Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Strictly personnel

Last night we welcomed 5 new administrators to fill the void of several open positions; 2 of the 5 were promoted up from within the ranks of current employees while the other 3 came from other school districts. They are:

Kathleen Brewster - Principal at Schweitzer
Lisa Pennington - Assistant Principal at NHS
Anthony Rybarczyk - Principal at Hoover (from Pennridge)
Lynn Knots - Assistant Principal at NHS (from Reading)
Charles D'Alfonso - Principal at Lower South (from North Penn)

Congratulations all on their new assignments (and welcome to Neshaminy for the newbies).

In other personnel news, the Board approved labor agreements last night with the Neshaminy Administrative Support Association and the Confidential Secretaries. Both agreements covered the same ground as others recently approved and are consistent with the offers made to the NFT and the Support Staff workers.

Just prior to last night's meeting, the Support Staff workers staged what they referred to as an "informal protest" by holding up signs and collecting signatures of support at the entrances to Maple Point. The Support Staff is objecting to the District's decision to entertain bids from outside contractors in addition to negotiating with them. The Group's president, Mindy Anderson, spoke to the Board during public comment restating her objections to the District's consideration of external bids and presented the board with a petition reinforcing that position.

Moving on to non-personnel matters, last night I restated a previous request for the formation of an ad hoc committee to review building utilization in the district, specifically to focus on our elementary schools. Recent facilities studies suggest that our elementary buildings may be underutilized, and I am suggesting that we obtain updated information to confirm or disprove the earlier reports now rather than make a mad scramble in January when we're stuck behind the budget 8-ball again. Ultimately I prefer not to close another building in the district but prudent business practices dictate that we do a little due diligence. Board Prez Ritchie Webb agreed to appoint 3 board members, 1 from each region, to the ad hoc committee.

Citizen attendance at the meeting was disappointing to me. We had about 75 people there, most being Neshaminy staff. Aside from the usual attendees, I didn't see too many parents in the crowd. Hey, I know it's the end of summer but let's get ourselves into good habits early. So suck it up and show up. I'll expect to see more of you at the next meeting OR ELSE . . .
You can read the Courier Times' recap of last night's meeting by clicking here.

Makeover for NCLB

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with Libby Masiuk, a Legislative Assistant in Congressman Patrick Murphy's Washington DC office. The topic was how to improve No Child Left Behind. I stated my concerns regarding NCLB with emphasis on the need to change how students with learning disabilities are expected to score proficiently based on their grade level (by definition, a child with a learning disability is at least 2 years behind their grade). I also shared my concern with Ms. Masiuk that our officials in DC are speaking to national organizations and special interest groups when they hold hearings on NCLB, and I strongly suggested regional hearings with actual school district representatives testifying on how best to improve the program.

Ms. Masiuk agreed to bring my comments back to Congressman Murphy with the intent that he can share them with the Chair of the Congressional Committee on Education and Labor, Rep. George Miller.

I'm not sure if my words will do any good but as the Great Gretzky once said, 100% of the shots you don't take, don't go in.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Talks at a standstill

Here is the Courier Times' take on what I reported earlier this week . . .

The teachers union hasn't revealed its contract offer, but the school board says the union refuses to pay anything toward health care premiums.

After a second meeting following several months of silence, there is still no progress being made in negotiations between the Neshaminy school board and teachers union, officials said.

Both sides met in the middle of last week with a newly appointed state mediator, but "not a whole lot happened," said board President Ritchie Webb.

Louise Boyd, president of the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers, concurred that there's "really nothing going on at all." She declined further comment.

Click here to read the rest of this Courier Times article.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

So asks the Courier Times in this morning's editorial which supported the Middletown Supervisors' decision to host political debates in the township building. The editorial goes on to say . . .

"Thumbs up to the Middletown supervisors for approving use of the township building and township television equipment to host and broadcast election debates. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Something every local government and school board would naturally do, but that's not the case . . . The thin argument that it's inappropriate for government to support election debates is invoked by incumbents who, in reality, don't want to give the competition exposure. "

Earlier this year I brought a similar proposal to the Neshaminy Board Policies Committee but it seems that our little group wasn't committed to progressive thinking. My proposal never made it out of committee.

One of the great challenges that local politicians face is raising enough money to get the message of their candidacy out to the public. More often than not, the candidates that raise more money win the elections because they can afford to send out more mailers, buy more signs, etc. We can level the playing field and help to inform the public about school board candidates by making NNTV available to them at a reasonable cost.

If you think this is a good idea, then speak up during our board meetings and encourage the board to make NNTV available to school board candidates. And just don't show up at one meeting and think that will be enough. It will take a bit of prodding to get this board to warm up to the idea.

You can read the entire Courier Times editorial by clicking here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

No end in sight

The following are excerpts from an update posted on the Neshaminy Contract Negotiation blog:

The Board and Neshaminy Federation of Teachers (NFT) met at a negotiating session on Aug 19, 2009 with a newly appointed State mediator. No progress was made on any outstanding issues.

Already one of the highest paid staffs in the entire State, the Union’s proposal would raise the average salary from under $80,000 to over $93,000. Over three years, the estimated salary difference in the two proposals is well over $16 million.

After accounting for existing retirees, the difference in health care costs to the District between the two proposals is about $4 million this year and expected to grow.

No further talks are scheduled at this time.
To read the entire update, visit the Neshaminy Contract Negotiation blog.

Haggling in Harrisburg

The following excerpts are from a message I received from elected officials in Harrisburg calling upon citizens to defend the Governor's education budget. I removed partisan references because I don't want to get caught up in a political battle. The important point here is that you should contact your State Senator, Tommy Tomlinson, and encourage him to reject the harsh cuts being proposed by some of our senators.

Most people agree that a strong education system means a stronger economy. Most people, that is, except for some Senate leaders who still refuse to budge from their plan that pushes state support of public education back to 2005 levels while our children are making progress.

now leads the nation in student achievement gains because the state made a concerted effort in 2003 to increase funding for basic and early education programs and install reforms that ensure accountability. According to the latest analysis of statewide testing, test scores for students in every grade level have increased each year since 2002. Reading and math scores have increased at all grade levels for the first time in Pa. history.

Despite this success, some Senators
continue to say 'NO' to education, taking state support of public education backwards and using federal stimulus funding specifically earmarked for improving schools to plug holes in the budget. Their logic is flawed; they say they want no new taxes, but reducing our investment in education will only increase property taxes at the local level. And, their ideology is dangerous to a generation of young people who will become our future workforce.

As our children get ready to start the school year, you can help in the fight to maintain the state's constitutional commitment to adequately fund public education.

Visit our
online action center to contact your state senator and the leaders who are negotiating a final budget. Tell them to reject the harsh cuts proposed to state education investments and allow our children to achieve their fullest academic potential.

Learn more about state budget efforts at

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A new school year approaches

With a little more than a week until our first board meeting of the new school year, here are ten (10) reasons why you should make a point of attending school board and committee meetings:

· Teacher and Support Staff contract negotiations
· Completion of the NHS reconstruction project
· Consolidation of 9th grade into the high school
· Transition of the Alt Ed program to the NHS campus
· In-depth analysis of PSSA results
· 2010/2011 Budget development
· The State’s budget crisis and its impact on school budgets
· Funding the State’s pension plan
· Discussion of a possible elementary building closure
· Expansion of graduation requirements

Each of these topics will likely be a discussion at some point during the upcoming year. You can learn more about these issues first hand by coming to the meetings in person, or you can risk hearing incomplete or inaccurate information by relying on other sources.

Don’t make me get up on my soapbox . . . again.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Blasch to seek re-election

I am pleased to report that current school board member Joe Blasch will be seeking re-election in November, replacing the Democratic candidate for Lower South, Kirsten Garber, who withdrew from the election due to personal reasons. Blasch's application to replace Garber is pending approval by the Bucks County Board of Elections.

You may recall that during the primaries I did not endorse either the Democratic or Republican school board candidate from Lower South. I didn’t really know either one of them and was not comfortable throwing my support to someone I could not vouch for. Now it’s a whole new ballgame in Lower South.

There are few people I trust more than Joe Blasch, and I have come to depend on his wisdom and integrity during my time on the board. I can’t think of a better person to represent the students, parents and taxpayers of Neshaminy. I hope the voters of Lower South feel the same way.

Great to have you back in the game, Joe!