Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Parents need to set example

Graduation should be a time for celebration, but not so much that it distracts from other people trying to enjoy the festivities. Neshaminy parent Donna Esposito wrote in a letter published in this morning's Courier Times, "I was appalled by the lack of respect for the speakers that many of the attendees exhibited by shouting out names during the speeches . . . The use of air horns and screaming during the "roll call of graduates" was obnoxious and disrespectful to others whose names could not be heard over the uproar."

Ms. Esposito concludes "Why have our youth been labeled "Generation Me?" Perhaps it's because they've been taught by their parents that it is all about them and no one else matters. We also wonder why some teenagers are disrespectful. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

Any other graduation attendees out there want to chime in?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Final meeting, final budget

It was billed as the budget that had something for everyone to hate. While it may have lived up to its hype in some respects, this was budget surgery by scalpel rather than hatchet. Here’s the bottom line . . .

Act 1 budget limit (millage increase): 4.1%
Neshaminy budget increase: 2.29%
Average residential increase: $92

If you are eligible for a tax reduction through the State’s Gaming Relief funds, you will receive a credit of $211. This means that the average Neshaminy residential tax bill will decrease by $119 – quite an accomplishment considering there were no program cuts to education. Back in next year’s budget is 8th grade foreign language; gone are extracurricular participation fees and pool closures. And you can put aside fears about some of those other cuts like eliminating elementary school guidance counselors or librarians.

But the budget is not without its share of pain. Let’s not forget that dozens of district employees lost their jobs as a result of the 9th grade consolidation into the high school; midday kindergarten bus runs have been eliminated; and of course there is the dreaded tissue controversy. If you were present at Tuesday’s meeting you heard several citizens voice their displeasure over some aspect of the budget, once again proving there is no happy medium when it comes to education and taxes.

While we must continue our efforts towards responsible budgeting next year, we must also focus on improving our educational programs. PSSA results will soon be available and we’ll see if Neshaminy students continued the momentum from last year’s improvements. We have to keep an eye on the high school which will now house our 9th graders, hopefully with sufficient space. How well will the former Tawanka students adapt to classes now being held on NHS grounds?

Those are just a few of the things on our plate now, and I’m sure there will be many more challenges as the new school year comes around. But for now, that’s a wrap!

Anybody got a tissue?

McGee named NHS Principal

It was announced at Tuesday's board meeting that Rob McGee has been named the new principal of Neshaminy High School. If you aren't familiar with Dr. McGee's background, here are a few highlights:

Dr. McGee joined the Neshaminy High School Administrative Team in February 2008 as the Assistant Principal in charge of Academic Affairs, Scheduling and Student Records. Prior to coming to Neshaminy High School, Dr. McGee worked in the District Curriculum & Instruction Department as a Middle Level Instructional Math Coach and Assessment Data Overseer. Previously, he spent 17 years at Sandburg Middle School as a Math Teacher and Department Chairman.

A Levittown Native, McGee graduated from Neshaminy High School in 1983. He later attended Shippensburg University where he earned his undergraduate degree in Education (1987), followed by a Masters from Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science (1991), and a Ph.D. from Drexel University (2006).

On a personal note, I've gotten to know Dr. McGee over the past few years and have found him to be an incredible talent. He has a passion for education, good business sense, and most important of all, he really cares about the students. In what I would consider to be a successful year, naming Rob McGee as NHS Principal may be our best accomplishment of all.

Congratulations and good luck, Dr. McGee!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Are students down-sizing their dreams?

Has the economy influenced what Neshaminy grads will be doing next?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The best is yet to come

Valedictorian Stephen Moyer told his fellow graduates to "Look up, Neshaminy . . . The best years are not behind, they're ahead." Click here for more details on last night's graduation ceremony.

Climbing back on my soapbox

“How can you even think of sneaking this by the public?” began the email recently sent to me, quickly followed by, “why is the [School Board] hiding a plan to cut the midday kindergarten bus runs?” I’ve always been amused when people are convinced something is being hidden from them simply because they are not aware of it.

I clarified for this person that this idea was one of many cost reduction measures discussed at our March 10, 2009 public meeting, the details of which were carefully “hidden” on NNTV meeting rebroadcasts, the Courier Times, and even within the pages of this blog. I hope this person can now plainly see nothing is being hidden from them. The simple truth is that they were unaware of what was being discussed since the beginning of this year because they weren’t paying attention. But now that they are aware of the painful aspects of next year’s budget, they and their friends want to storm the next board meeting and try to change a decision that was made (publicly) 3 months ago. While I welcome their attendance and input at the next meeting, I hope these folks now realize the best way to be informed of Neshaminy news is to attend school board meetings.

I know, I know . . . you’re busy, or you have scheduling conflicts, or whatever. We are all busy, but here is something that you must keep in mind – especially you parents who are concerned about the quality of the educational programs and resources available to your children – attendance at school board meetings is dominated by people more concerned about reducing the budget than they are with maintaining our educational programs. And to their credit, these people attend meetings regularly and converse with school board members about their concerns every single chance they get. How is it that parents expect that they can show up in force at 1 or 2 meetings and have the same impact that budget-conscious attendees accomplish over the course of 5 or 7 or 10 meetings? So what’s a concerned parent with scheduling issues to do?

Here is a simple idea to boost parental attendance at board meetings – Every school organization that is supported by parent volunteers (PTO’s, boosters, etc.) should nominate one (1) person from within their group to be the official school board meeting representative. That person’s sole responsibility is to attend school board meetings each month and report back to the group. If every parent group in each of the schools implemented this idea, there would be no less than 20-30 more parents present for every school board meeting, and hundreds more would be kept up-to-date on important details.

So for all of you PTO/Booster officers out there, here is your summer assignment . . . as you prepare for next school year’s meetings, be sure to include this idea in your very first agenda. Just one parent volunteer from each of your groups is all it takes, and it’s for a really great cause – the children.


Legislative Update

Thankfully Senate Bill (SB)850 failed to pass the House Appropriations Committee in Harrisburg this week. As reported earlier on this Blog, State Senators wanted to use Federal Stimulus funds to balance their budget rather than allow school districts to use the money as intended. SB-850 would have cut funding of early childhood and reform programs, high school reform, Classrooms for the Future and Elementary programs from the State budget.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Counting down to June 16th

Shame on you! You missed a very important meeting last night. Attendance was certainly not what it should have been, and that makes a world of difference. More on that later. In the meantime, here is a recap of what happened:

2009/2010 Budget
After finding more savings in insurance and reducing copying service costs, Joe Paradise unveiled a modified Proposed Final Budget which highlighted an average $133 property tax increase – that’s a $13 drop from the $146 figure posted in the May 12th version. With gaming revenues slated to give qualified property owners a $211 rebate, this represents a net decrease of $78 off the upcoming tax bill (for the average residential assessment of $27,080).

Foreign Language, Participation Fees
Good news for 8th grade foreign language students – it’s back! Not so good news for students in extracurricular activities – the concept of participation fees is also still in the budget. Dr. Muenker stated last night that a more reasonable alternative may be to assess a one time, annual per-student fee of $75 for high school students and $40 for middle school students regardless of how many activities the students participate in. This would only generate about $100k, and more funding is needed to hit the $250k revenue target.

Other Cost Reduction Ideas
Despite reduced spending, there is still tremendous pressure by some members of the board and public to drive the budget down even further so there is no tax increase next year. To that end, Dr. Muenker and Mr. Paradise presented a list of other potential budget reductions to the Board for discussion. It is important to note that Dr. Muenker does not endorse these reductions as he believes they may be detrimental to the educational experience of Neshaminy students. The other possible reductions are:
* Eliminate the Middle School Instructional Opportunity Period
* Eliminate Middle School Sports, extracurricular activities
* Eliminate the Senior Citizens Tax Assistance Program Enhancement
* Close both remaining middle school pools - 2 support staff
* Eliminate K-5 Reading Program new textbooks
* Eliminate Capital Reserve Fund contribution
* Raise Aquatic Fees by about 75%
* Eliminate Elementary Guidance Counselors
* Eliminate Reading Specialists
* Eliminate Elementary Librarians
* Close Alternative School & contract out

Federal Stimulus for Education
Your state legislators in Harrisburg are still trying to balance their budget by grabbing the Federal stimulus money earmarked for education. If Senate Bill (SB)850 is successful, Neshaminy stands to lose upwards of $1.5 million next year, and YOU get to pay for it.

School Lunches
The request to increase school lunches by 20 cents next year has been lowered to a 15 cent hike request.

Mandating PSSA Proficiency
It was reported that the Board Policies committee did not move forward with a recommendation to make PSSA proficiency a graduation requirement. At issue was the ability to effectively schedule remediation classes for students in need, which is an integral part of the safety net aspect of this proposed policy. Simply stated, there isn’t sufficient space at the high school to schedule the students who may need remediation. No safety net, no change in policy – for now. The matter has been kicked back to the Education Development Committee for further review.

Ad Hoc School Closure Committee
With student enrollment still on the decline, there may be an opportunity to close an elementary building without overcrowding classes. Closing an elementary building is a very complicated process and it’s something we would need to start researching now if we want to consider a closure for the 2010/2011 school year. I requested that an Ad Hoc committee of the Board be formed immediately so that we can begin the research and evaluation process now rather than waiting till later this year.

A few thoughts about last night . . .
If you put one foot in ice cold water, and then put your other foot in steaming hot water, on the average you should be comfortable, right? Of course it doesn’t work that way, and that’s how I feel about this budget. Some people are telling us we’re not doing enough to cut the budget while others are saying we’re hurting our children’s education. There is no such thing as a happy medium when it comes to education and property taxes.

Our budget has been reduced further even though we have put 8th grade foreign language back in. Mssrs. Muenker and Paradise have done a great job of sharpening their pencils on this one. We still have to tackle participation fees which I sense is a split issue amongst the board. Some believe it’s a good idea, others do not. I’m not sure where this one will land.

Regarding the other cost reduction ideas, I want to re-emphasize that they do not have the support of our superintendent or business manager at this time. Their task going into this budget cycle was to get the budget within the Act 1 limit of a 4.1% increase (without using state-approved exceptions) while maintaining a quality education program. As it stands now we’re looking at a 3.3% hike, among the lowest in Bucks County districts, without any major program cuts. I’m not speaking for either gentleman, but my gut is that they are hesitant to entertain any further reductions until we can assess the impact of the ones already proposed. Can’t say I blame them.

School closures are never a popular topic. No matter which building you’re considering and no matter where it is located, it is a “neighborhood” school in the eyes of its students, faculty and parents. But if our buildings are still underutilized, we must be open to the idea if we are going to run this district more efficiently. I firmly believe that the board must begin this process now so that we have sufficient time to carefully review enrollment trends, class sizes, impact studies, etc. to determine if a building closure is warranted.

Ok, now the “shame on you” part. Where were you? Although there were about 75 people in the audience last night, most were teachers, support staff, administration, etc. Only about 15 people were simply residents, and I’d guess that 10 of them wanted to see us cut the budget further while the other 5 were concerned about our educational programs. Last night was your last chance prior to the final budget vote to tell your school board representatives face-to-face what is important to you. We even moved the meeting to the auditorium in anticipation of throngs of concerned citizens showing up to plead with the board for one thing or another, yet citizen turnout was very light. Do any of the issues mentioned above concern you in any way? They should. And on June 16th, we will vote on them.

Sending emails is nice. Posting comments to blogs is fine. Watching the recorded meetings on TV is great. But none of these equals the impact of you actually sitting out in the audience. Being at the meetings is how you make your voices heard (even if you don’t actually speak). It’s how you let the board members see the faces of all the different kinds of people they represent. It’s how you can show support for the board members who share your values.

You’ve got one more crack at this; Tuesday, June 16th at 7pm. That is the date of our last scheduled board meeting for this school year and that is when we vote for the final budget. If anything I have discussed in this post is important to you in any way, then you must find a way to get to that meeting. Bring family, bring friends, bring neighbors. If you don’t come, don’t complain.

You can read the Courier's coverage of last night's meeting by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Tonight's Meeting Location Changed

Tonight's school board meeting (Maple Point, 7pm) will be held in the auditorium. With this being the last public session before the June 16th meeting when the final budget will be voted on, we anticipate a larger-than-usual crowd on hand this evening.

Now that you know there will be plenty of seats, you have one less reason not to come :-)

See you tonight!