Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Alt Ed program – it’s a brainer

What to do with the Alternative Education program at Tawanka? That is perhaps the most challenging question among many that we have to deal with, and there is no easy answer. Consider the pro’s and con’s of the matter . . .

The program is educationally successful, saving an estimated 12 students or more each year from dropping out of high school, and helping dozens of others to succeed. At the same time, the program is expensive and costs more than if we sent the students to facilities outside of the district.

While there are other successful programs outside of the district that we could send our students to, we run the risk that they could be lumped in with students having more serious disciplinary and/or emotional issues. Unquestionably our ability to manage which students are enrolled in Neshaminy’s Alt Ed program is a significant factor in its success.

So here is the challenge: Can we move the Alt Ed program currently residing at Tawanka to another facility within the district that can operate the program more efficiently? That very topic was discussed this past Monday evening at a Strategic Planning Committee meeting, and district administration had an out-of-the-box alternative they presented – renovate and utilize space up at the BELC area of the high school to house the program.

I was very hesitant about this idea when I first heard of it, but a compelling case was made for its consideration (there are a few ugly aspects to this idea that administration has to work out before I could fully support it). I also believe the renovate Eisenhower idea is a viable option for the Alt Ed program that warrants further consideration; I am not a fan of sticking this program at other school facilities like Maple Point or Sandburg/Schweitzer.

You can learn more about the BELC option by reading
this Courier Times article.


swelle said...

I am surprised that you would consider moving the kids up to the high school. If they haven't been successful up there before, why would they be successful now?
I am surprised and a little disappointed you would do this. What am I missing?

sk.langhorne said...

Did I wake up and start reading the wrong blog today??

I must be living in Jersey said...

I think the sudden departure of Kadri has sent O'Connor into a bizarro world where he starts thinking the opposite. Quick someone please call a doctor!

William O'Connor said...

To Jersey: LOL . . . bizarro world.

SK: Nope, this is the right blog.

Swelle: There is much background you may not fully understand, and that may make my views seem dissapointing to you.

First, the BELC will be detached from the rest of the high school facility, so the Alt Ed students will be separated from the general population. There is still some question as to how they would handle phys ed classes, and that is one of those "ugly" issues that needs to be addressed.

Another thing to keep in mind is our budget. Some estimates have our Alt Ed program running between $5k - $10k per student more than other programs in the state. Let's assume that it's only $5k more; multiply that against a program enrollment of 50 students and our Alt Ed program is costing taxpayers a quarter of a million $$$ more than if we outsourced the program. There is much underused space at Tawanka which contributes to that high cost, so identifying a more cost effective location is a prudent step.

In just a couple of months, we will begin our budgeting process for the upcoming school year, and we will have fiscal limits put upon us by the State. We cannot exceed those limits, so if we don't find ways to save money here, then something else will have to be cut. Can you tell me what that should be, Swelle? Should we cut out extra curricular activities like football or choir? I'm not trying to be combative with you. These are the factors we must weigh in our decision.

If it helps to put your mind at ease a little, I asked that the Tawanka principal be invited to our next Education Development Committee meeting. I will ask her point blank if the Alt Ed program can be successful up at the BELC or Eisenhower. It may not be as successful as it was at Tawanka, but keeping the program alive is something I believe to be crucial to our educational success.

If you still feel I'm being unreasonable, then please feel free to fire back. Hearing what you have to say is the reason I started this blog. Thanks for voicing your opinion.

I must be living in Jersey said...

I was kidding about the bizarro world stuff. I know you are trying to balance a budget and keep the Tawanka program alive. Not sure how I would handle that if I were in your shoes. Good luck.

swelle said...

Please stick to supporting the students. There are enough board members who think about the dollars and cents as it is. They don't need your help. Our children do.

LivininLevittown said...

What's wrong with you people. I don't always agree with Bill but he is doing what he always does. He is waying all the options. You all kiss his but on this blog but then the minute he does something you don't agree with you think he has turned into a monster or something. Our taxes in Neshaminy are the highest in bucks county and probably entire pennsylvania. If our spending doesn't go down then programs will get cut it's that simple.

finance-101 said...

To Everyone That Posted, including Mr. O'Connor:


Sometimes we forget that. With that in mind, we must make educational decisions that will help our real estate prices. At Neshaminy we have not done that. Renovating a high school instead of building new and getting rid of a good superintendent are not good financial decisions. The outside world is watching. We want people to move in, not move out. At Council Rock, the outside world wants to move into that district. At Council Rock, the teachers and administration are not better. Their school board just makes smarter finacial decisions which add to their housing values.

The Alt Ed program at Tawanka is something " very special". $250,000 is pocket change. Split between every tax paying home owner, it will cost less than a 6-pack.
These positive "special" programs not only reap huge benefits to the kids, but we will easily make much more than we spend in the long run. "Special" programs and new ideas are noticed by the outside world.

This is another situation where you spend money to make money.

A win, win !!!!

JS said...

Yes that area of the high school would be seperated, but it's not a prison.

Alot of what the Alt Ed. program is about is keeping those students focused on education. A lot of the distractions that they are avoiding by being at Tawanka would be sitting just across the parking lot, let alone if they had Phys. Ed. with the rest of the High School.

Cutting costs are great, but why sacrifice the whole point of the program.

KClarinet said...

To LivininLevittown:

You've made similar comments before about Neshaminy's teachers' salaries being the highest in the state (or was it Bucks County?) and now you state as fact that our taxes are the highest in Bucks (and maybe all of Pennsylvania). I for one don't have the figures in front of me and don't really have the time to track them down, but I'm certain they're available on a public website. You may be correct, though I'd be really surprised it these stats were accurate (I think, for example, that CR is higher in both their salary commitments and their tax rates). Do you have a source, or are you just repeating what "they say" at the store check-out lines?

I don't want to pick a fight - this is generally a very civil blog and I wouldn't want to disturb that. But statements like these, if they aren't verifiably true, are dangerous in the current economic climate, especially when there's a contract being (more or less) negotiated. They can lead to pressure that results in very bad decision making. If they are true, they might very well cast a different light on a lot of issues for many people.

Do you (or does anyone else know?) the facts?

JS said...

Here is a reported list for county millage rates (again reported).

citizenx said...

I should begin by stating that I have had an oppurtunity to work with all of the regular and alternative ed programs availible in the district. Tawanka is one of the best programs availible to these students. Tawanka does an excellent job off working with a unique type of student that would likely be less successful at the other alternative programs availible.
Next, I would strongly encourage the district not to place the Tawanka program within walking distance of any of the other regular ed programs. Part of what makes Tawanka so successful is that it is a separate entity from the other schools and is able to provide a more isolated environment. This benefits both the Tawanka and the regular ed students. Mixing these kids together is a recipe for disaster. I would strongly consider the Eisenhower option if it is fiscally manageable.