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!

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice to hear some good news coming out of your meetings. It also sounds like the board is moving in a positive direction finally.

SK in Langhorne said...

Congratulations to Mr. Kadri and Mr. Paradise for their efforts. People criticized Kadri in the past for not being a former educator, but he has shown where his business skills come in handy. He has tried to bring some discipline to an environment that often made up the rules as it went along. I hope he stays in the district and the whole board will start working with him instead of against him.

The board’s behavior has been better the last couple of meetings, and that is a direct influence of your forcing the board to look at itself. Instead of allowing this group to plod along with business as usual, you challenged them when things weren’t right. Now they know there can be no more secrets, no special agreements, no more sitting on the sidelines doing nothing. Now we are hearing the others speaking up. Last week Mrs. Cummings was very vocal about Tawanka, and I’m finally hearing what Mr. Katsaridis voice sounds like. Mr. Eccles is even starting to behave like a real leader again.

It was a painful couple of months for all of you, I’m sure. I can’t imagine it was any fun for you to sit there and listen to Mr. Lindner’s criticisms of you a few weeks ago, or to hear the demands of resignation from his followers. But you and Mr. Spitz did what needed to happen, and that kick in the pants is just what this board needed. You’ve shown them that you can speak softly but also carry a pretty big stick (ala Teddy Roosevelt). It will be easier for them to work with you than against you.

Sorry to have rambled on. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

PTO parents rock! They are the backbone of our district. They understand what our children need from education to be successful. We need more PTO parents on the school board.

Anonymous said...

Not sure how I feel about PSSA's as a requirement. You seem to be in support of it now. Maybe it will improve test scores, but does it put too much pressure on the students?

William O'Connor said...

The Ed Development Committee has considered both the educational and emotional aspects of this idea. This program can only be effective if the right support mechanisms are in place. As I noted in my post, more work is necessary to get us to that point, but I do believe we're on the right track.
Earlier this year, teachers at the high school employed some strategies during PSSA testing to make the environment more pleasant and (hopefully) productive. We'll see if this strategy was successful when the scores are released in July.

the grade is posted said...

Mr. Kadri is clearly showing that the correct way you should answer an off-the-wall public comment is to simply just do your job. He has consistently shown that he has that rare combination of skills that includes the areas of business, finance, technology and education. Also, he has lots of common sense. A+ again on his report card.

really disgusted said...

Once again I missed the mtg because of another school event but I am happy that the board is listening to the swim team regarding Poquessing's pool. We've tried as parents and PTO but to no avail. Glad someone is finally listening...now it's time to clean it up. It is and has been very bad and the fixing of the deck this summer is long over due. Guess it took the decking to collapse to get some notice. Seems to have been a more civil meeting where obviously the public is more apt to speak and things can be accomplished!! BRAVO!! It's about time!

Where oh where is he said...

To "Grade is Posted", I wonder if our favorite retired teacher will now publicly compliment Mr. Kadri. Maybe he's down in New Jersey scouting out Kadri's former district, or is he out there still searching for that cheap renovation he promised us? Should I even ask what grade you would give him???
Mr. Kadri handled himself with class by not reacting to those criticisms, and he got some revenge last night by getting the budget numbers down to where nobody thought was possible. It's nice to see the good guys win one every once in a while.

TMA said...

This board is moving in the right direction and I applaud everyone for their efforts in working together on common goals, but what's to happen when the community creeps back into the false sense of security that things are okay and all is right on the school board? What's to happen when the crowds fade away? Six months from now will this board still be working in the best interest of this community? What's to happen when Mr. Lindner suddenly makes a reappearance and brings his thugs to intimidate the few people left behind?

Stay tuned.. if the community fades away you don't need a crystal ball to read this future.

William O'Connor said...

Great comment, TMA. By the time summer is over, the budget will be finalized, we'll have decided which buildings to close, and parents will be focused on getting their kids ready for school. They'll stop coming to board meetings because of other commitments.
Remember that 2009 is an election year with 4 seats on the line. By next Feb/March, the political wannabe's will make their way back into the room to support the board members they like, and criticize the ones they don't.
I cannot express just how important it is that parents and other community members continue to attend board meetings. It helps to keep the entire board focused on the truly important matters.

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more TMA. I think this is the calm before the storm. Linder has stayed away after the teamster fiasco, but he will be back.

The leadership on the board needs to change. There is still no communication between Mr. Kadri and board leadership (or between board leadership and other board members). When Mr. Eccles is no longer president is when we can truly feel secure about a brighter Neshaminy future.

don't hold your breath said...

I don't think Eccles is going anywhere. He's been acting more like his old self. I assume he's doing that to push aside his image of being a harm to the board and is trying to act more presidential. I don't believe we'll be seeing Lindner for a while if the Republicans have anything to say about it. He is linked to Eccles, Webb and now the candidates who he dragged to that meeting. His behavior was so incredibly bad that it could tarnish the party all the way up to the next election. Let's be honest, would you vote for any school board member he supports?

LS parent said...

After watching the meeting on tv, I'm still concerned about the future of the pool deck. Though most of the board said the right things about fixing it and the air quality, I'm nervous that Mr. Koziol and Mr. Webb will argue that it's too much money.
We're shutting down schools, possbily overcrowding Maple Point, shuffling the Tawanka program, and still living with the renovation at the high school. We keep doing everything to lower costs. When will we start doing things that benefit the students? Education is an investment, and once in a while you must open up your wallets and let the moths out.

st319 said...

For Neshaminy to be secure and heading in the right direction, we need not only Eccles to resign, but Muenker too. He was equally involved with Lindner's family member being given an administrative position.

Remember...it takes two to tango!

KAC said...

The poor dynamics on the school board continues. Do not let the absence of the "Republican Teamsters" and their leader, Mr. Linder lull you into a false sense of security.

Mr. Eccles does not communicate - AT ALL with at least 3 board members OR the Superintendent. How can there be open dialog regarding pressing Neshaminy issues if these individuals do not even speak with one another?

I hope Mr. Eccles would glimpse back to a time when his intentions were pure and realize that he has lost perspective. Its ok, it happens to the best of us. Do the right thing and step down as president…reflect and regain the untainted viewpoint you once had.

Mr. Eccles must step down as president so the board and administrators can be successful in making decisions that affect our children.

time to go said...

You are absolutely right, kac. Don't let his calmness at the meetings fool you. It's all an act. He still shows his lack of respect when people speak. His head is always down and he either flips through papers or doodles. Funny how all of a sudden he is dressing up and asking questions. Perhaps he thinks we will all change our perception of him.

To Eccles...We won't change our perception of you. For the good of Neshaminy, you need to resign!!!

Anonymous said...

KAC and TTG, yes many of us wish Eccles would step down for the good of the district but he's already defiantly said he won't, and there isn't enough backbone on this board to toss him out. We should focus our energies where it will do the most good. We must keep getting people to the board meetings. If we get more parents to the meetings, they will become better educated about which board members to vote for next year, we can support those board members who are fighting to make things better, and we can make sure that our friend the retired teachers doesn't waltz back in.

Been Cut Before said...

Are any of the reductions in the budget coming from District Office? Seems like anyone who talks about reducing the budget feels the only place to save is by cutting certified staff.

Cuts and reductions should come as far away from the classroom as possible. Administrators will tell you the reductions won't affect teaching and learning; guess why they're telling you that? There's plenty of money to be saved at District Office.

really disgusted said...

to been cut before...all I have to say is AMEN!! NSD is very heavy in the middle management area. Too heavy. They could consolidate many positions there but I am sure there are too many friends within the board, etc. Sometimes we have to make hard decisions. I'd like to see quite a few positions reduced. We can def save money if the district was run effectively - like a business for the 'non-educational' portion of the district. There are too many trucks/vans, etc wandering on the road and too many work orders backed up.

I must be Living in Jersey said...

BEEN CUT - How about some examples of middle management cuts? I hear people say this all the time, but when I ask them for examples, they just say they don't know but have heard others talk about it. Are you talking about Lead Teachers? Assistant Principals? I would appreciate some more info.

Maybe there are spots that can be cut, but the district would be foolish not to focus its efforts on the teachers contract. I've heard as high as 80% of our budget is for labor. With mid management cuts, we're talking about hundreds of thousands of $$$. With the teachers contract, we're talking about millions.

been cut before said...

No one can complain when the "pain" of cutbacks is shared, but when some are cut and others not touched, people can get bitter. I was the victim of vindictiveness before, so I don't feel free to talk about District Office quite yet.

I must be living in Jersey said...

Once again I can never get an answer to that question about mid management overstaffing. I'm not asking for specific names or locations, just an idea of what kinds of positions. I sometimes think everyone says we're overstaffed in middle management because they've heard the retired teacher talk about it and they assume it's true.

Anonymous said...

Mr O'Connor,
When Maple Point first opened it was at near capacity and operated with 3 administrators. Mr Kadri announced last week that it will now have 4 and less kids than it did then. This is insane. Your thoughts please.......

William O'Connor said...

I am greatly concerned by the crowding that will be a MP next year. When my older two children went there, the student population was around 1200 and that was very crowded. I recall once going with my son to his locker and almost being mowed down as we tried to cross traffic to get there. Next year, MP will have at least 1370 students, and maybe just over 1400.

It's not going to be a comfy fit, and hallways and the cafeteria will be quite congested. Classrooms will be more crowded than MP students and teachers are used to.

To me, this is the major drawback of closing NMS at this time.

njd said...

Mr O'Connor, I think that's the biggest draw back of this whole situation. There are so many studies out there that tell us too many students in a class aren't good for learning.
The student who is 'sorta' lost in class may be overlooked because of the demand on the teacher. That teacher now has to ensure that they can handle 30 or 32 in class. Sure they're paid to do it, but can we be a little realistic here? I don't think we've heard those details. How many are we talking about in a class for the 4 major subjects? How does this impact the ninth grade major classes? Will kids be turned away now at MP or Poquessing because the class can only hold so many or will they be able to split the demand into 2 classes and that teacher still be able to handle their other classes? Or are we now 'short' on teachers? Meaning we need 1.3 teachers and someone has to travel between MP and Poq and we're paying for their mileage etc for travel? Plus the lost of teaching time...so many questions. Don't know if you know the answers but don't know if anyone as asked them?
I am sure I could go on with wacky little detail questions that I would imagine district office has looked at but maybe not effectively communicated to the public? We need all the facts...