Friday, June 27, 2008

Is NCLB working?

The Courier Times reported that standardized test scores are on the rise throughout the United States. There is some question as to whether or not this is a result of No Child Left Behind, but the results are encouraging regardless of their root causes.

In a follow up editorial, the Courier Times applauded the efforts of school districts that mandate PSSA proficiency for would-be graduates, and they encouraged Neshaminy to adopt this same policy.

Are our children really learning more, or are they just becoming better test-takers? Will mandating PSSA proficiency further improve test scores? What do you think?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A man for the people

I don't normally watch ABC's The Practice, but this clip of William Shatner is incredible, especially during this presidential election season.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Policies Meeting Rescheduled

The Board Policies Committee meeting has been rescheduled for next Tuesday, June 24th, at 6pm in the C&I Conference Room at Maple Point (just down the hall from the board room).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Finally, a responsible budget

The final board meeting of the 2007/2008 school year ended on a good note. Without using any of the available exemptions under Act 1 constraints, Superintendent Kadri proudly unveiled a 2008/2009 budget which remained within the 4.4% inflationary limit. A couple of board members didn’t feel this budget did enough to cut expenses, but I strongly disagree considering the following:

* For the first time in many years, our operational expenditures actually decreased.
* Only $3.7 million of the projected $6.5 million fund balance is being used to offset budget increases, leaving $2.8 million in reserve. For 2007/2008, $7 million of the available $9 million was budgeted, leaving only $2 million in budgeted reserve. So we’re spending less and saving more.
* This amazing budgeting feat was accomplished despite drastic reductions in investment market income, soaring fuel costs which added nearly $1 million more in expense, and over $2 million in contractual payouts to the large number of retirees.
* The best part is that no educational programs were cut as a result of this budget.

Certainly there is more that can be accomplished in future budgets, but Mr. Kadri and his staff did an amazing job despite a rigorously challenging school year that included building closures, redistricting, teacher contract negotiations, and the ongoing high school renovation. If I started to applaud individuals, I would undoubtedly leave someone off the list. So let me personally thank everyone in Neshaminy administration who contributed to all that was accomplished. We certainly had a tumultuous, often controversial year, but your efforts have allowed us to end things on a very positive note.

Here’s looking forward to 2008/2009!

Here is a link to a Courier Times article regarding passing of next year's budget.

NMS closes, Tawanka remains open

During the final meeting of the school year, the board closed one of the two buildings on the chopping block while keeping the other open for another year. Closure of Neshaminy Middle seemed like a no-brainer despite the tremendous inconvenience caused to staff, students and parents due to the delay in pursuing the findings of the McKissick Study. Given the declining enrollment and pending budget crisis, clearly the board/district had to do something with one of its middle schools. Although nobody was in love with the idea of closing NMS, even the community members participating on the Redistricting Committee agreed it was the right thing to do.

One of the ongoing controversies with consolidating middle schools surrounded grandfathering of next year’s 8th and 9th graders to Maple Point. Many parents voiced concerns their 8th and 9th graders should be permitted to attend that school regardless of where the redistricting boundaries fell, but district administration could only ensure a quality school year for the grandfathered 9th graders; adding another 50 or so 8th graders to Maple Point is more than that building could handle.

My own opinion is that while grandfathering 9th grade students is understandable, it’s going to be way too crowded at Maple Point next year with over 1400 students in attendance. Two of my children attended MP when there were 1200 students and that seemed like chaos. I cannot imagine what over 1400 students will be like in that building. For those parents who fought to keep their kids at Maple Point another year – as the saying goes, be careful what you ask for.

Regarding Tawanka, that was a less obvious decision. Most, if not all, of the board agrees that the alt ed program at Tawanka is academically successful. There is some question as to what the true per-student cost for the program is, and some board members believed the program could be made more cost effective if it were moved to the high school or a middle school building. But because there were not five (5) votes to support its closure, Tawanka remains open for another year. The ideal location for the alt ed program would be the Eisenhower facility, but it would require $200k in renovations. In the end it was cheaper to keep the program where it is for now – Tawanka, but the board and district must continue to evaluate the cost effectiveness of the program, and find the best location to house it.

Here is a link to this morning's Courier Times article on these facilities.

Rally for school property tax elimination

Organizers of a rally in support of House Bill 1275 asked me to be one of a dozen speakers in support of this bill that seeks to completely eliminate school property taxes. The rally took place on Monday June 2nd in the Harrisburg Capitol Rotunda in front of approximately 500 enthusiastic supporters. You can click here to see the entire rally, which lasted a little less than an hour. If you want to see my little three minute blurb, go to the time bar at the bottom of the media player and advance it approximately 2/3rds to the right (around the 30 minute mark).

To learn more about HB1275, go to the
PA Taxpayers Cyber Coalition website.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Monday, June 9, 2008

Beating the heat

The District announced that buildings will close early today and tomorrow due to excessive heat. The following details were posted to Neshaminy's website:

Approximate times for dismissal due to heat for today and tomorrow:
high school - 10:45 am
middle schools - 11:20 am
elementary schools - 11:45 and noon
NO PM kindergarten (6/9 10:05 am)

Plans are being prepared to dismiss students early today because of excessive heat in schools. Details to shortly follow. (6/9 9:35 am)

The weather is for continued heat for the next two days. We will monitor the conditions of our un-airconditioned buildings. Updates will be posted here (6/9 7:30am).

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A long way to go

If you read this morning’s Courier Times article, then you already know that there is quite a difference between what the NFT is asking for in the next CBA and what the Board/District is offering.

Here is a link to information compiled by Neshaminy’s Negotiation Committee.

The Courier Times summarized the offers as follows:
· Increase salaries 1 percent annually
· Union to pay 10, 11 and 12 percent toward healthcare premiums over next three years
· Increase K-5 class size ranges from 22-29 students to 27-33 students
· Eliminate $27,500 cash payment on retirement, plus full benefits coverage until 65
· Increase step schedule from 11 to 15 steps by 2010-2011
· Eliminate longevity pay
· Eliminate long-term sub pool
· Increase work days from 188.5 to 190.5
· Increase work hours from 7 to 7.5
· Eliminate recognition of master's degree equivalency
· Change six excused absences to three personal days
· Institute mandatory drug-testing for staff

· Increase salaries 4 percent annually
· No change in health insurance; currently no payment for premiums
· Reduce class sizes from 29 to 27 students in fourth grade, 29 to 28 students in fifth grade, and 35 to 30 students in the middle and high schools
· Increase retirement incentive from $27,500 to $30,000
· Assign no more than three consecutive teaching periods
· Eliminate sister-schooling at the elementary level
· Increase prep periods from five to seven per week
· Allow 12 days per year, or 15 periods per marking period, for individual education plans for special ed teachers
· Cap special ed students at one to every three “regular” students in regular education classes
· Implement required technology education at elementary level
· Implement full-day kindergarten

Start brewing some coffee . . . this may take a while.

Clarification - The Courier Times summary of offers noted above does not accurately reflect the true percent of increases. We are proposing a 1% increase in the SALARY SCHEDULE, which translates into a 3.1% average increase for returning staff after accounting for step movements. The NFT is proposing a 4% increase in the SALARY SCHEDULE, which translates into a 6.1% average increase for returning staff.