Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Update: Pa. mom faces false report, ID theft charges

Bucks County District Attorney Michelle Henry says a woman who claimed she and her daughter had been abducted and stuffed in a car trunk will be charged with false reports and identity theft (video courtesy of

The latest update in this bizarre, developing case of the missing Neshaminy student and her mother courtesy of . . .

A suburban Philadelphia prosecutor said a woman who claimed she and her daughter had been abducted and stuffed in a car trunk will be charged with false reports and identity theft.

Bucks County District Attorney Michelle Henry says 38-year-old Bonnie Sweeten of Feasterville, Pa., was taken into custody at a hotel in the Walt Disney World resort in Florida on Wednesday night. Henry says Sweeten's 9-year-old daughter, Julia Rakoczy, was with her. Henry says the girl will be picked up by her father, Sweeten's ex-husband.

Henry says Sweeten presented a co-worker's driver's license as her own when she bought airline tickets and flew to Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday, about two hours after she reported the abduction.

Click here to read the complete article.

For updates on this matter, go to the
Courier Times NOW website.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The results are in . . .

And we get to do this all over again in November!

Voting went according to form as the endorsed candidates for school board won their respective party's primary election. No candidate was able to take advantage of cross-filing and win in the other party's primary. Here are the results per the Bucks County Board of Elections:

Region 1 (Lower South):
Democratic Primary: Kirsten Garber* (692 votes)
Republican Primary: Scott Congdon* (951 votes)
(*) Did not cross-file

Region 2 (Levittown):
Democratic Primary: Melissa Kitzmiller (458 votes), Mike Morris (260)
Republican Primary: Mike Morris (473 votes), Melissa Kitzmiller (223)

Region 3 (Langhorne):
Democratic Primary: William Spitz (720 votes), Lisa Reiser (707), Irene Boyle (590), Steven Rodos** (379), William Oettinger (303)
Republican Primary: William Oettinger (587 votes), Irene Boyle (576), William Spitz (516), Lisa Reiser (465), Steven Rodos** (215)
(**) Unendorsed candidate

The most interesting race occurred in Region 3 (Langhorne) where unendorsed challenger Steve Rodos received 25% more votes in the Democratic primary than endorsed-GOP candidate William Oettinger. Considering he had no party support, financial or otherwise, Mr. Rodos made a more-than-respectable showing in the election.

Also of note in Region 3 was that Democratic challenger Lisa Reiser tallied 6 more total votes than Republican opponent, Irene Boyle, to finish with the second highest vote total in the region (behind Democratic incumbent William Spitz).

I've received several questions via email/reader comments that I thought might be worth posting here (along with my response):

Q: Are there Board members who are not running for re-election?
A: Yes, Joe Blasch (Region 1) and Frank Koziol (Region 2) are not seeking re-election. Their terms will expire in early December 2009.

Q: Can you explain exactly what is going on when candidates run in both parties' primaries?
A: In Pennsylvania, school board candidates can cross-file in order to run in both party primaries. Each party will endorse the person/people who will officially represent them in the primary, and they usually go to great lengths to notify their members who they should support in the election. When I ran 2 years ago, I was fortunate to win both the Republican and Democratic primary elections even though I was only endorsed by one party.

Q: How long is a school board term? Are the terms of the 9 board members staggered?
A: The term for a school board director is 4 years. Four (4) of the terms expire this year, and five (5) terms will expire in another two years. This pattern is repeated every two years to maintain continuity of the board.

Q: How much is a school board member compensated?
A: School board director is strictly a voluntary position with no compensation.

Q: School board is a thankless job. Why would anyone ever run for the position?
A: I'm still trying to figure that one out :-)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fees in, foreign language out?

A quick but important update of last night’s meeting:

A dozen or so people pleaded with the Board not to cut 8th grade foreign language from next year’s budget. Some said that it would limit the academic reach of our brightest students, and others suggested we actually expand our foreign language classes into 6th and 7th grade. A couple of speakers also commented that the Board should dump the idea of participation fees for extracurricular activities.

Later in the evening Board Prez Rich Webb read a prepared statement that “all offers of salary increases to teachers for the 2008-2009 school year” were withdrawn. This reinforced the Board’s stand that there would be no retro pay when an agreement is reached.

The other major development last night was approval of the 2009-2010 Proposed Final Budget. In accordance with the PA School Code, districts must pass a “proposed final” budget at least 30 days in advance of voting on the “final” budget. That vote will occur at our June 16th meeting.

A few thoughts about the meeting . . .

The school board very much wants to put 8th grade language back into the budget as well as scuttle the notion of a participation fee for extracurricular activities. The challenge is coming up with other cost reduction measures or income generation so we can offset the increase to next year’s budget. So far Mr. Paradise and Dr. Muenker have trimmed about $10 million off the budget and it is extremely difficult to find additional opportunities. They are still looking, but we are running out of time.

Regarding Mr. Webb’s announcement, that should not be interpreted as an in-your-face smackdown against the NFT. All of us on the Board hope that contract negotiations can continue, but we are remaining firm to our commitment against retroactivity of salary. Since we are now in the home stretch of the budgeting process for next year, it was the appropriate time to announce that we were capping off our financial exposure.

The next Board meeting is Tuesday, June 2nd, at 7pm. This will be the last Board meeting before we vote for the final budget on June 16th.

For more information on last night’s meeting, you can read the Courier Times’ articles on possible elimination of 8th Grade foreign language and an update on the teacher contract.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Change for Tonight's Ed Dev Meeting

Tonight's Education Development Committee meeting (6:30pm, High School) will now be held in the Black Box Theater instead of Room A36.

At tonight's meeting, we will be hearing a presentation from the Administration about the proposed changes to the high school course offerings next year. We believe this will be very informative for the Board and the public to hear a department-by-department review - staffing, courses, sections - and how they compare to this year.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

They're at it again in Harrisburg

The official motto in Harrisburg should be “What’s yours is ours” as legislators never pass on the chance to put their hands on your wallet. The latest example occurred earlier this week when our State Senators saw an opportunity to grab onto the Federal stimulus money earmarked for education. This money was intended to help school districts continue to deliver quality education while providing some relief to local taxpayers. But that’s not how they see things in Harrisburg.

Yesterday Senate Republicans approved bill# SB-850, which essentially cuts millions of dollars of state funding for education and replaces it with the federal stimulus funds that were intended for us. For Neshaminy taxpayers, that means that some or all of the $1.5 million of stimulus funds being used towards next year’s budget would be gone. And guess who would have to make up the difference- US!

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) conducted a news conference earlier this week criticizing the budget plan proposed by Senate Republicans under SB-850, saying it balances the state budget on the backs of local property taxpayers.

If they are so bloody interested in cutting the budget in Harrisburg, why don’t they amend the state pension system so that individuals, like teachers, are responsible for their investments instead of taxpayers (which is what companies with pension plans are doing throughout corporate America)? Oh yeah, I forgot . . . Harrisburg officials are covered under that same pension system, too. Guess they’re only interested in cutting spending when it doesn’t affect them.

I’m not trying to turn this into a GOP-bash, but this is a Republican sponsored bill which passed through the State Senate along party lines. Next stop for SB-850 is the State House where our State Reps will get a chance to pick your pocket. The PSBA doesn’t think the bill will pass in the House, but taxpayers should not leave it to chance.

Call your State Rep, Frank Farry, and demand he OPPOSE the party line on this Senate-sponsored bill. Mr. Farry’s local office number is (215) 752-6750. His office is located at 340 East Maple Ave, Suite 307 in Langhorne.

Earlier today I called Mr. Farry’s office and left a message with one of his staff members. My message was simple – the Fed stimulus money was intended to help education, not to give Harrisburg legislators a way to balance the budget on the backs of local taxpayers.

Don’t wait till tomorrow – stop reading this Blog, put down whatever else you might be doing, and go to your phone and dial 215-752-6750 RIGHT NOW!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The bottom line on next year's budget

Please excuse the sketchy update this morning. Lots of meetings at work today and I have about 10 minutes to write this . . .

The proposed final budget, to be voted on at the May 12th meeting, calls for an average $146 tax increase (3.6%) which is under the Act 1 limit of 4.1%. The anticipated tax reduction from State Gaming Relief is $211 per qualifying home. This means that the average homeowner will see a net reduction in their property taxes of $65. Overall good news, but not perfect.

As Mr. Paradise warned us previously, there is something for everyone to hate in this budget . . .
· Taxpayers – Despite a net reduction in property taxes, some won’t be satisfied until the school budget is completely flat
· Employees – Upwards of 65 staff members will lose their jobs, mostly a result of the 9th grade consolidation into the high school
· Students/Parents – Still up for consideration is a participation fee for extracurricular activities. One proposal is for a flat $65 fee per activity; other suggestions include a tier system of fees based on relative costs to maintain an activity. There is also the possibility that 8th grade foreign languages may be cut for at least one year.

The Participation Fee issue is a real brainer because there doesn’t appear to be a truly equitable way to implement it. As some parents pointed out last night, many of the booster organizations supporting these activities already charge a fee. In the case of music activities, participants already bear the burden of paying for their own musical instruments as opposed to other activities where resources are provided to the students. Board Prez Rich Webb noted that he has seen such participation fees implemented outside of Nehaminy and it didn’t go very well, so he suggested to Paradise that we may have to find the $250,000 revenue generated by the proposed fees somewhere else.

Food Services is asking for permission to raise lunch prices by an average of 20 cents. Several board members asked for additional information so they could better assess the situation.

The vote for the “FINAL” final budget takes place in June.

Here is the Courier Times recap of last night's Board meeting.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Neshaminy's Gold at the Reading Olympics

A little over a week ago, Neshaminy School Board member Bill Spitz attended the Reading Olympics held in Warminster. During that evening he witnessed the middle school groups, which were represented by 6 teams each from Maple Point and Sandburg, and 3 teams from Poquessing (ten students per team). After watching the Reading Olympics, a proud Dr. Spitz sent me an email saying “Neshaminy was extremely well represented (in number and quality).” But that is only a part of the story.

Also at the Reading Olympics were the teachers who helped to coach, prepare and cheer on these students – 31 teachers from the 3 middle schools, to be exact. There was no extra pay for being involved, no awards, no special recognition. These teachers participated in the Reading Olympics for a much more important reason – they were there to inspire our students.

Student preparation for the RO doesn’t just happen overnight. In fact, there was 6 months of coaching and meetings that took place prior to the competition. The teachers involved met during lunch periods to coordinate strategies, and countless after school meetings occurred with the teams to organize and discuss which books would be used. Clearly all that hard work was evident in the results achieved by our students.

Someone once told me that students are discouraged by bad teachers, learn from good teachers, and are inspired by great teachers. On this evening in Warminster, our students were accompanied by some really great teachers.

Thank you to the Neshaminy students and teachers who participated in the Reading Olympics. You all receive a well-deserved A+.