Thursday, January 28, 2010

Keep an eye on things for me

I'm flying out of the country on business for a week so there won't likely be any updates for a little while. And if you submit comments, please be patient while awaiting them to be posted.

Talk to you next week.

Outsourcing the truth - Facts behind the rumors

When this Board decided it would investigate the potential benefits of outsourcing some of our support functions, we knew it would be a controversial subject. Even though the cost savings opportunities make outsourcing seem like a no-brainer, we must pursue this option carefully while we're still in negotiations with NESPA. I don't think there is a Board member in the bunch that wants to see one of our employees lose their job, but ultimately we may have to weigh that consideration against cutting educational programs.

As we look deeper into the possibility of outsourcing, one thing we have learned is that some who oppose the idea will go to any lengths to make it look like a perilous journey through the gates of Hell. They have engineered made-up facts, and used fear tactics to scare and intimidate. Here is a partial collection of rumors that have been circulated throughout our district to sway the public against the notion of outsourcing - everyone one of them proven false.

Rumor - Outsourcing vendors use undocumented workers/illegal aliens to save costs.
Fact - Each vendor we considered proudly pointed out that their employees are subjected to thorough background checks and drug testing. In fact, those vendors put their employees through a more vigorous screening than Neshaminy does.

Rumor - Outsourcing companies only save costs in the initial 3-year contract, then they jack up the prices.
Fact - We contacted several districts who have outsourced for more than 3 years, and they confirmed that any cost increases beyond the initial contract were within the rate of inflation. Just to play it safe, we have asked the vendors to provide us with a 5-year bid and they continue to show us a significant savings opportunity.

Rumor - Council Rock admitted they made a mistake and is trying to bring transportation back in house.
Fact - Not true according to their superintendent, who told a Neshaminy official that they are pleased with their transportation vendor (First Student) which is the same company Neshaminy is considering.

Rumor - Council Rock is losing $1 million or more in unexpected costs of outsourced transportation.
Fact - Again, the CR superintendent has confirmed this to be completely untrue.

Rumor - Council Rock has asked Neshaminy if we would be willing to sell our buses back to them so they could bring transportation back in house.
Fact - No such request from Council Rock, or any other district, has been made.

My favorite argument against outsourcing is that those vendors are for-profit companies only out to make a buck. OMG, you mean that when their contract is up, they will put us through painful, protracted negotiations and demand compensation that this District cannot afford to pay? Really?

The best reason not to outsource is because we have many hard working, good employees who serve us and our children very well. Their work ethic or dedication isn't the problem. Financing our children's education is the challenge that is driving this issue. And if a settlement isn't reached with our Support Workers union soon, we may have little choice but to make a very difficult decision in order to offset next year's $7 million budget gap.

In case you missed Tuesday's Board meeting, here is a recap courtesy of the Courier Times.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Thumbs up for outsourcing

The following editorial is reprinted here with permission from the Bucks County Courier Times.

Thumbs Up (Bucks County Courier Times, 1/15/2010)

To the Neshaminy School District outsourcing support-staff work. Separate proposals to turn over transportation services and custodial duties to private companies would over five years save taxpayers about $30 million, based on bids obtained by the district. The school board should do it — because the gain for taxpayers far outweighs the pain for union employees.

The transportation company would retain 90 percent of existing staff and workers would keep their current pay rate. The company would pick up 70-80 percent of workers’ health insurance costs, leaving the balance for employees to pay. True, that would be a big hit for workers to absorb, but it would put them on par with folks in the private sector. Additionally, the company would buy the district’s bus fleet and pay rent for garage and office space. Overall savings: almost $16 million.

Using similar cost-conscious tactics, the company bidding for custodial services would save taxpayers about $14 million.

Is this is a no-brainer or what?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Negotiation, outsourcing updates

The School Board's Negotiating team and the NFT met earlier this week to further contract negotiations. Although no significant progress was made, both sides agreed to meet again in the near future.

The Board has asked for a state-appointed Fact Finder to review the negotiations with the Support Worker's union (NESPA). There are two meetings scheduled with the Fact Finder in February, and the Board anticipates the Fact Finder's assessment will be rendered in late March.

While negotiations with NESPA are ongoing, the Board continues to consider outsourcing options for some of the support functions. In response to concerns that the cost benefits of outsourcing will only last for three years, the Board has asked for and received an amended bid for Custodial services to cover five years, the savings of which is now projected to be $14.4 million. The bidding results for Transportation services have also been received, and the best bid came from First Student with a proposal to save the District $16 million over five years.

For more details on this update, go to the Board's Negotiation website. Also, here is an article in today's Courier Times regarding these developments.

This is too funny

For all those who work in public education, this one's for you (note - this is fictional according to several websites I checked with, but don't you wish it was real?) . . .

Keystone exams regulation now official

The following information is provided by the PA School Board's Association (PSBA). I haven't fully digested the details yet so I apologize for not giving you a more easily digestable version. I'm sure this will be a topic of discussion at an upcoming Neshaminy Education Development meeting. I'll keep you updated.

Keystone Exams regulation now final and effective
Keystone Exams regulation was published in the Jan. 9 issue of the Pennsylvania Bulletin, and is now final and effective. The following are some of the key components:

Graduation Requirements --Effective with the graduating class of 2014-15, requirements must include the following: 1) Course completion and grades; 2) Completion of a culminating project, which may include completion of a college application process; 3) Demonstration of proficiency as determined by the school district in each of the state academic standards not assessed by a state assessment; and 4) Demonstration of proficiency in literature (reading), English composition, math, science and social studies as determined through one or more of the following: use of state-developed Keystone Exams, local assessments and Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate Exams. School boards will decide which exams they wish to use for graduation purposes.

State graduation requirements are phased in over time. The class of 2014-15 must demonstrate proficiency in English composition, literature, algebra I and biology. Beginning with the class of 2016-17 students must demonstrate proficiency in English composition and literature; two of three mathematics (algebra I, geometry, algebra II), one of two sciences (biology or chemistry), and one of three social studies (American history, civics and government or world history).

Using Keystone Exams for Graduation -- PDE will develop 10 Keystone Exams that districts may use for graduation purposes and administer as final end of course exams. Development of the 10 exams will be phased in as follows:
For school year 2010-11: Algebra I, literature and biology.
For fall 2011: English composition and algebra II.
For fall 2012: Geometry and U.S. history.
For fall 2016: Chemistry, civics & government, and world history.
Keystone Exams will count for one-third of the final course grade. Appropriate accommodations will be provided for students with disabilities, English language learners and students identified as gifted.

Beginning in the 2011-12 school year, a student who does not pass one or more of the Keystone Exams or validated local assessments must be offered supplemental instructional support. Students who score below "proficient" must be provided opportunities to retake the test or modules of the test. Students who score "below basic," which indicates extremely limited knowledge or skills in the content tested, would not receive any points towards their final grade. However, students who score below the proficient level would be able to supplement their Keystone Exam score by successfully completing one or more project-based assessments. Points earned through the project would be added to their highest Keystone Exam score. Projects would be administered at the local level and scored at a regional level by panels composed of teachers, principals and curriculum specialists.

Using Local Assessments for Graduation -- Local assessments used for graduation purposes must be independently validated once every six years in conjunction with submission of the school district's strategic plan. The local assessments may be designed to include a variety of assessment strategies and may include use of one or more Keystone Exams.
PDE will create a Local Assessment Validation Committee that will develop the criteria for the local validation process and criteria for selection of approved validation entities. PSBA is appointing four members to this committee.

The cost to validate local assessments will be evenly divided between the school district and PDE and will be subject to appropriations provided by law. If PDE cannot provide sufficient funding to cover its share, local assessments submitted for validation will be deemed to be valid for the balance of the strategic plan period until either a new or mid-point update to the strategic plan is due to the department.

Replacing the 11th Grade PSSA -- The PDE will seek permission from the U.S. Department of Education to have the Keystone Exam system approved to replace the 11th grade PSSAs as the high school level single accountability system under the No Child Left Behind Act. If approved, the current 11th grade math and reading PSSA Exams would be replaced by algebra I and literature Keystone Exams, which would be used to determine AYP. The biology Keystone Exam will be used as the high school level science assessment required by NCLB, although these scores are not used to determine AYP. Only these three Keystone Exams would become mandatory and they would be counted for AYP purposes only unless the district chooses to use these scores for graduation purposes as well. The Keystone Exams will be administered as end-of-course tests at the grade level in which the student completes the course.

PDE Assistance -- The department will provide, for voluntary use, model curriculum, diagnostic assessments and related instructional resources aligned with state academic standards in each of the courses and content areas assessed by the Keystone Exams. The department will also provide assistance in the development of effective student tutoring, remediation and extended instructional time programs. Upon request, PDE will provide technical guidance to school districts in developing local assessments that meet the criteria for validation.

Participation of Stakeholders -- The new regulation provides for the participation of stakeholders in these ways:

Local Assessment Validation Advisory Committee - PDE will create an advisory committee to develop the criteria for the local validation process and criteria for selection of approved validation entities. The committee is composed of up to two representatives each from the department and State Board and four representatives from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. The committee must appoint up to four additional members who are jointly selected by the committee. The department, in consultation with the committee, will establish a list of entities approved to perform independent validations of local assessments. The committee must submit its recommendations for approval or disapproval by the State Board. The department will post the approved criteria, selection criteria and list of approved entities on its Web site.

Performance Level Advisory Committee - An advisory committee will be established by PDE to assist in developing Keystone Exam performance level descriptors and performance level cut scores. The committee includes teachers, principals, school board members, school administrators, higher education officials, representatives of the U.S. Armed Forces, employers and others with no less than one-half its members selected from nominations made by statewide teachers' unions and other education stakeholder organizations.

State Assessment Validation Advisory Committee - A committee will be established by PDE to advise it on its plans to conduct a validity study of the Keystone Exams and review and provide feedback on study findings. The committee is composed of up to two representatives each from the department, State Board, PSEA and AFT-PA. Up to four additional members will be selected who are jointly selected by the committee. The department and this committee will investigate the use of a certificate based on industry approved standards and performance on a NOCTI as an alternative pathway to graduation and make a report and recommendation to the State Board of Education by next January.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thank you for your support!

In a little more than two years this blog has surpassed 200,000 hits. Thank you to all who stop by daily to keep up with news and updates, and a special thanks to those who post comments regularly.

If this is your first visit to my site, why not sign up for Email Alerts? You will get an email any time this blog is updated or whenever there is important information that I want to pass along. It's fast, it's easy, and it's 100% confidential.

Again, thank you to all who have supported

- William O'Connor

Board to tackle projected deficit

I could summarize last night's board meeting for you, but why bother when the Courier Times did it for me? Thanks RC . . .

Even though Neshaminy's projected deficit is half of what it was this time last year, it still could mean more layoffs. That's what the district's business administrator, Joseph Paradise, told the Neshaminy school board Tuesday night. Neshaminy's 2010-11 spending plan is expected to be about $162.8 million. Revenues are estimated to be around $155.5 million, he said. That would mean a $7.3 million gap, or a 9.6 percent increase.

While this year's deficit is not as much as last year's $14 million, it's still "nothing to sneeze at," since it could still mean staff reductions because those are the biggest budget items. Last year, the district eliminated 65 positions to reduce operating costs.

You can read the rest of the article by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A big first step

Three cheers for State Rep Glen Grell (R-Cumberland County) for proposing House Bill (HB)2135 which calls for reform of the state workers pension plan. Although I feel the plan falls short of what it needs to accomplish, Representative Grell has taken a step that no other legislator has been willing to take: Re-engineer the very pension plan that covers teachers, state employees, and our elected officials in Harrisburg in an effort to ease the burden on Pennsylvania school districts and tax payers.

You can learn more about HB2135 by reading this article in today's Courier Times.

I sent Rep Grell an email last week and was pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful response he provided. Grell understands that this proposal is far from perfect but he sees it as a way of starting a dialogue with his colleagues. Under these circumstances, I would have to agree with Mr. Grell that this is a good start. We now need our representatives to participate in this debate rather than sit back and watch to see which way the political winds blow.

As soon as you have finished digesting this information, contact our State Representative Frank Farry via email or by calling his Langhorne office at (215) 752-6750, and demand that he actively engages in the issue of state worker pension reform.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

That does not compute

I'm sure next school year's budget and ongoing contract negotiations will dominate the headlines in 2010, but we cannot lose sight of our children's education. One particular area I am concerned with is computer learning, more specifically at the elementary school level.

When we cut elementary school computer aids from this year's budget, it was done with assurances that computer classes would continue because the teachers themselves were ultimately responsible for running these classes while the computer aids were there to assist. Unfortunately we have heard numerous complaints from parents that their elementary students aren't having any computer classes at all. I'm not looking to point fingers - we just need to fix the problem, and we need to fix it now.

I encourage parents of elementary students to attend our next Education Development Committee meeting on Monday, January 25th, at 6:30pm in the Board Room at Maple Point. Please come prepared to share your child's experience with computer education this year. Your input is absolutely critical to understanding and ultimately addressing this issue.

If you cannot attend the meeting in person, I ask that you send me an email summary of your child's experience with computer classes this year. Please be sure to include your full name, your child's name/school/teacher, and any other information you deem relevant.

I look forward to your feedback.

Food Service checkin' in

They Don't Care is the title of a letter appearing in today's Courier in which a Neshaminy employee criticizes the Board for considering outsourcing Food Service. According to the author of that letter, "We see your children every day; we're their friends. That you can't buy with money. The school board's main goal is to save money, to hell with your children's safety. Now you know who their school bus driver is, who the custodian is. They're your neighbors, not some stranger who will get to work alongside your children who you don't know. Remember, you pay for what you get and you're putting your friends and neighbors in an unemployment line."

Click here to read the letter in its entirety.

H1N1 Flu shot clinic to be held

Any Bucks County resident who would like to be vaccinated against the H1N1 flu can report to the clinic being held by the Bucks County Health Department at Neshaminy High School, Gym 3, on January 14 from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., 2001 Old Lincoln Highway, Langhorne.

The County asks that residents bring a driver’s license for proof of residency.