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.


Hazeleyes said...

Thank you William for addressing the elementary computer class issue. I spoke with you on election day outside Maple Point and told you how frustrated I was that nobody seemed to care about this. I spoke to the teacher, the principal, other parents. I was beginning to think nobody else cared. Thank you for caring!

Gabriel said...

If the computer aids are necessary to having those classes, I hope you and the rest of the board will do what is necessary to make that happen. I understand the budget situation, but failing to give our students necessary resources is not an option.

Angie said...

In my opinion, elementary computer classes should be taught by a certified teacher in computers. I have spoken at previous school board meetings about this. I even gave a copy of curriculum that I had written, for my district that I teach in, to the board. I understand budgetary issues. I feel with this and with the kindergarten busing issue, we are really hurting our youngest students.

srodos said...

Angie, you are absolutely correct. The school district and the students would best be served by having teachers certified in computer education beginning in the elementary schools. In my opinion we have to overcome the mentality of "if we do not already offer it we do not need it."

swelle said...

I can see a certified computer aid in middle and high schools, but not elementary. They need someone who can show them basic keyboarding and navigation, and there are programs that can do that. Just pop in the DVD and go. I do think computer aids should be given a test before hiring just to make sure they do know the basics of computers. I just think certification at the elementary level is overkill. Not intended as an insult to you Angie. Just a difference of opinion.

Levittowner said...

Knowing that we had to have some cuts...I know Carl Sandburg isn't offering the tech ed classes like they used to. My 8th graders are lucky that the teacher is offering sewing after school as she hates to just cut it out for those students who are interested. (really nice of her and my family is appreciative)

finance-101 said...

What's happening here is that as we start making budget cuts, the district suffers educationally and the net worth of our property values slowly decreases. I agree with Angie. Computers are now such an important part of education, that it can not be ignored. Certain foreign countries actually teach programming at very low grade levels. Hard to believe, but true.

We continue to try to lower our taxes $50 a year at the expense of education and community wealth.

Did anyone see what Centennial started today ? See today's article on Page B5 of the Courier.

Hint: Council Rock and Central Bucks did the same thing as Centennial. We did the same thing as Morrisville.

acs said...

There is no measurable relationship in bucks between schools and property values. I would argue the current tax rate in NSD hurts property values relative to established quality programs like CR and PB.
My suggestion is shift librarians and the excess elementary guidance counselors that Dr. Meunker identified in June to more meaningful roles like computer ed etc.

finance-101 said...

To acs: There is a direct relationship between home values and education. A few years ago I found data which interestingly showed the following:

The rankings of the school districts by test scores was in the same order as the value of real estate prices. The data can be found in annual stats that are published by Philadelphia Magazine and the Inquirer.

In addition, home prices in Council Rock and Central Bucks were way above were they should be. Also, within Central Bucks, the pocket area in which includes Central Bucks South High School was off the charts. note: CB South built a new high school.

These homes may be overvalued, but you can not fight or change the market.
Market prices are dictated by certain factors. In real estate, strong education, perception and building new, contributes to higher prices.

uponfurtherreview said...

The problem isn't so much that we renovated versus built new as much as it's our community lacks ability to make wise, long term financial decisions. People voted down a new high school because they wanted to believe the deception of a political power man who swore we could get just as much from a $50 million renovation. Thinking that was possible defied all logic but that's what people wanted to believe, so they believed it.

I've been in that building, and it's not good as new. It is better than it was but you can see imperfections. The floors aren't graded evenly going from one section to the next. Mark my words that in 10 years we will be making major repairs to our good as new building. When that happens all the people will demand to know who was responsible for this fiasco and they will never admit that THEY were the reason.

JS said...

Upon, you're not kidding that it's not good as new (they just replaced every one of the internal locker mechanism, yes all the new ones, in the entire building, even coming in on holidays getting paid overtime).

The thing is that many of those who voted the referendum down were missinformed. Most who voted NO thought they were voting NO to ANYTHING (New construction or Renovation). If there had been a two choice referendum (as opposed to a yes no) then I think many would have chosen the New because of all the reasons everyone else brings up.

Now to current budget cuts? Just wait until 2012 (and not the movie). That's when our own property tax doomsday arrives to pay for the pension fund losses.

Can anyone else tell me why it's illegal to ever lower pensions in Pennsylvania (which was ruled on by a Stat Supreme Court paid by those pensions...?)

IrishFarm said...

Upon is right about the grading of the floors. I was in the building 2 weeks ago after school and seemingly tripped over nothing. I didn't see anything on the floor and couldn't figure out how I stumbled. When I retraced my steps I noticed the floor starting grading upwards. It was subtle, not like walking up a ramp, but it was enough for me to stub my foot and fall. No question the building is better than before but it is insane that we spent virtually the same money for an inferior product.