Tuesday, December 30, 2008

District eyes smooth transition

With 9th grade moving up to the high school next year, the district has undertaken efforts to prep middle schoolers for the transition. Today's Courier Times has an article highlighting a symposium held by the district designed to ease the transition and to address any questions or concerns the students may have.

My greatest concern for next year remains the building capacity of the high school which is still estimated to be in the low/mid 90 percent range. Ideally building capacity should be in the mid 80's to allow for maximum flexibility of class scheduling. When a building gets too crowded, flexibility is limited and so are the class choices available to students.

During one of our recent Town Hall meetings, board member Bill Spitz questioned the wisdom of possible relocation of the alternate education (Tawanka) program to the high school BELC area next year when we may need that space for student overflow. Business manager Joe Paradise countered that we could still relocate the alt ed program to the BELC, and we could also delay moving Facilities and Purchasing up to the BELC for another year or so if necessary to allow for student overflow. Spitz asked for additional enrollment projections for next year to see if Paradise's plan would provide sufficient space for students.

There is no doubt that it will be crowded at the high school next year. The important question is how much impact will it have on the students?


KClarinet said...

I'm not sure your ideal of mid-80s is shared by all of your colleagues on the board, but you would know that better than I do. It seems that recent moves in the elementary schools have pushed occupancy well beyond 90% of capacity.

I don't know anything really about the BELC area or how it has been proposed to renovate it, but I feel strongly that, wherever the Tawanka (alternative) program is located should be isolated from the main school population. If we need that space for the regular high school program (which Mr Paradise and the administrators on the educational side keep telling us is not the case), the alternative program should be housed elsewhere.

I thought it was disappointing that Ms. Canelli's article in the Courier seemed to focus more on the normal fears and apprehensions of students moving to a new building and level than on meaningful discussion of the renovated high school's potential for over-crowding. Those garden-variety, perennial anxieties the students expressed in the article aren't the problem - if there is one, it will be a shortage of instructional space. So far, on this subject, all I seem to read (maybe I've missed something important) are simple reassurances by Mr. Paradise and Dr. Muenker that there will be enough room. I guess we'll know in September. :-)

News Flash said...

Good point KClarinet. We are hearing many reassurances but little fact. I guess that will be the modus operandi of the new regime.

platypus said...

This is a good test for Mr. Muenker if he wants to be superintendent. If he really cares about the kids he can't just allow them to move to overcrowded conditions. At the same time he has a board majority that is more concerned about taxes than they are about education. I have heard from many people in the district that no way can the high school building hold all those students but nobody will say anything because they fear the board politics.

LivininLevittown said...

It may not be ideal to have many students at the high school but the kids will be fine. Our taxes are to high and we can't afford to do anything else. They will deal with it for one or two years then the population will go down to make the building big enough to hold them all. If you don't use the belc for the tawanka kids then you will have to keep another building open and tax payers can not afford that.

march said...

LivininLevittown what do you plan to do if the enrollment doesn't go down? Have the students in classes of 35-40 students and then complain when the PSSA scores are low. The problem with Levittown is the people do not think past their nose or their wallet. Yes, I do live in Levittown.

When people comment that people outside of Neshaminy don't want to live here they are correct. Compared with other school districts, Neshaminy repeatedly shows that they do not care about education only the bottom line. If I had realized how bad Neshaminy was I would not have moved here 6 years ago. I value education for my children and came from a school district where they were constantly improving (full day kindergarten, state of the art science labs, $50 million addition/renovation). The idea of everyone, including seniors, was that if the school district was exceptional then the housing value would improve.

We are very short sighted in this school district.

Tim said...

Can you work on getting someone else from Levittown on the school board next year March? The three that are there now reflect the exact attitude you describe - money over children. They were the ones instrumental in driving Kadri away. At least one of them made a deal with the devil earlier this year to get a political buddy's child a promotion in the district. These are the people who are representing you.

JS said...

Those in charge of the board majority were the ones who pushed for this current renovation. One that has been consistently downsized to save money. (District employees are being used to complete final details such as painting, cleaning, assembly so there is less overtime paid to construction workers) If this plan doesn't satisfy the needs of the district, they will be the ones who are left to take the blame, which we all know a certain puppet master would not like.

The Tawanka program should not be brought to the High School regardless of the available space. Those kids, purposely segregated from the general student body, would be reintegrated for both Physical Education and Lunch. Unless you plan to move them "chain-gang" style that is only going to ask for problems to arise.

Now to the "transition". No one I know who currently works at the High School (teachers, secretaries, etc) thinks that the 9th grade will fit without taking the building usage past 100%.

An example is that one department already moved into their new building classrooms is ALREADY at 95% of classroom usage. That means they have 5% space to fit an additional 25% of students. There is also no one who works a lunch period in the cafeteria who thinks an additional 25% of kids will fit even just to sit and eat.

I suggest the board ask for some hard numbers (like actual enrollment and building capacity numbers) so they can head this potentially humiliating situation off before it comes to light on its own.

Erik said...

The high school staff has been forced to drink the kool aid. In private they will tell you that the building is too small, but in public they put on a game face and say it will be tight but we'll make it work. Your request for updated capacity numbers is fair JS, but I'm not so sure how accurate they will be. I do think district administration will low ball the estimates. Like you said, the board members in control pushed for this renovation, and they have the allegiance of some district administration. Do you really believe the board will get information that says anything but the high school capacity is ok?

William O'Connor said...

To put everyone at ease, we did ask for updated enrollment and capacity numbers at our last town hall meeting. I reiterated that request to Dr. Muenker earlier today in hopes that we can further this discussion at our first public meeting in January.

Stay tuned.

Rebecca said...

I support what Tim said. We need to get better representation on our board from all the areas in Neshaminy. I don't know how many spots are open next year but we should all do what we can to identify and support good candidates regardless of which area they are from. School board members have a tough job balancing good education and reasonable taxes, but they should be putting children at the top of their concerns. If we don't make our votes count, other people less interested in good education will.

LivininLevittown said...

March maybe you should move to langhorne then. We have had smaller class sizes and our test scores have been lower than other districts around. I don't think class size has anything to do with it. I don't want the high school building to be over 100% but there is no reason to believe that will happen. If teachers think it will be more crowded and don't speak up then that is there own fault. I do want to see good education for our children but there is too much waste in the district and our taxes are to high. Why do we have teachers in charge of subjects but then also have lead teachers to. We have too many teachers not teaching. That is wasteful.

William O'Connor said...

Editor's Note - The following comment from JS was edited for content

LL-There is EVERY reason to believe that it will be. As I stated, current newly completed sections are already near peak capacity. That is even WITHOUT the 9th grade there.

And what do you expect those teachers to say? "Um, hello, taxpayers who will have to pay our new contract, this building isn't going to work like you planned?" Yeah that would go over well.

I agree that there is a HUGE amount of waste in the district. The bigger problem now is that we are getting pitched ideas and projects that look good now (lower taxes, spend less) but end up costing us more (inadequate size, alteration costs, lower quality education).

I will say it now, the only way they will fit 9th grade in the new high school is to have class sizes at close to 40 students per class. Even then the building will be at close to 100% capacity. Have fun with that PR nightmare Mr. O'Connor.

William O'Connor said...

Note to JS: References to specific individual behavior other than what is observed at public meetings generally will not be allowed on this blog.

If you would like more details regarding why I edited your comment, please go back to the home page of this blog and click on "Send me an Email" which is located on the right side of the page.

Thank you for writing.

JS said...

Understood, didn't think it was more than that and I appreciate the frank response.

(Let me try it this way.) In reference to Erik's response. There are most likely reasons for the staff saying something differently in public. When people much higher on the importance level in your company are saying one thing, it's usually not beneficial to say something public that goes against that. Whether it be the CEO, your immediate boss, or anyone in between.

I'm sure most have not "drunk the kool-aid" and are sure not going to make problems for themselves by speaking out against something they can't physically change. No matter how vocal they are at this point, they can't go out and lay more brick to make the building bigger.

-Note- If that still isn't ok, that's fine. I won't take it personally if it's not posted.

Steve said...

Students are pretty adaptable to their environment. The only time you will know whether the High School is overcrowded is when you know the number of students and the number of available classrooms.
As far as taxes are concerned; the School Board cannot reduce taxes in any meaningful way because of contracts,busing,heat and cleaning expenses. What they can do by investing in education is increase the market value of all homes within the district. There is a direct correlation between the PSSA test scores and the market value of our homes.

LivininLevittown said...

Ok JS I'll agree with you about the teachers not being able to be honest, but I still think there is too much panic about the class sizes. O'Connor said he has requested updated numbers and he will undoubtedly post them here. Like Steve said kids are adaptable and will learn as long as we don't over react. But the board can lower taxes by getting teachers to pay for benefits and by eliminating some of the waste in the district.

Pianomom said...

Too much panic, LL? How about not enough. Most of these board members freak out if they think 10 cents can be cut from the budget but they don't even seem concerned about the potential overpopulation at the high school. Instead only two or three of them have voiced concerns while the others just sit there content as if their job is done. I wish all nine showed a heightened level of concern regarding these kids.

KClarinet said...

One of the ideas that always comes up in financial discussions - whether they take place at school board meetings, in political campaigns, or in discussions like the ones on this blog - is that taxes could be lowered if only the waste were eliminated. No one is ever really sure - has concrete examples to offer - of where the waste is. They're just sure it's there and can be eliminated.

A lot of paper is wasted at the copy machines, especially when the machines malfunction - but the waste probably amounts to maybe a few thousand dollars (if that) per year. Stop buying pens and pencils and make administrators, teachers and kids bring their own writing supplies to school? Nowhere near the amount you'd need to save to make even a few pennies' difference in anyone's taxes.

Excess positions? There are possibilities, but it's virtually impossible to get people to agree on what is excessive.

Few people want to cut existing programs entirely, but if you want to keep them running, they must be staffed and supplied adequately to be effective, because an ineffective program is truly wasteful. Neshaminy already has many programs that are teetering on ineffectiveness because of bare-bones staffing levels and/or space shortages.

Want to cut excess administrators? Neshaminy has cut in that area continually over the past decade and a half (except in the areas of Special Ed and PSSA support - but those are taboo areas right now for budget cutters).

The teachers' contract is in negotiation and, despite NFT's public statements that are necessarily to the contrary, the
likelihood is that when an agreement is finally reached (probably not until next school year), the cost of teachers' health care insurance will have been reduced, either by having them contribute toward the premiums or by finding new ways to get coverage at less cost.

Everyone would like to cut waste and lower taxes - if either can be done without destroying what the Board is supposed to be trying to support. But in the end, the two most important tasks a community needs to accomplish are providing for public safety (police and fire departments) and educating the next generation (schools). You can't really achieve success in either area "on the cheap."

People who really *can't* pay their current taxes should be helped in whatever ways are necessary to prevent endangering their welfare. People who *can* but prefer to spend their money in other ways should re-think their positions.

Gabriel said...

Our state legislators very cleverly diverted attention away from themselves with respect to property taxes. Several years ago with Act 72 they gave local people the ability to vote on school budgets. Since local people have no control on other spending, say like state government, they react against the one thing they have some control over. Even though there is likely far more waste in State spending, our legislators give us no say in that. The result is citizens in a school district saying no to virtually all spending, whether it is beneficial to education or not.

There are no easy answers here. The economy is bad and some people struggle to the point they really cannot afford more taxes. Others can afford modest tax increases but instead choose to hide behind excuses like they no longer have school aged children or they don't benefit from schools.

Each member of the school board should be concerned about both the children and the taxpayers. I wish I could say that they all seemed equally concerned about both but that simply isn't the case, and the high school is an example of that. All 9 board members have at one time or another spoken to the cost aspect of the building, but how many of them have raised concerns about the students? Certainly Mr. Spitz has raised issues as has Mr. O'Connor and Mr. Blasch but I haven't heard the others ever talk about it.

Each person reading this blog should contact the board members from their area and demand that they start paying attention to the capacity issue at the high school. If they say they are concerned about it, respond by saying Really? I've never heard you say anything about it at a board meeting.

I must be living in Jersey said...

Get real Gabriel. Do you honestly believe the silent board members will stand up for the kids? For neary two years Kadri was getting grilled by a couple board members trying to force him out, and most of the others just sat there. They did nothing. Nothing! If you talk to them outside of a meeting they'll tell you they liked Kadri and did everything to save him. Yeah everything except having enough guts to take a stand. Excuse me if I don't hold my breath waiting for them to speak up about high school capacity issues.

nostradamus said...

A few predictions:

February 2009: District admin will report to the board that next years building capacity will be 90%

May 2009: A local private school will close leaving parents no choice but to send their students to area public schools.

September 2009: Building capacity at the high school will exceed 95%. District Admin will blame their under estimation on unforseeable factors. Oddly enough each of the "unforseen" factors will have been forseen by everyone else.

IrishFarm said...

Dear William, when Dr. Muenker reports his projections for enrollment and building utilization, please record that on video and keep it on your blog. I think the public would like to have that information on record so we can refer back to it.

LivininLevittown said...

You all keep saying board members have to make hard choices but then criticize them when they address dollar concerns. Are you all saying they should delay sending 9th grade up to the high school. Are you forgetting all the preparation that is going on. What about the reduction to costs the majority of the community is looking for. It's sorry to say but the kids will have no choice but to adapt. Many of you would say the board should just delay the move but that is an easy decision when you are not sitting on the board in front of tv and with all those senior citizens watching and they are the ones who vote in elections. If any of these board members voted to stop 9th grade from going to the high school they would never get re elected. The seniors will vote in people who will care for your childrens education less. Like the old saying goes be careful what you wish for.

KClarinet said...

To Livininlevittown: So, are you saying that the seniors are the only ones who matter, or just that they're the only ones who vote in school board elections?

LivininLevittown said...

All people matter but the seniors are the ones who make their voices heard the most because of how they vote and attend meetings. If a senior complains of high taxes the newspaper will put that on page 1 every time. Parents have been concerned about the population at the high school for a while now but have you seen that any place in the Courier? The only place I ever see it talked about is here on this blog.

Levittowner said...

Those of us in Levittown: The only way to fix the problem is to ask around and get someone with some sense to run for re-election..and then we have to speak up and encourage everyone to vote. We in Levittown voted back in the incumbants; the Levittown comunity is either very short-sighted or apathetic.

Anyone with the extra time and common sense to think "Big picture" is a good candidate.

However, once that candidate is on the ticket, Levittown has to show we know how to approach education and vote them in. (by the way..I'm a republican..so it's not that I want a democrat in office)

As far as making a difference: Contact our Levittown reps, but also write a letter to the Editor of our local paper and/or speak out at the school board meetings with your concerns. Only by being an active participant with a *voice* will Levittown ever have a hope of making a change.

If your neighbors don't know what is going on and how you feel don't complain here. (not saying anyone is doing that! Just putting it out there as a plea!)

Those of us vocal Levittowners are frankly tired of feeling like the lone voice in the desert.

march said...

You had two people in the last election that represented different ideas and failed to vote them in. What makes you think it will be any different in the next election? Levittown sat by and reelected Webb and Eccles while forcing Kadri out and never came to school board meetings to complain. You only hear of Langhorne residents voicing their opinion at school board meetings. As long as Levittown stays quiet and refuses to vote in new people you will continue to get the same short-sightedness.

I must be living in Jersey said...

The problem with Levittown is that voters make their decisions based on what they want to hear. How can people in Levittown complain about high taxes but vote to re-elect the guy who negotiated the last teachers contract - you know, the one that is bankrupting us. Excuse my sarcasm but the only way to get Levittown voters to support someone else is to lie to them. Tell them you'll raise test scores, lower taxes, finish the high school renovation yourself, and find a cure for the common cold.

JS said...

LL- Voting to put the 9th grade somewhere is the problem period, whether it be the High School or the middle schools, or even back to Neshaminy Middle (heard that being tossed around lately).

The problem is that this Renovation/Construction project was touted as the best way to save money. The plans were downsized and stripped down to ensure that happen. They've been stripped even more as it has progressed.

I don't think that there is a solution at the moment. Sadly the district is going to have to bite the bullet and spend more money to fit the 9th grade appropriately (where ever that is).

If you say kids will adapt? Though I think teachers complain about class sizes too much, a 40 student size class is ridiculous. Even if you took a mere 60 seconds to address every student's question, you'd be out of time for the class period. That's no way to give kids the help and attention they all need at times.

Test scores would plummet and then truly it would be the "darkest day" in Neshaminy. Oh wait, who pushed for this renovation rather than a new building?.......

KClarinet said...

>>Oh wait, who pushed for this renovation rather than a new building?.......

An interesting thing, going back to LivininLevittown's last two posts, is that when the referendum about issuing bonds to finance a new high school was voted on in a May primary, the voter turnout was extremely low and, from everything I heard at the time, the majority were seniors reacting to the hype about cost. From what I could see at our polling place, *most* of the people there were seniors. I know from personal acquaintance with a few people who voted against funding the new building that some who voted "no" actually thought they were voting against doing anything at all - a renovation the scale of what we've gotten might not have passed either.

The key is that parents and others who are interested in educating our young need to go and vote when there's something about education (a board position, a bond referendum or whatever) on the ballot. It isn't enough to vote for or against board members. The board that was in place at the time wouldn't have had much choice other than to proceed with a new building if the bond issue had been approved.

JS said...

KC- As you say, the referendum that was championed by certain groups only addressed the decision to float the bond and build a new building. That referendum was used to the substantiate other board and community members quest for a renovation/construction instead. The referendum was a Yes/No for the bond, nothing more, but was politically used as a football for a third choice.

That being said, it is true the referendum was voted on mostly by seniors, but that the turn out is skewed by the fact that a certain political figure made the point of making that turn out happen. The turn out for that election day was down 10% from the previous year, but polling places associated with senior citizen/55+ community populations was up almost 250%.

That being said, the board that was in place for that May primary was voted in the previous November(I believe it was then) on the platform of "No Against the Taj Mahal" and other progranda of CARE.

Here really is the root of the problem. There are too many agendas on that board that aren't associated with what is right for the students and the tax payers. The BIGGER problem is that there are outside strings controlling those agendas. From a political standpoint it is a very impressive feat having that much control. For the success of the district it is a huge detriment. The ones not under that control aren't organized enough to put up a fight.

I watch alot of meetings where not much is said by many board members. We complain about the ones from Levittown because they are the most obvious with their words. Maybe the other ones who stay silent should go as well.

mamasaid said...

If anyone is interested, the Board Finance and Facilities committee is meeting tomorrow (Wed 1/7) at 7pm in the board room at Maple Point. From my observation, these committee meetings steer the discussions which show up as future votes and decisions at school board meetings.
These meetings are open to the public, though very few members of the public usually attend. Also, the nature of the meetings is more informal, but in-depth discussion than what usually occurs at board meetings. The public is welcome and encouraged to participate in the discussions!
Do you have something to say? Would you like to be answered? Try a committee meeting! The other committee meeting dates and times are listed on the home page of this blog. Check them out!!

KClarinet said...

"Do you have something to say? Would you like to be answered? Try a committee meeting!"

Is there normally a place in the agendas of those meetings for public comment? The only committee meetings I've ever attended were Educational Development sessions, and there was no public comment during those.

William O'Connor said...

KClarinet - Whether it's on the agenda or not, public comment is welcome at board committee meetings. Since they are more informal than board meetings, there isn't a time dedicated to just public comment. However you may feel free to speak up at any time during the meetings.

To echo what Mamasaid posted, committee meetings are a great way to understand the issues before they are discussed at board meetings. I strongly encourage everyone to attend a committee meeting once in a while.

srodos said...

The committee meetings are the only meetings at which dialogue will occur. It has been my experience that the public can comment throughout the meeting and your questions will be answered.