Monday, May 26, 2008

Hearsay . . . really?

In his letter to the editor of the Courier Times, Phil Schieber of Flowers Mills said that the stand Bill Spitz and I took against board interference in Neshaminy’s hiring process was based on hearsay instead of evidence. Funny, but I thought it was pretty factual when I stated that our superintendent, per his own words to me, was misled regarding the board’s involvement in changing the official recommendation for an administrative position (since I’m a board member, I should know if WE agreed on such a change). Also not in dispute is that Dr. Spitz repeatedly challenged those I accused to explain their actions, and neither gentleman would even deny the charges.

One thing I’m sure that both Schieber and I would agree on is that hearsay without any factual support can be harmful. One example occurred around the May 2007 election primary when a resident of Flowers Mill spread an unfounded rumor in his community that I refer to senior citizens as “old geezers.” A more recent example would be how a couple of gentlemen in Flowers Mill told residents back in February that school taxes could go up as much as $1,000 even though Act 1 restricted the average increase to no more than $370.

Such examples show that hearsay and unsubstantiated rumor can be used to cause fear and panic within a community. But you can rest assured, Mr. Schieber, that the information that Bill Spitz and I reported to the community are factual and verifiable.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Recommendation due on teacher contract negotiations

According to an article in the Courier Times, “Today, a fact-finder, assigned by the state Department of Labor Relations, is scheduled to make a recommendation after reviewing both sides' cases . . .”

Up until now both sides have described progress as slow. Unfortunately there is not more I can tell you because I cannot participate in the negotiations, so I’m pretty much hearing things at the same time as you.

Please feel free to add your comments regarding this situation BUT please keep your opinions respectful and on-topic. I will not publish insults, unfair attacks on either side, or baseless rumors.

When you read the Courier Times article, you can also add your comments at the bottom of that story. Here is a link to that article.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Happy Birthday!

We are 6 months old today!

With over 40,800 hits since its inception last November, this blog averages more than 225 visits each day. We could never have achieved this success without your devotion to the Neshaminy School District.

Thank you all for stopping by!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Sign up for Email Alerts

Stopping by the blog to see if any new posts have been added? Why not save yourself a little time and sign up to be on my email alert distribution? I'll send you an email notification any time my blog is updated or whenever there is important information to pass along. It's quick, easy and completely confidential.

All you have to do is click on the "sign up for email alerts" link over in the right nav bar; that will open up a pre-addressed email message. All you have to do is include your name in the body of the email, then hit the send button.

There are nearly 200 area residents signed up for email alerts, and there is always room for more. Sign up today!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Redistricting plan ready and waiting

A quote in a Courier Times article from Assistant Superintendent, Lou Muenker, about the potential closing of Neshaminy Middle:

“I think we have a viable plan with the best interest of students and staff,” said Muenker. “We understand that redistricting is a very tough, emotional subject because everyone loves their home school. But it's, unfortunately, necessary.”

You can read the article in its entirety by clicking here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hard work and community support make a difference

The highlight of last night’s board meeting was the revelation that next year’s budget deficit has been whittled down from its original $15.6 million to just under $3 million. Superintendent Kadri is still optimistic we can get the budget down to the Act 1 limit of a 4.4% tax increase (without benefit of any exemptions). We’re not completely out of the woods yet regarding our budget woes; we continue to tap into our reserve fund to offset expenditures, and we still have what Kadri referred to as a “$7million structural deficit.” So unless certain cost issues are addressed, we will find ourselves in a similar situation when the 2009/2010 budget cycle begins. But for now the budget story is a good one, and Kadri and his entire cabinet deserve strong praise for their efforts. Thank you all!

The only negative news from last night was the concerns raised by students from the Neshaminy High School Swim Team regarding the air quality surrounding the Poquessing pool deck where they practice and compete. Nobody on the board seemed to be aware that the conditions were quite this bad, and it raised questions about health and safety issues. We have asked for district officials to examine this matter more closely and suggest options.

Here is the Courier Times’ report of last night’s meeting.

Other developments this week . . .

The Board Policies Committee continued its discussions of possibly forming a board-level personnel committee. This idea continues to draw criticism from some board and community members who are skeptical over giving more control of hiring decisions to the board. One alternative to another committee is to tweak the interview process to include board members and citizens along with administration. Hopefully all parties involved will see this as a reasonable compromise.

The Education Development Committee has agreed to pass along the recommendation to mandate PSSA proficiency as a graduation requirement. Next stop is the Board Policies Committee, who must prepare the measure for board approval. Other districts who have adopted this concept have seen some pretty dramatic improvements in the very first year, with scores jumping as much as 12%. But the plan isn’t as simple as mandating proficiency – there are a number of support elements and safety nets which are an integral part of the idea. There is still some work that must be done before this is ready for prime time.

I continue to be pleased and impressed with the increased attendance at meetings recently. The board room has been filled to capacity on numerous occasions, and we have seen many new faces including PTO parents, students, and other community activists. Several of these people have even attended board committee sessions recently, which further improved the effectiveness of those meetings. Despite all the challenges facing Neshaminy, there is reason for optimism with this kind of participation and support.

Keep up the good work everyone!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Proof is in the pudding

The latest victim in this current fuel price crunch is food costs. We see it at the grocery store and at restaurants, and it has even hit Neshaminy though you wouldn't know that based on our prices. Our students continue to pay less for school lunches than anywhere else in Bucks County. The chart to the right shows that we fall $.25 below the county average for high school and middle school lunches, and $.32 less for elementary lunches. With Neshaminy's Food Services staff projecting a shortfall, it's no surprise that they are recommending price increases beginning September 2008. If the recommendation is accepted by the board, school lunches will increase by $.30 for all grade levels.

Not all the board members agree with the recommendation. Frank Koziol believes that a 14+% increase in lunch prices exceeds the increase in food costs and is therefore excessive. Business Manager Joe Paradise countered Koziol's position by pointing out that Neshaminy rarely increases its lunch costs (last time was September 2004), and the suggested increase will bring Neshaminy in line with the other area school districts.

Here is an article in today's Courier Times regarding the impact of fuel prices on area school district food programs.

What do you think? Should Neshaminy raise its school lunch prices?

Time Change

Tuesday's (May 13th) meeting of the Board Policies Committee has been move to 5pm instead of 6pm. Please make note of this change. The board meeting is still scheduled for its customary 7pm start.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Two important meetings

There are two very important board committee meetings coming up next week. I strongly encourage your attending either one or both, depending on which issues are most important to you.

1. Education Development Committee (Monday May 12th, 6pm – Board Room)
The topic of mandating PSSA proficiency as a graduation requirement will be discussed. This is your chance to see and hear the senior educators in our district that advocate this idea. It’s an emotional issue with strong arguments both for and against.

2. Board Policies Committee (Tuesday May 13th, 6pm – C&I Room)
Discussion regarding formation of a personnel committee. You all know my feelings on this one . . . until this district and this board can restore public confidence in how it manages the hiring process, no way should we implement a personnel committee. That would be like putting the mice in charge of the cheese. I would support a citizens’ oversight panel, but that is not up for consideration.

Committee meetings are smaller, less formal than board meetings, and they are excellent opportunities to observe the recommendations that are eventually passed along to the full board for consideration. Attendee participation during the meetings is encouraged, and is much more interactive than at board meetings.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Disappearing act

Last night’s meeting was a marathon session lasting over 3 hours. There were some important updates on the Tawanka program and also the high school renovation project. Since it may take a while before you watch the entire broadcast, let me give you a few highlights under the category of . . .

Now you see it, now you don’t

1. Retirees: Before the meeting, the annual celebration to acknowledge service anniversaries and retirees was held in the Maple Point auditorium. Even though we are losing some fine educators to well-deserved retirements, their legacy of educational excellence will remain. Thank you and good luck to all the retirees.

2. The Retired Educator: When the meeting began, the room was full of parents, PTO members, and senior citizens – all except for one notable absence: Howard Lindner. I don’t know if he was asked by MRC party leadership not to attend, or if he just chose to stay home and watch American Idol. All I can say was he wasn’t there, but one of his cronies was. She stayed long enough to hear public comment, then left shortly afterwards. My guess is she was there to report on any public reaction to Lindner’s tirade at the last meeting.

3. The Contingency: Here’s the bottom line on the NHS renovation project – with 38% of the project remaining, only 10% of the contingency fund remains. Is that good? Bad? I’m no construction manager, so I asked someone in the building trades about it. He told me that the rule of thumb is that 90% of a contingency fund is used to finish up the last 10% of a project. If that’s true, then holding the line on the renovation project budget is going to be a difficult challenge. The major obstacle is the road improvements required which were not considered in the original project plans. That added approximately $450k in unanticipated costs.

4. Tawanka: All indications are is that the alternative program has been deemed successful as it prevents upwards of 22 students each year from dropping out. So while the program may not disappear, the building will (sort of). There are a number of parties interested in renting part or all of the facility, and this could be a significant source of revenue for the district. But the question is where to house the alternative education program? The Eisenhower facility seems the logical choice, but there will be some costs associated with renovating that building. Another consideration may be at Sandburg/Schweitzer, but can the program be as effective if the alternative program students aren’t in an isolated environment? There doesn’t seem to be clear consensus amongst the board, and there isn’t a whole lot of time left to figure it out.

A few parting thoughts

I was extremely pleased to see a plethora (hi, Erin!) of attendees last night and at many of our meetings over the past few months. While the concerns of redistricting and building closures is what may have drawn these people out, many of them are sticking around and asking questions, and they’re coming back again and again. I attribute this to the work of our dedicated PTO leaders around the district. They have been doing a fine job of educating their parents as to the issues, and encouraging attendance at the meetings.

I have received numerous emails and even a few phone calls of encouragement after the last meeting, with people showing concern that I was beaten up by Mr. Lindner and his political posse. Thank you all for your support and kind words. To be honest, I wasn’t all that bothered by what happened because I expected it. When you’ve been around this district long enough, you understand how things work. What happened that night was nothing more than a pathetic, predictable attempt at maintaining control (although the teamsters in the back were a nice touch). If anything, Mr. Lindner’s actions that night only served to strengthen my resolve.

Lots of positive feedback on the video clips from the last meeting. I’ll try to include clips in future posts but it’s a bit of a challenge. I don’t have the ability to digitally record the meetings, so I have to find someone who does. Then I have to get around to actually reading the directions for the video editing software. Maybe with a little practice I’ll get better at it.

Next Tuesday’s (May 13th, 7pm) school board meeting will feature updates on the Neshaminy Middle School closure and the 2008/2009 budget. It will be a can’t-miss meeting, although I hope it won’t be nearly as long as last night’s session.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Thoughts from last meeting

Before commenting on what transpired during the April 23rd board meeting, these two video clips should give you a painful reminder of what we all had to endure . . .

There are two particular moments that really stuck out in my mind:
#1) Lindner disses Kadri
Wow, talk about kicking a guy when he's down. Paul Kadri has not had much to smile about during his stint here in Neshaminy, and he's made it clear his future will be in another school district. Despite this, Kadri continues to work diligently to make our school district a better place. Apparently that's not enough for Howard Lindner.

Lindner launched into a verbal attack on Kadri, which was pretty gutless considering that he knew Kadri would never respond to him during a public meeting. Ironically it may have been Kadri who was one person in this district who tried to help out Lindner's family member by splitting that temporary administrative assignment to begin with. It's possible that by creating two jobs out of one, administration opened an opportunity which may not have been available to Lindner's family member otherwise.

Another thought - what if the shoe was on the other foot? What if Lindner's family member was the one shut out of an opportunity because of a handshake deal? Would he be so quick to condemn the concept of a split position then?

#2) Lindner's Posse
Lindner's "community" consisted of two groups:

Political Hacks - It was a Who's Who of the Middletown Republican Committee on hand to support Lindner, including:
* The MRC chairperson
* Several MRC committee people
* A former MRC auditor
* Two failed MRC school board candidates
* An unsuccessful MRC township supervisor candidate

With one gentleman using the occasion to launch his future campaign, and another being proclaimed a "future school board member," Lindner has made it very clear he is still a powerful influence within the MRC. For voters in Levittown and Langhorne, this means a vote for an MRC school board candidate is a vote for Howard Lindner. Would-be MRC candidates should strongly consider registering as Independents.

Intimidators - When a dozen or so Teamsters, who have never attended a school board meeting before, show up to be loud and intimidating in support of Lindner, you can only assume they were there to be a show of power. We've seen these kinds of tactics before, and undoubtedly we'll see them again. During the prior school board meeting, one of Lindner's minions pressured a PTO mom to keep her comments to herself by using a scornful, threatening tone. It was serious enough that the woman filed a complaint with the district, claiming that she would call the police if she was subjected to such treatment by this person in the future.

Mr. Lindner's behavior overshadowed what could have been a very positive meeting. At the outset of the session, a joint statement was made by a group of PTO parents and senior citizens calling on the board to resolve their differences and continue to work on the issues confronting Neshaminy. Lindner's performance minimized the efforts of the group as he took center stage, but it did serve a very useful purpose - it showed the entire community what he is all about. But unlike in previous years, these PTO parents are organized and committed to getting Neshaminy back on track, and they won't tolerate misinformation, temper tantrums, and intimidation tactics. No more running the school district from the cheap seats.

That is what gives me hope and confidence that things will get better.

Note: When responding to this post, please keep your comments constructive and on-topic, and avoid personal attacks/insults. Remember, I have to keep this blog PG-13.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Finally some good news

We have been teased for a couple years now about property tax relief through gambling revenues, and now it appears the state is ready to make good on its promise. According to Neshaminy officials, the district will receive nearly $3.6 million to be distributed among the 16,600+ approved homesteads. This translates into a $216 credit on your school tax bill in July.

Please keep in mind that this does not affect the district's Act 1 budget limitations, so we must continue to find ways of reducing our spending.

So what do you think about this tax credit . . . happy? Disappointed? Surprised it even happened? Complete the survey to the right, and add your comments to this post.