Thursday, July 30, 2009

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Keep board away from hiring decisions

We have enjoyed a small but welcome break from hiring controversies in Neshaminy, but we must never lose sight of keeping politics out of the personnel process. A school district in Luzerne County has decided to do more than talk about eliminating board interference in hiring decisions; they are asking the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) to adopt it as part of its platform.

According to one board member in the Hazelton district, "School board members are neither equipped nor qualified to choose the best teachers . . . Let the people who are directly accountable for our children’s education choose the best candidates for the jobs.”


Bill Spitz and I have been fighting against this in Neshaminy for years, and we have opposed formation of a Board-level Personnel Committee. Some Board members are indifferent about this issue while others think the Board should determine who gets a job. Just a couple years ago, one Board member said that the superintendent should present their top 3 choices for a position to the Board and allow them to make the final decision. Smells like a recipe for disaster to me.

Thankfully this hasn't been an issue here recently but keep an ear out for discussions on "personnel committees" or any time important job openings are being filled. Let's make sure that the people making the hiring decisions are the ones qualified to do so.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Negotiations to continue

As posted on the Board's new negotiation blog,, the next round of discussions between the Board's negotitation team and the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers (NFT) is set for Wednesday, August 19th.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Neshaminy makes AYP

The preliminary data is in and it looks like Neshaminy avoided a repeat of last year's darkest days moment by achieving Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in accordance with NCLB requirements. Neshaminy met 70 of 72 targets, with our only missed goals being the high school IEP subgroup in Math and English. All schools in the District made AYP with the exception of NHS, but that did not prevent Neshaminy from achieving AYP as a district.

The state will officially publish the school and grade-specific scores later this Summer. Once this data is available, we will then have a chance to really drill down into the numbers to see where we have made progress and where we need continued development.

Statewide health care bill introduced

This week, legislation was introduced that would create a statewide group health insurance plan for school employees. House Bill 1881 would require that all school districts participate in the statewide program, with the exception of Philadelphia, which would have the choice to opt-in. Frank Farry is one of 70+ representatives sponsoring the legislation.

HB 1881 has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee skipping the House Education Committee.

HB 1881 creates a Health Care Trust Board with authority to conduct a study of current school employee health care offerings throughout the state, and to develop a statewide plan designed to reduce costs to school districts. The Board will then submit a final plan to the General Assembly, where it must be disapproved by the House, the Senate and the Governor to stop the plan.

This legislation also contains language allowing school districts to reject participation in the statewide plan within 60 days of its creation, with the approval of a majority of school board members and a majority of employees to be covered by the program.

This legislation has the potential to be a HUGE asset for Neshaminy. Not only would it likely reduce our costs for health care coverage, it may also help to remove a real sticking point from our current contract negotiations.

Now if we could only get Harrisburg to sponsor a bill empowering employees to make their own pension plan investment decisions.

(Credit for information used in this post)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Voting against own budget

State Rep Frank Farry joined 4 other Bucks County representatives to oppose a Senate GOP budget plan that would have cut expenses including some of the Governor's educational spending. The bill now goes back to the Senate, and all sides predicted a six-member, bipartisan conference committee of senators and representatives would be appointed to attempt to find common ground.

You can read more about this in today's Courier Times.

I wish our elected officials good luck in trying to settle on a responsible budget that doesn't grab federal stimulus money intended for educational initiatives.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

No news is . . . no news

Here's the good news . . . The Board and NFT negotiating teams met recently.

Here's the not-so-good news . . . Nothing really happened.

But on a positive note, both sides agreed to meet again soon. Remember, great accomplishments often start with a single step.

You can read the latest update at the Neshaminy School Board's new blog.

And here is an article from the Courier Times.

Senate sends amended budget bill back to House

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) reports that Governor Rendell's proposed education budget is still very much up for debate in Harrisburg. The following report is provided by and re-printed with permission from the PSBA:

Senate amends budget bill and returns to House;
Tell your representative to vote "No" on HB 1416

The state budget impasse continues as the Republican-controlled Senate tossed the latest volley back to the House for the next move. Last night, following a long and heated debate, the Senate voted 31-19 to amend HB 1416, the House budget bill, with language similar to that under SB 850. HB 1416 is now back in the House for a concurrence vote. PSBA is urging school officials to contact their House members immediately to ask them to vote no on the Senate-passed version of HB 1416.

In its current form, HB 1416 now includes a major cut in state funding for basic education, just as Senate Bill 850 did, and uses available federal stimulus funds to replace the cut in state funds rather than to increase basic education funding consistent with the 6-year plan for school funding reform. PSBA is still reviewing the language, but it also appears that the section of the bill that appropriates dollars for state assessment does not contain the language of the House Republican amendment limiting the use of those dollars on the PSSA.

The Senate move is the latest action in the widening budget crisis. Late last week, the House of Representatives passed HB 1416, which contained a $29.1 billion budget plan drafted by the Democrats. Prior to final passage of HB 1416, the House with a vote of 93-103 defeated a Republican-backed amendment that would have replaced the Democratic proposal with language similar to the budget bill introduced by Senate Republicans earlier this year under SB 850. The amendment to HB 1416, which was offered by Republican Appropriations Chairman Mario Civera, was a $27.27 billion proposal with no tax increases. Although there are major differences in the two budget plans, it has been suggested that there may not be enough support among Democrats for a personal income tax increase. With the issue of a tax increase off the table, other options would have to be considered to raise revenue.

At the center of the debate is funding for K-12 education and how to spend over $2 billion in stimulus money that has been earmarked for that purpose. Under SB 850, the basic education subsidy line item would be reduced to 2006-07 levels and approximately $800 million of stimulus money would be used to bring that amount up to 2008-09 funding levels. The remaining stimulus dollars would be used for other budgetary purposes. SB 850 does include the increases in Title I, Title II-D and IDEA that the stimulus bill provides. These dollars represent the bulk of the "new" dollars appropriated by SB 850; however, the bill adds no new state dollars to the basic education subsidy line item.

The governor's proposal, like SB 850, appropriates the Title I, Title II-D and IDEA funds from the stimulus packages and also uses approximately $1 billion to make substantial increases to the basic education subsidy line item for 2009-10 and 2010-11 and to create State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Grants for distribution in 2009-10.

The governor's proposed additions to the basic education line subsidy and the SFSF grants are important not only because they represent additional funding, but because they represent funding that can be used on in a variety of ways, including operational costs, building renovations and other programs that are permissible under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, IDEA, Perkins Vocational Technical Education Act and other important federal laws. The dollars for Title I, Title II-D and IDEA must be used for those programs for eligible students. Therefore, the extra funding provided by the increases in basic education subsidy and the SFSF grants in the governor's proposal are needed because, without them, districts will receive no increase in operational funding from the state in 2009-10.

PSBA's position
PSBA, both on its own, and as a member of the Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign, has thrown its support behind the governor's proposal for a number of reasons. First, it represents a continuation of the six-year funding plan introduced last year, which would help close the spending gaps identified by the 2007 costing out study. Any deviation from that plan will likely not be made up in future years as a new governor is elected in the fall of 2010.

Second, the governor's plan is much more likely to help Pennsylvania get a share of the $5 billion in "Race to the Top" funds, the second wave of federal stimulus money that will be made available to states in the fall. These dollars will be used for competitive grants for districts in specialized areas.

Third, the governor's proposal represents an increase in the state's share of funding public education and would have the effect of mitigating large cuts in programs for the 2010-11 fiscal year. Level funding the basic education subsidy will likely mean that districts will face cuts in their own programs.

Interested Neshaminy residents should contact State Representative Frank Farry for further details. Mr. Farry’s local office number is (215) 752-6750. His office is located at 340 East Maple Ave, Suite 307 in Langhorne.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Right back at ya'

My response to the letter accusing the Board of hiding its decision on midday kindergarten bus runs was published in this morning's Courier Times. Among some of my quotes were . . .

"Not only is Ms. Conturso misinformed about this decision, her accusation is flat-out wrong."
"This issue was discussed at length during a Neshaminy school board strategic planning meeting on March 9, 2009 ..."
"This was one of many difficult decisions made by this board and, like all the others; it was done in full view of the public."
"Before anyone accuses the board of attempting to hide its decisions, they should first start paying attention to all the meetings ..."

You can read the entire letter by clicking here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

No Tissues in Paradise

Featured in the June 11th edition of the NHS newspaper, The Playwickian, is a debate between two students regarding proposed cuts to next year's District budget. You should take a few moments to read how these students view our budgeting process and understand what is important to them. If nothing else, the graphic of our Business Manager Joe Paradise at the bottom of this post is worth a look.

Budget cuts: Cheap . . . or thrifty?

"Cheap" by Jami Notarfrancesco
Time to say goodbye to tissues and hello to longsleeved shirts; you’re going to need them to blow your nose next year. Neshaminy is cutting the eighth grade language courses, the tissue supplies, and is making students pay to be involved in extracurricular activities. With the way families are clipping coupons these days, this major decision, made by the school board, is not a very wise one.
One of the major cuts that students and parents are fighting with is the decision to drop eighth grade foreign language, which would ultimately lead to only four years of a language rather than five. While many believe that is a great idea, others see it as a dreadful one.
Neshaminy should expand the language classes to younger grades to reach students on a higher academic level. According to primarylanguages., numerous studies have shown that those who begin second language learning in their childhood are signifi cantly more likely than late learners to use, process, and comprehend a language of native-speakers.

Instead of cutting the course all together, Neshaminy should stop the supply of language workbooks and the students can use their own paper and supplies. That way, the school will be saving money on supplies and the students won’t have to be disappointed when they can’t take a fifth year of language.
With a budget shortage in the $14 million range for next year, Business Ad. Joseph Paradise not only wants to take out languages, but also limit our tissue supply in classrooms. Lowering the tissue supply in the schools sounds ridiculous to many people. According to Tom Sizgorich, “tissues historically represented an $8-$10,000 annual expense.”

For the 2009-2010 school year, only the school nurses will receive a limited amount of tissues based on a formula of one box per 10 students in a building.The economy is in a serious recession right now, which is why schools need to cut many things for next year.
Knowing that families can hardly afford their homes, the idea of “pay-to-play” is completely absurd.
“Pay-to-play” means having a participation fee, of $65, that a student will need to pay in order to be involved in an extracurricular or co-curricular activity. There are already Neshaminy taxes that families are paying, why should they have to pay more money to have their kid be on a sports team, or any other activity, within Neshaminy?
Punishing the students by cutting off courses that they were hoping to take in the future or having them not be able to get involved in school because they don’t have money to meet the expense of the fees is unethical. Neshaminy should stop spending hundreds of dollars on ridiculous items, such as five flat screen TVs in the cafeteria, and start saving for courses, tissues, and extracurricular activites.

"Thrifty" by Becca Erskine
Everyone in and around the Neshaminy community is aware of the necessary budget cuts being implemented in order to avoid over-ruling the legal amount required, however these budget cuts will be beneficial for Neshaminy, and are completely reasonable for those trying to be thrifty. For those of you who have unrealistic expectations, and are waiting for the district to take out their magic wand and eliminate the need for budget trims don’t hold your breath, but, if those of you have a more fitting proposal, the district is all ears.
For the 2009-10 school year, the state mandated limit on a budget increase is 4.1 percent. We are compelled by the law to limit our budget increase, due to our 1.02 percent defi cit. “The cuts we have made consist of all things we think would affect student education the least,” Joe Paradise, Neshaminy Business Administrator, said. “The idea is to hurt education as little as possible,” he added.
The district is trying to make alterations that avoid angry tax payers. Seventy percent of our community is made up of people without children who attend school; we need to make it more reasonable for them. “Tax payers are as much as a part of our community as students and parents,” Paradise said. “We are still trying to do what is right for the kids, all while respecting the tax payers,” he added.
One apparent alteration to trim the budget is the tissue crisis. Although this may appear unreasonable from a sanitary perspective, it makes perfect sense for those trying to be thrifty.
“$10,000 is spent toward facial tissues each year,” Paradise said. “We are at the point where we are watching everything, and that number is astounding,” Paradise added. If someone else can come up with another way to save $10,000, the district would love to hear their proposal.”
“What would you rather cut- educational spending or tissues?” William O’Connor, board member, said.
Honestly, if people are going to judge, then they should take their comments and form whatever they believe to be a better solution. Truly, anyone whose nose is that desperate for tissues should probably consider buying their own fun little miniature pack, considering we are in the year 2009.
Another big idea that upsets some people is the term “Pay-to-play.” The idea forces students who participate in school sports to pay a $65 fee. “Pay-to-play was created to disperse and create user fees,” Paradise said. Rather then eliminate or curtail sports, this fee is designed to recover about $250,000 of the $1.6 million it costs to support extracurricular activities in the district.
Their notions, though they appear unfair to some, are with good intentions to prevent an increase in next year’s budget. It is inevitable that there will be negative factors, and unfair aspects involved in trimming the budget. But overall, the people of our community need to apprehend that the district cannot create miracles, and they are doing the best they can.

And now the part you are all waiting for . . . Introducing The Tissue Nazi

(The above article and pictures are reprinted here with permission from The Playwickian)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Here comes Mr. Angry Eyes!

No sooner do I write a post about my frustrations with people who don't pay attention to meetings comes a letter to the Courier Times that accuses the Board of sneaking through a decision to eliminate the midday Kindergarten bus run.

Tina Conturso of Middletown assumes that the Neshaminy School Board "quickly and quietly" pushed that decision through because we didn't mention it during the June 16th public meeting. Perhaps if Ms. Conturso were paying attention prior to the last meeting of the year, she would have known that the board had been discussing for months more than 70, count 'em - SEVENTY, budget reduction measures.

We spent more than 40 meetings (public, strategic planning, committees) discussing how to bring our budget back under control. Sorry that we didn't mention the midday K bus run during the one meeting that she just happened to observe.

If you haven't read Ms. Conturso's letter, just click here.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Neshaminy School District administrators are advising residents that their recently mailed tax bills were sent with an incorrect due date for delinquent taxes.

You can read more about this story by visiting the Courier Times NOW.

Anyone with questions or needing more information should call the district at 215-809-6000.