Saturday, November 28, 2009

Out of town

Just a heads up that I'll be on the road over the next two weeks and I probably won't be updating the blog much, if at all. Any comments you submit will be published (eventually) but please be patient.

Hope to see you at the Board Reorg meeting on Monday, December 7th.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Saying good bye

At last night's board meeting we said good bye to our three outgoing members - Bill Spitz, Joe Blasch and Frank Koziol. All three were hard working officials who represented their constituents honorably.

My fondest memory of Frank Koziol will be the time when I commented how I only agreed with 25% of whatever came out of his mouth, to which he responded "so how does it feel to be wrong 75% of the time?" Good one, Frank.

Joe Blasch is truly one of the most decent people I've ever met in my life, and I will sorely miss his wisdom and sense of fairness on this board. It will be very hard for me to look to my immediate left at future meetings and not see him sitting there. I'll miss you, partner.

I'm not sure what I can say about Bill Spitz that our president Ritchie Webb didn't say last night. Bill was a tireless worker who dedicated himself to improving education in our district, and he has a brilliant mind for numbers. The board will really miss him. I first got to know Bill as a board member, but now I am honored to call him my friend. Thanks for everything, Bill.

To our newest board members - making campaign promises and winning elections is the easy part. Now you have to step forward and earn what the people have given you, and you have some mighty big shoes to fill. Good luck! I look forward to working with you.

To all who visit this blog, thank you for your ongoing support. Please enjoy a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday!

William O'Connor

Support Staff protest during meeting

From today's Courier Times . . .

Several members of Neshaminy's support staff were once again picketing outside Tuesday night's school board meeting at Maple Point Middle School in Middletown.

The bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers continue to protest the district's consideration of bids on custodial, transportation, maintenance and food services. Union President Mindy Anderson had no comment on Tuesday night's protest.

Mirroring what the board offered the teachers, the board is asking the support staff to contribute from 15 percent to 17 percent to the current plan over three years, or change the plan and pay 10 percent to 12 percent. The district also is offering a 3 percent annual salary increase over three years, board President Ritchie Webb previously said. The support staff counter-offered, saying they'd forgo a salary increase this year if they don't have to contribute to their health care premiums. They said they'd then contribute to their health care in increments up to 5 percent over five years. They also asked for 3 percent, 3 1/2 percent and 4 percent salary increases over five years, according to district officials.

Click here to read the entire article.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

She needs to get her eyes checked

In a letter published in today's Courier Times, Mary Durkin says she was upset by my presence at the recent high school ribbon cutting ceremony. One problem with that Ms. Durkin - I was never at the ceremony!

When it comes to the high school reconstruction, some folks will never get their facts straight. Go ahead Ms. Durkin, you and your cronies can take all the credit for the project. That's your legacy, not mine. And you can keep it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Have budget cuts hurt the students?

There was no doubt going into this school year that our students would feel some impact of the cost reductions made to our budget. Some matters, like tissues, would be minor. Other issues, like reduced bus schedules, would be more significant. Thankful that we didn't have to cut any educational programs, I was cautiously optimistic that we wouldn't see any other disruptions to our children's learning.

Over the last few weeks I have become aware of some issues that warrant further review, and I brought those up for discussion at last night's school board meeting.

First, and most important, was computer education in the elementary schools. The computer aids were eliminated with the understanding that teachers are responsible for those classes (aids were there to assist, but not run the classes). What I've heard from numerous parents is that while some elementary teachers are still having computer labs, others are not. Clearly this was not what we wanted to happen, and so I asked Dr. Muenker for a thorough review of the situation. At last night's meeting he indicated that this has already been referred to Dr. Heble (Curriculum & Instruction). Stay tuned for updates on this situation.

The next issue of concern was the high school library, specifically that it is no longer available to students before or after school. An article in the school's Playwickian newspaper stated that "With a fast-paced learning environment in High School, students who do not have means to a computer are at a significant disadvantage compared to others." I had previously spoken to students about this issue, including my own children who attended NHS, and they didn't believe the library was utilized that much outside of normal school hours. But if this Playwickian article is to be believed, then the library may be more of a resource than we considered it to be. Dr. Muenker was already aware of this article in the school paper, and he confirmed he will be looking into this matter more closely.

The final matter I discussed last night actually had nothing to do with students directly, but rather our district's ability to effectively communicate to the outside world. Previously much of the district's communication came through a public relations person (Sandy Costanzo), but that position was eliminated after her retirement and her functions were absorbed by existing staff members. Since that time, I have received numerous emails from parents saying they have a difficult time reaching anyone in district administration and that their messages are never returned. And if you read the Courier Times regularly, you may have noticed many recent articles about our district which contained the phrase "District officials were not available for comment." This situation is frustrating to all those trying to contact the district, and it cannot be allowed to continue.

As important as all these topics are, there isn't a no-brainer solution at hand. Remember our fiscal situation is very tight, and any additions to the budget will have to be offset by a corresponding reduction. This reminds me of the words of our board president, Ritchie Webb, who said last school year that we can trim the budget with a scalpel or a chain saw - we've chosen a scalpel.

Mr. Webb was absolutely right - the scalpel was the much better way to go. Unfortunately even a scalpel wound hurts.

I'll keep you posted on updates to these and other matters.

Update on Ad Hoc Facilities Committee

Our second meeting slated for last week was postponed due to scheduling conflicts of the committee participants. Given the recent election turnout, I have recommended to Board President Ritchie Webb that the committee suspend its meetings for now and resume after the December board reorganization so that new committee members may be appointed.

This all but assures that we will not be able to make decisions about any facilities effective for the 2010/2011 school year.

I'll report back to you on the progress of this committee once our meetings resume, likely in early 2010.

It's worth a second look

You may recall last year when I was rallying behind the cause of the School Property Tax Elimination Act (SPTEA), referred to in proposed legislation as HB1275. While our elected officials in Harrisburg come and go, this idea is still on the table. And it's something you should take a serious look at.

The program isn't without risk since it relies on income and sales-based taxes instead of the more predictable property tax. But with foreclosures on the rise and an increasing number of residents receiving lower property assessments, not even property tax income is as predictable as it once was.
It's a radical idea to some and that can be a little scary. But that shouldn't stop you from learning more about it. Personally I am intrigued by the idea, and was very proud to speak on its behalf at a taxpayers rally in Harrisburg last year.

To learn more about the SPTEA, visit the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition (PTCC) website at And if you like the idea, contact our State Representative Frank Farry by sending him an email or calling his office at 215-752-6750, and tell him to support HB1275, the School Property Tax Elimination Act.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Home-schooled kids out of the loop

Should home-schooled children be able to receive the H1N1 vaccine from their local school district? Here is an interesting article in today's Courier Times about that very topic . . .

It appears only a handful of Bucks County school districts are sending H1N1 vaccine information and permission forms to home-schooled students. Middletown resident Cathy Gallagher breathed a sign of relief when she learned last week that Neshaminy students would get swine flu vaccines later this month. Then school district officials told her that her 17-year-old daughter Brianna wouldn't get one.

The reason, Gallagher said, is that Brianna is home schooled through a cyber charter school, meaning technically she isn't a Neshaminy student. "You should have the chance to get vaccinated," Gallagher said. "It's a sin if you go there and they have leftover vaccine because people didn't have the opportunity. I never thought it was going to be a problem."

So far, it appears only a handful of school districts are sending vaccine information and permission forms to home-schooled students. They are: Bensalem, Council Rock, Pennsbury and Palisades. The Bucks County Health Department, which is running the clinics for the 13 school districts, didn't provide specific direction regarding home-schooled children, Director David Damsker said.

The Courier Times was unsuccessful Monday in reaching the following school districts for comment about whether they're including home-schooled students in H1N1 vaccine clinics: Bristol, Centennial, Morrisville, Neshaminy, New Hope-Solebury, Pennridge and Quakertown.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Little movement in Support Staff talks

Representatives from the district's negotiation team and NESPA recently met for further discussions of a new contract. Although there was some movement, both sides remain very far apart in the key issues. Here is a summary of the major points:

Contract Length and Outsourcing
The Board proposal: 3-year contract with an agreement not to outsource any work for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 contract years.

The NESPA proposal: 5-year contract with no change to the language regarding third-party contracting.

The Board proposal: To offset increased health care costs, a reduced year 1 increase of 1%, followed by raises of 3% in each of the second and third years.

The NESPA proposal: Year 1 = 0% increase, years 2-4 = 3.5% each, year 5 = 4%

Medical Benefit Contributions
The Board proposal: A reduced-cost medical plan with monthly contributions of 10%, 11%, 12% over three years.

The NESPA proposal: Maintain its top-tier insurance coverage with monthly contributions of 0%, 2%, 3%, 4%, 5% over five years.

Retiree Benefits
Under the expired contract, eligible retirees and their spouses receive full medical, drug, dental and vision coverage until age 65 with no premium contributions.

The Board proposes to eliminate these retirement benefits, to be replaced with a provision allowing all eligible retirees to remain in the group medical plan at District cost. The Union opposes any changes to retiree benefits (except that retirees will be placed into the same base medical plan as active employees).

Sick Days
The Board proposes that sick days should no longer count as time worked for the purpose of calculating overtime. The Union opposes this proposal.

Posted on the district's negotiation website is a more detailed summary of these issues along with several statements including, "the Union's refusal to adequately address the above issues, related primarily to benefits for full-time workers, leaves us little choice but to continue to consider contracting with third parties as a partial solution to the financial challenges we face."

You can get further detail on both the Board and NESPA offers by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

School Board Election Results

Attention readers: There have been a number of comments submitted to this post that are politically-charged one way or the other, and I have been struggling with which comments to publish and which ones to edit. So I have decided not to publish any of the comments regarding yesterday's election.

For those wishing to express their gratitude to either Dr. Spitz or Mr. Blasch, please submit your comment and I will pass them along privately.

Thank you for your understanding.

- William O'Connor


Updated 10:05pm, 11/3/2009

Projected winners will be bolded

Region 1 (Lower South) - Elect One
Joe Blasch (D)* -
Scott Congdon (R)

Region 2 (Levittown) - Elect One
Melissa Kitzmiller (D) -
Mike Morris (R)

Region 3 (Langhorne) - Elect Two
William Spitz (D)*
Lisa Reiser (D) -
Irene Boyle (R)*
William Oettinger (R)

(*) Denotes incumbent