Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Things could be worse

Certainly we're not having too much fun in Neshaminy these days as we are trying to come to grips with our budget deficit, but for those of you who think things couldn't get worse, all you have to do is face east to see just how bad things could be.

The following excerpt is from an email sent to me by a reader who is a New Jersey educator:

"Things are getting very tight here in NJ. Today the governor offered districts an increase in state aid if the teachers agree to a wage freeze. In our district we are cutting one kindergarten teacher, custodians, paras, and Spanish. We are going from 11 buses to 6, doing away with courtesy busing. We have cut all field trips, afterschool and evening activities. All of our classroom supplies budgets have been cut in half. We are outsourcing food services as well. Even with all those cuts, we are still looking at raising the average homeowner's taxes about $1000 for next year for school taxes alone. Now we vote on our budget here. If it doesn't pass, we will be forced to cut more."

To summarize the education situation in Jersey - State aid has been slashed, wages could be frozen, student programs could be cut, and property taxes are still skyrocketing. This is why we must deal with our financial problems now rather than putting them off any further. If we don't do it, somebody else will.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Downward spiral

Here is a letter appearing in today's Courier Times . . .

How many more things can the Neshaminy School District take away from our children? They want to eliminate the music and arts programs, librarians, family consumer science, swimming, after school activities, just to name a few. Oh, and don't forget that we will no longer need guidance counselors and reading specialists.

I thought this district was wonderful; I'm sorry to see it heading in this downward spiral.

Suzette Liptrot, Middletown

I get it, Suzette. Nobody, especially School Board members, wants to cut student programs. But saying you don't want cuts without addressing our legal obligation to the deficit is unrealistic. I would truly appreciate you, and all Neshaminy residents who don't want to see student programs impacted, providing us with some guidance. Don't just write letters or show up at a meeting and say don't cut programs - tell us what should be sacrificed so that these programs can be spared. Do you want us to outsource support functions? Do you want us to cut classroom aids? Should students have to pay for their extracurricular activities?

You can read Ms. Liptrot's letter in its entirety by clicking here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Err on the side of the kids

Those were the words of Board President Ritchie Webb Tuesday night as he addressed concerns about looming budget cuts which may result in job losses among other things. In response to NESPA President Mindy Anderson's statement that Support Staff alone should not have the burden of solving all of the districts' financial problems, Mr. Webb commented that "Nobody wants to see anyone lose their job, but given the choice between your kids' education, I have to err on the side of the kid."

Well said, Mr. Webb. And I must agree that is (or should be) our guiding principle throughout discussions of budget cuts for the upcoming school year. Yes, some difficult decisions will be made and nobody can guarantee that students won't feel the impact of those decisions. However our priority is to the students and the programs that improve their educational experience. All other considerations take a back seat and therefore move up to the front of the line when it comes to budget reductions.

A few thoughts about Tuesday's Board meeting . . .

It was good to see more and more parents in attendance. Rather than waiting for the last meeting in June which is way too late, these people are getting informed and involved now. I'm sure they didn't really appreciate all the rhetoric and posturing they heard on Tuesday night, but you've gotta be there to be in the game.

Speaking of posturing, there was one taxpayer who insisted on asking questions of the board and demanded answers. Nothing wrong with that. But when the answers are being given and you aren't even paying attention, but instead are talking to the people surrounding you, it tells me one thing - you aren't really interested in the answers. I, and probably most others, would appreciate if you just say what's on your mind rather than putting on a facade of objectivity by using a series of carefully worded, seemingly unanswerable questions. But if you insist on making your point through questions instead of statements, can you please at least have the decency to make eye contact when someone is answering you?

A few of the speakers Tuesday night actually suggested ideas on how to improve revenue or cut costs. Even if those ideas don't pan out, I really appreciate their taking the time to come up with those suggestions. Keep 'em coming.

I have always been impressed by the manner in which students, parents and staff of the Learning Center have defended their program, and Tuesday night was no exception. But when it comes to making a point using both logic and emotion, nobody has ever expressed themselves quite the way that parent Steve Young did. His speech was so moving that my words cannot do them justice, and I encourage you to watch the rebroadcast to witness his stirring comments for yourself.

And on a final note . . .

I had the pleasure of attending last night's High School Choir Spring Concert under the direction of Music Director, Hillary Rydderch. Hearing those wonderful voices and seeing those beautiful smiles serves as a welcome reminder of what matters most.

As Mr. Webb would say, I have to err on the side of the kid.

You can read the Courier Times recap of Tuesday night's meeting by clicking here.

Another idea for Neshaminy Middle School

This article courtesy of the Bucks County Courier Times . . .

The Bucks County commissioners aren't racing to write a check in response to an idea by Wrightstown philanthropist Gene Epstein that he and the county team up to buy the closed Neshaminy Middle School in Middletown. Epstein, who has contributed to countless causes over the years, thinks the property would be a good place for another homeless shelter, job training for the unemployed, temporary apartments for low-income residents and some other uses. He and his wife, Marlene, said they are willing to put up $500,000 toward buying the school and hope county officials would agree to fund the rest.

Epstein said his ideas for the property are worth pursuing. [Bucks County Commissioner] Marseglia agreed but said the county just doesn't have the money.

Click here to read the entire article.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I'll be back!

I'll be away for a few days so I won't be approving any comments or adding any new posts till middle of next week.

You can submit comments but they may not be published until I get back.

If you haven't seen the NESPA website yet, I've added a link to their page over to the right.

Enjoy the nice weather!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Can you spot the facts?

I can't.

What next, outsourcing causes cancer?!?

I've looked at this NESPA ad from today's Courier three times, and I can't find anything factual about it. I've gotta get back to work now, but if you find anything worth mentioning, please feel free to post a comment. Maybe if I get a break later, I'll chime in with some facts . . . you know, verifiable pieces of information instead of emotional statements, useless platitudes and fear mongering.

Great timing for this ad, too. Tonight is the first meeting with the State-appointed Fact Finder (following two previous cancellations due to inclement weather).

NESPA Ad 03152010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Unions cool to Board invitation

The following Article courtesy of Joe Dynan from The Advance . . .

The Neshaminy Board of School Directors unanimously agreed Tuesday to seek input from both the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers and the Neshaminy Educational Support Professional Association (NESPA) before deciding where to cut programs and personnel to avoid raising taxes.

Reflecting the hard feelings that have built up during the prolonged labor impasse, the leaders of both unions were skeptical moments after the board's vote during a meeting at Neshaminy High School.

Louise Boyd, president of the teachers' union, thinks school officials should focus on a new contract for the approximately 650 teachers she represents before asking them to help eliminate the deficit. "It seems like an odd order to do things, don't you think?" she asked. The NFT's previous contract expired in June 2008 and Boyd was quick to point out that, as of Tuesday, the teachers have been working without a contract for 617 days.

Mindy Anderson, president of NESPA, the support staff union, was also under whelmed with the offer from district officials. "We'll wait until we get the invitation," she said. "I can tell them where to cut in administration," she added.

You can read the entire story by clicking here.

Here's a cost-cutting idea

I thought you could use a laugh. This was sent to me by a reader . . .

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How do you trim $7.6 million?

That's the question in front of this Board, and there are no easy answers. Even if we do eventually outsource support staff positions (we are still in negotiations with NESPA), we are likely to have some deficit for next year's budget. And, Heaven forbid, what do we do if we want to actually improve some of our programs, say elementary computer education? How will we pay for that?

During last night's meeting the Board reviewed a list of potential budget cuts. Nobody out there with any concern for our programs should dismiss this list assuming some 11th hour miracle solution will come along. But judging by the parent attendance, or lack thereof, at last night's meeting, that is exactly what this community is thinking. So please forward this post to every Neshaminy parent you know and tell them to get involved NOW. Start coming to meetings and help the Board determine which expenditures can be cut. Some sacrifices will be made, and with YOUR help we can do it with minimal impact to our students.

Don't pretend this problem doesn't exist. Don't ignore it. And whatever you do, don't show up at our last meeting in June and say that we never told you about potential cuts. Don't make me bring out Mr. Angry Eyes again!

You can read the Courier Times recap of last night's meeting by clicking here. The complete list of potential budget cuts discussed is summarized below:

1. Eliminate Middle School IOP
2. Eliminate Middles School Sports/Co-Curricular Activities
3. Close both remaining middle school pools
4. Middle School pools - Charge appropriate extra fee for use
5. Eliminate Elementary Guidance Counselors (8)
6. Eliminate Reading Specialists
7. Eliminate Elementary Librarians (8)
8. Eliminate Middle School Librarians
9. Close Alternative School and contract out service for existing students
10. Creation of activity fees
11. Special Ed Instructional Assistants - Reduce
12. Eliminate High School Co-op program
13. Middle School Librarians - Share in complex
14. Increase Facility Usage fees
15. Split Principals in Middle School/Elementary School Complexes
16. Increase Aquatic Program Usage Fees
17. Reduce or eliminate instrumental itinerant Music
18. Reduce per-pupil allocations for all schools
19. Eliminate Art/Music/Phys Ed teachers for each building - Use traveling specialists
20. Reduce or eliminate use of Department Heads in High School
21. Eliminate Sophomore Phys Ed
22. High School - Further increases in class size
23. Senior release time (shorten school day for seniors with sufficient grad credits)
24. Change Middle School concept to Jr. High concept
25. Eliminate Kindergarten
26. Eliminate Kindergarten specials (art, music, library, phys ed)
27. Eliminate 1 pre-first class
28. Eliminate/Reduce Family Consumer Science Classes in secondary schools

Friday, March 5, 2010

Neshaminy Info now on Facebook

Just click on the icon and become a fan of Neshaminy Info on Facebook!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Latest serving bids could save $1.5 million

In case you missed it, here is the Courier Times article on the latest outsourcing bids courtesy of Rachel Canelli . . .

Add another $1.5 million to the $30-plus million Neshaminy could save by outsourcing support staff jobs over the next five years. The latest bids for grounds keeping and food services released Monday would provide more than $1.5 million in savings over five years, according to administrators. Officials previously stated the district could save more than $30 million over the next five years if transportation and custodial services are outsourced.

"We're keeping the public informed so, hopefully, the community and the unions have an idea what the district has in front of it," said board President Ritchie Webb. "Our first obligation is to continue to negotiate, but we're also thinking about the $7.6 million deficit facing us and our commitment to the community to stay under Act 1 limitations and our own personal goal of a zero tax increase."

You can read the full article by clicking here.