliminating school property taxes. As the debate carried on in Harrisburg, the idea appeared to be gaining steam. But despite the best efforts of Bucks County people and our local representatives, the political leaders in Harrisburg couldn't agree on the best reform package. They even considered merging a couple of the different bills but those ideas quickly fell. As the debates concluded, we were no closer to property tax reform than we are now.

All you can do is to keep plugging away. Start by contacting our state representative, Chris King, and encourage him to continue the fight until sweeping reforms are passed by the House. And when that is complete, contact Tommy Tomlinson and demand that the Senate follows suit. Undoubtedly there are many reasons why our elected officials can't come to an agreement on true, meaningful property tax reform, but in the end that is not something we should accept.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Building closure hearings take place

The Tawanka hearing began promptly at 6:30pm and lasted just under an hour. Speakers ranged from teachers to students, each noting that Tawanka's remote location is ideal for the alternative education program, and it provides students with separation from the high school while giving them a great place to learn and grow.

The hearing from Neshaminy Middle took a different tone as some residents questioned if the board had adequate time to make a decision while senior citizens from Flowers Mill claimed they could no longer afford their school taxes. The most compelling statement came from teacher Ann Schmidt who said that if a decision isn't made till mid June, then teachers won't know who their students will be for the following September and they won't be able to plan ahead. She added that teachers will be unable to send home work packets for the summer if they don't know which students to send them to.

The atmosphere remained civil for most of the evening until the last few minutes when one parent, Janet Walton, voiced her frustration with Flowers Mill residents because they should have known their taxes would be higher when they moved into a newly built retirement community. Those comments drew a few hisses from the senior crowd, and Marvin Dickler angrily responded that it's not fair to criticize Flowers Mill for wanting to reduce high taxes.

Here is a link to a Courier Times article about the hearings.

The board now has 90 days to review data before it can render its final decision about both facilities. Residents can continue to voice their opinions about building closures at future school board meetings.

Below is a summary of the comments made at both hearings. I did my best at capturing the gist of what each speaker said, and I apologize in advance for any misspelled names or omitted quotes.

Tawanka Closure (6:30pm) – Approximately 150 residents in attendance

1. Kate Colon – Student at Tawanka and Neshaminy high school (senior). Doesn’t believe the program can be as successful in another building. It needs to be separate from the high school. 2. Josh Kreiger – teacher at Tawanka. Found more reward in his 2 years at Tawanka than 8 years as honors teacher at NHS. Children never fall through the cracks. Concerned that the board doesn’t have a plan where to relocate the program. Putting them back at the high school would be a problem.
3. Louise Boyd – NHS teacher and NFT president – Tawanka is an alternative school at an alternative location. Students see Tawanka as a safe place to grow and learn. Where will the program be located to? Planning to close it should be coupled with planning on where it should go.
4. Jessica – Student at Tawanka – More than just a school. The high school isn’t the best place for every student.
5. Graham Passan – Guidance Counselor at Tawanka – The program has been without question a success. The environment is crucial. If they become part of a larger building, there is no confidentiality.
6. Cody Burgess – Student at Tawanka – Alternative is the key word. Good for students who cannot get their abilities fulfilled at the high school.
7. Joe Kelley – Social worker in Neshaminy – Separateness is important. The facility has much to do with the alternative program’s success.
8. Joe Horn – Social worker at Tawanka – Witnessed Tawanka for the past four years and it is a strong program. The transition to Tawanka is easy because of its atmosphere. If you move the program, it must be moved to an environment separate from other schools.
9. Solis Basen – Flowers Mill – Speaking on behalf of many of the seniors. They aren’t against the merits of the program but question its financial viability. Very few speakers are residents and therefore cannot feel the pain of seniors with the taxes.
10. Steve Rodos – Flowers Mill – The board and district are victims of their own success by creating a wonderful, successful program at Tawanka.

Neshaminy Middle Closing (7:30 pm) – Approximately 170 residents in attendance
1. Fran Wiener – Parent – Understands financial situation but encourages the board to consider all options. The current 8th grade students will be most affected. 9th grade is the start of high school and they’ll have to endure two moves in two years.
2. Jacqueline Kramer – Student at Maple Point – Please consider students before making any decisions. Petition signed by 260 Maple Point students asking not to close NMS because of impact it will have on them. We value our class sizes at Maple Point.
3. Alissa Singleton – Student at NMS – Class size is cozy and we don’t want to increase class size.
4. Stacey Henry – Parent – Her home was already redistricted five years ago.
5. Renee Cohen – Parent – Think of message we are sending. A well educated community is a successful community. We were all taught to keep our promises, and NMS was originally told it would be closed only when 9th grade could move up to the high school.
6. Linda Sienkiewicz – Parent – Please consider all options before simply closing a building. Consider the K-8 model in the McKissick study. We must stand as a united community toward the goal of educating our children towards a better future.
7. Anne Schmidt – Teacher – The key here is planning. The last-minute actions will create chaos. Teachers won’t know which students to plan for when school ends in June. They won’t be able to send home packets for the summer. The school closing timeline is not in the best interests of the students.
8. Kevin Knowles – Teacher – Staff retirements will give savings to budget. He doubts this info or grant money is considered in the preliminary budget. Neshaminy Middle is a community of students and staff. It is one of 2 buildings that achieved Blue Ribbon status. This building deserves better than this rush to judgment.
9. Louise Boyd – Teacher, NFT President – Concerned about building efficiency levels if students are shifted.
10. Jacqueline Bacarti – Student at NMS – Neshaminy Middle is a caring place for learning.
11. Ms. Mittelman – Student at NMS – Every day at NMS is a great day. It takes a long time to build up that kind of relationship with your teachers. Please don’t think just about the money.
12. Mark Stanford – NMS Students – Education should not be compromised due to efficiency. I’m proud to go to a Blue Ribbon school.
13. Carol Parssinen – Parent – Already affected by closing of Poquessing. It is a logical decision to close NMS, but not with just a couple of months notice. Can we cut certain programs for just one year so we can make a better decision?
14. Joan Goldstein – Flowers Mill – Buildings don’t make the education – the staff and the students do.
15. Bill Lindenberg – Flowers Mill – Told the children in the audience he was about to turn 90 years old. He’s not rich, but he’s not poor. He’s on a fixed income and it’s difficult to afford to taxes.
16. Ed Polumbo – Flowers Mill – To the parents who want to keep schools open, you soon will be in our shoes.
17. John Brodbeck – Parent – We’re all here for a reason, and ours should be to maintain an exemplary school district.
18. Kelly Nelson – Student – If you cram NMS students into other schools, class size will be too crowded. What will that do to the value of our education. We were promised no closure until 9th grade moves up to the high school.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Should he stay or should he go?

According to a letter to the editor in yesterday’s Courier Times, one Middletown resident believes Mr. Kadri should resign now. What do you think?

You can rebut or support that opinion by sending your response to the Courier Times. Remember to include your full name, address, and daytime phone number.

Closing the building, not the program

There is confusion surrounding the proposed closing of Tawanka as some people believe that the board is looking to discontinue the alternative education program. It is the board’s intent to find a more cost effective home for the program, and that means the program will continue. I have not heard one board member even suggest anything to the contrary. So when you come to speak at Friday’s public hearing, please keep in mind we’re only looking to close the building, not shut down the program.

Speaking of the hearings, some of you have voiced concern that you are unable to attend Friday’s sessions. Please remember that you can still speak to the issue of building closures at any of the upcoming public board meetings as well, so you will have ample opportunity to address the board with your opinions.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Editorial misses the mark, sort of

The Courier Times incorrectly perceives the tension among board members to be a result of differing opinions. If that were the case, this morning’s editorial would be spot on. For those of you who witness school board meetings on a regular basis, you know our problems go much deeper than that.

I’m not upset with the Courier Times for their editorial. In fact, I am grateful that they are keeping this matter in the forefront of the news.

Let me leave you with a humorous anecdote arising from all this discord. Several weeks back while explaining to Frank Koziol how I respect his opinions and intentions even though I don't often agree with his views, I said "I disagree with about 75% of whatever comes out of your mouth." Without hesitation, Mr. Koziol smiled and replied "well, how does it feel to be right only 25% of the time?"

Well played, Mr. Koziol, well played.

Score: Koziol = 1, O'Connor = 0

PSSA’s as a grad requirement: What do students think?

You might be surprised to learn that in a recent survey of over 1700 NHS students, 68% believed that making PSSA proficiency a graduation requirement would motivate them to try harder. Less surprisingly, 73% said that incentives would further increase their motivation. This data suggests that if we mandate PSSA proficiency to be a graduation requirement but do so with the proper support and encouragement, student motivation will increase.

Several Neshaminy faculty members, in conjunction with the Education Development Committee, are compiling data from other PA school districts that have mandated PSSA proficiency to learn if their programs have been successful in increasing test scores. The Committee will consider this and all information before making a recommendation to the board.

As always, I’m interested in your opinion. Please answer the poll question over to the right, and add your comments to this post. And if you’re really interested in this topic, I recommend you attend the next Ed Development Committee meeting (date tbd).

Reader Poll Results

Thank you to all who voted!

Grade alignment:
K-5/6-8 (72%)
K-4/5-8 (3%)
K-2/3-8 (1%)
K-1/2-8 (1%)
K-8 (23%)
Total votes = 126

Fulltime Kindergarten:
Yes (70%)
No (30%)
Total votes = 125

FiOS hoping to broadcast NNTV soon

According to Neshaminy’s Business Manager, Joe Paradise, FiOS could be broadcasting the Neshaminy Channel as early as end of this month.

Saturday, March 1, 2008