Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The board majority doesn't care what you have to say....

Especially Stitt and Solak.  This was totally apparent at Monday's Open Caucus meeting.  Four speakers and two board members appealed to the rest of the board to revisit the denied Student Transfers and to revote on them. 

Mr. Reesman speaks......

Mr. Crawford speaks......

Mr. Fullerton speaks......

Ms. Sperski speaks........

Choncek and Close speak, Stitt shuts them down......

Now Solak rants.............

People of Armstrong County, especially those in Solak and Stitt's areas, you need to do something.  These two board members DO NOT CARE what you think or want.  They only have their own agenda.  It is now up to you to create CHANGE!  Qualified people need to run against these two for the 2011 election.

Do we have any volunteers?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Armstrong School District directors question reopening of Elderton High

May 25, 2010 Leader Times Article

MANOR — As directors pore over the Armstrong School District's proposed 2010-11 budget, two board members questioned how long it would take before the impact of reopening Elderton High School would be felt by taxpayers.

While there is no tax increase planned in the coming school year, Directors Joe Close and Chris Choncek said they felt that the added expense of operating Elderton High School would lead to a tax increase in the coming years, as well as the added debt of a possible renovation project at the school.

"Right now, as we are looking at this, there is a projected ending fund balance next June of $3.95 million and the expenses are increasing by almost $3 million," Close said. "How long do you think we can continue to operate like this before we have to raise taxes to pay for that school?"

Close said the district can expect a large tax increase in the 2011-12 budget because of the continued increase in expenses due to Elderton's reopening.

Choncek asked Business Manager Eric Brandenburg for a cost estimate to reopen the school and was told the estimate is $3.5 million. Brandenburg said he did not have the cost breakdown available at Monday's agenda-setting meeting, but said it would be made available.

Choncek said he was against using the fund balance, which is expected to be $6.6 million at the end of this fiscal year, to balance the budget, saying that the district had been advised in the past against the practice.

Under the proposed budget, Brandenburg estimated projected revenues at $85.46 million, while expenses are expected to be $88.17 million. The district would use $2.7 million of the projected fund balance to cover the difference.

Brandenburg said the district can expect about $575,000 in increased basic education subsidy from the state and about $310,000 in savings in a reduction of administrative staff. The district will see about $3.57 million in slots revenues that will result in tax reductions of about $300 for approved property owners. There also are 22 staff retirements.

The district expenses will increase by an unspecified amount due to increasing the number of teachers from 467 to 493, along with $1 million in health-care expenses, $611,000 in textbook purchases and $750,000 in retirement contributions, Brandenburg said. The expenses are coupled with a $1.2 million increase in teacher salaries.

Directors Jim Solak and Rose Stitt argued that the fund balance, as well as other expenses, are being looked at to find additional ways to save money.

"Based on the Lenape budget that was passed last week, we are looking at an additional $417,000 that can be added to the fund balance," Solak said. "There could also be an $800,000 savings if the board chooses to close Kittanning Township Elementary School."

Close used Solak's comments about closing the elementary school to challenge his position on Elderton High School, saying, "The decision to close Elderton was made because it would save money and we were told it was wrong, but now Solak and Stitt are saying that saving money by closing Kittanning Township is a good thing because it saves money."

Stitt responded by saying she doesn't want to close the school, but she fears the board's lack of stability would result in those students being "tossed around to whatever school has room for them."

"But I would rather see those kids be able to go to one school, kindergarten through 12th grade in Elderton, than have them just bounced around wherever they fit," she said. "We can't keep a school open with just 150 kids in it."

Her comments were met with criticism from audience members, saying she voted to reopen Elderton for about the same number of students. The school is expected to reopen in August with about 250 students in grades 7 through 12.

Directors are expected to vote on the preliminary budget on Thursday during the board's voting meeting. The preliminary budget, once approved, will be made available for public review until final adoption, which is expected at the June 28 meeting.

Friday, May 21, 2010

How does it change?!


“Change is inevitable, growth is optional.”-Author Unknown

President, Vice President, Senator, Congress, Representative, Governor, Mayor, Judge, Coroner, Sheriff, District Attorney, School Board, Magistrate, Council, Tax Collector.

These are just some of the positions that we, as tax payers, elect people to look after our best interests and this week’s primary races show that across the country people are want change. But in order for change to happen, people need to become involved.

Of the 42,711 registered voters in Armstrong County, only 14,714 came out to the polls on Tuesday’s Primary Election.

Why is the voter turnout so poor in our county? Are people so apathetic about government or do they feel so helpless as to how to change what is going on that they just throw up their hands and let the chips fall where they may?

Does this seem familiar, perhaps similar to what happened with our last school board election? Should the lack of candidates and the lack of voter turnout for that last election tell us something about the quality of those who were elected to the board? Is the fact that one of our board directors ran unopposed in both the primary and in the November election, the fact that of the 3,087 registered voters in his region only 958 voted and of those only 686 voted for him an indicator of what type of “growth”, or lack there-of, that we can expect for our school district in the future? Why did we have so few candidates?

Is the job hard? Yes. Time consuming? Yes. Thankless? Perhaps. Important? Very. Maybe the outcome of the last election will help the silent majority have the courage to step forward, find qualified, quality candidates and VOTE! The voters of the Armstrong School District need to say “enough is enough”. Our children’s education is more important than the petty agenda’s of many of the current directors.

We need to find dedicated, forward- thinking, selfless individuals to lead our district. The out of control actions and spending of the current board needs to be brought into check and there is only one way to do that… action not by lip service. Our children’s educations, their future, the future of the County and maybe even to a degree the future of our Country are at stake. Why do we have people in power who think so little of education? Who are willing to cut teachers from a building, who by their own voice, have said is on the “warning list” for poor PSSA scores to staff a building with fewer students than said school….to staff a building where there will be classes with 10 or less students, to staff a building where some teachers will have only 4 classes to teach all day (as opposed to the customary 6-7 classes of all other building’s teachers) and fill the rest of their days doing “duties” yet are receiving the same pay as other teachers in the district? Why was the last open caucus meeting postponed…..because they can’t get the figures in order to show that reopening Elderton will not cause an increase in taxes or not deplete the current fund balance…..they are scrambling to try to make it appear to the taxpayers and voters that reopening EHS is fiscally sound when in fact there is just no way that it is. Apparently the agenda’s of the “super six” supersede the education of the majority of the students in the district. Why else would they be putting our students in such a precarious situation for PSSA success? Is it just so that it looks like there will not be “too many” new teachers hired to staff EHS. So the education of all of the other students in the district means so little to the “super-six” that this is okay???

The fact is we need to get out there, vote and support those that are in line with how we feel about things…..whether it is President or School Director.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Court Dates Set

Westmoreland County Senior Judge Daniel J. Ackerman set the hearing dates for June 15 and 16.  The Plaintiffs agreed to skip the preliminary injuction hearing and go right on to the main trial. This option makes the case more expedious and economical.  If the Plaintiffs win, EHS stays closed and the defendants (the six board members who voted to reopen EHS) will be responsible for repaying all of the funds that they've authorized to spend on reopening EHS.

Here is The Leader Times article on the subject from today's edition:

KITTANNING — About 40 people who attended court proceedings Friday morning to hear arguments related to the closing of Elderton High School will have to wait another month.

Westmoreland County Senior Judge Daniel J. Ackerman ordered that the lawsuit go straight to trial, skipping a preliminary injunction hearing that had been scheduled for yesterday. After about an hour of conferring among attorneys, plaintiff and defendants, Ackerman took the bench to explain the decision made by both parties.

"I know this is anticlimactic for many of you who have come here today," Ackerman said, adding that going straight to trial "makes much more sense economically and we will have the matter done in a more efficient fashion."

Trial was scheduled for June 15 and 16 in the lawsuit that seeks to force the Armstrong School District and six of its directors to keep Elderton High School closed. Five area residents filed the lawsuit in February to hold the six school directors who voted to reopen the school financially responsible for associated costs.

Attorney Chase McClister represents plaintiffs David Reefer of Kittanning Township and James and Mary Seaman, Scott Starr and Dan Goldinger, all of East Franklin.

The lawsuit names the Armstrong School District and directors Rose Stitt, Jim Solak, Mike Markilinski, John Monroe, Royce Smeltzer and Sara Yassem as defendants. The district is being represented in court by its solicitor Gary Matta, of the Pittsburgh firm, Dodaro, Matta and Cambest.

The six directors sat in the front row of the courtroom Friday across the aisle from school district administrators, including Superintendent William Kerr.

The trial will determine whether the directors acted within their rights as elected officials in voting to close Elderton or if their actions were illegal, as the plaintiffs allege.

Attorneys for both parties agreed that skipping the preliminary injunction hearing and instead heading straight to trial is the best for everyone involved.

Cambest said the judge's decision "is the best for the children of the district."

"By accelerating the process, we can short circuit an eight-month ordeal down to three weeks," he said.

Much of the evidence the plaintiffs would have presented yesterday would be reused in trial, McClister said.

"We would essentially be duplicating the hearing," he said.

If the preliminary injunction hearing had been held, Ackerman would have decided, based upon testimony and attorneys' arguments, whether to stop district spending related to the reopening of Elderton until a trial could be held. Instead, Ackerman said the "most expeditious and economical way" to deal with the matter was going directly to trial.

Ackerman retired from the bench in December after serving 30 years in the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas.

Armstrong County Senior Judge Joseph Nickleach requested he be recused from the case after an April hearing and overruling the defendants' preliminary objections later in the month. The partially-retired judge cited a tight schedule that would not allow him to make a quick ruling.

The Armstrong School District superintendent proposed closing Elderton High School in January 2008, citing declining enrollment, increased building operational costs and other reasons.

The school was closed in June and students went to Ford City or West Shamokin high schools for the 2009-10 school year, based on attendance lines redrawn by the district. After the November election, directors Markilinski and Yassem joined the board, which voted to reopen the school in December.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Budget Buzz

MJM says in his weekly rant:
"The “new” Board is an obvious change that you can believe in.  June 30th will tell the tale when a final budget is adopted."
Our sources tell us that EHS is going to have 34 teachers approved to staff the building.  That is more teachers that Kittanning Junior High School, which has more students than EHS will have.  Also, sources tell us that the budget for 2010-2011 is slated to increase 3.2 million next year and the cost to reopen EHS is 3.6 million. Very interesting.

Right now, our sources are pretty good, but we want to show you proof.  Once we have our Right To Know information, we will publish it for all to see.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

May meeting dates change

The dates for May's ASD School Board Meetings have changed.  The Open Caucus has been rescheduled for Monday, May 24 at 7:00 pm and the Regular Monthly Meeting is rescheduled for Thursday, May 27 at 7:30 pm.  Both meetings are scheduled to be held at the Administration Building.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Comparing South Butler and Freeport to ASD - What's our plan?

Captures from two articles one on South Butler Area School District (Knoch) and one on Freeport Area School District From the VND 05/06/10

South Butler: raising taxes 2mils (an increase of 1.5-2mils is needed each year over the nxt 3yrs to pay for the increased state employee retirement costs. (Old rate 87.675 / New Rate 89.675). On a 15k property (yeh how many of those are there?) It raises the bill $30/yr. So if u have a 150k property (much more likely) your taxes are going up $300/yr.

Freeport cut their budget and they still have to raise taxes:

Buffalo Twp: was 118mils to 119mils (on a 15k property (again, how many of these are there? Taxes r going up $15/yr or $150/yr on a $150,000.00 property).

Freeport / South Buffalo: was 51mils now 53mils on a 30K property (again, why do they use these numbers?) Will be an increase of $60/yr. On a $150,000.00 will be $300/yr.

So how is the ASD going to add 2Million in staffing costs, a 20yr payment program on 20million for revamping an under-utilized facility, pay for the pensions that are coming due, etc.? And they (ASD Super Six) say they aren't raising our taxes to do this? So there must be going to be severe cuts to programs at the other schools in order to support what they are saying.

Interesting Quote from the South Butler School Board meeting:

"Supt. Frank Prazenica shared a warning received from State Lawmakers, which urges caution because of the state's $1 Billion deficit. It said there is "no guaranteed level of funding" for school districts or any other entities under the 2010-11 state budget.”

South Butler said that they will have to do this each year for the next three yrs. (This is just to take care of the pensions). So their taxes are going up $900-1,000.00 or MORE per property over the next three years.

What is our ASD boards plan? Oh, we haven't seen one from our ASD board.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

JENNA SCHRECENGOST: Letter to the Editor

Indiana Gazette
Published: Tuesday, May 4, 2010 12:33 PM EDT

Elderton High School? West Shamokin High School? Ford City High School? Which high school is better for me?

Many students have answered that question, but the Armstrong school board has decided to answer for them. Why is the ASD board now forcing these students back to EHS for the 2010-2011 school years?

Recently, 60 students had transfers approved to stay at the high school they have grown to love; however, 28 students, including myself, were denied because they truthfully answered a question relating to after-school activities on the transfer form. Why was this included with the reason why the transfer was requested?

Why sports? Why not band? Why discriminate if a student participates in a sport?

These 28 students are being forced back to a school they don't want to attend just because they participate in an athletic activity.

This is so unfair! The decision to transfer was made by the students and their parents based on what they believe is the best for their child.

I disagree with the school board for picking and choosing which student may transfer and which students could not. I'm sorry, but I thought discrimination was wrong!

Jenna Schrecengost
Rural Valley

Saturday, May 8, 2010


An editorial by Adam Scaife

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." - Albert Einstein

40+ years of the ASD school board doing the same thing over and over should certainly qualify by Einstein’s definition above. Although, we don’t know that this current board is expecting different results. With the current school board and the soon to be chosen new superintendent we will be right back to the 1960's. The same poor results will continue. Higher taxes than the nearby successful school districts, keeping more facilities open and barely maintaining them, paying more teachers and staff than necessary because we have too many buildings open, offering less curriculum choices, and having low student to teacher ratios. Where has this gotten us in the past 40 years? Student test scores are not higher than the surrounding successful school districts. But our taxes are.

In the ASD we have an estimated $25,000,000.00 dollars in pension contributions coming due over the next several years and there is still no plan to pay for it. Where is this money coming from?

Re-opening Elderton Jr. Sr. High School means it will have to be staffed appropriately. Some current board members want to talk about teacher’s salaries and salary increases at the same time they plan to increase the number of teachers within the ASD by having to re-staff a re-opened facility. How much does the staffing of the Elderton Jr. Sr. High School cost the tax payers? The estimate of $2,000,000.00 plus for staffing Elderton Jr. Sr. High School has been used by the district. Elderton Jr. Sr. High School has 250 pupils with an average of 42 or less pupils per graduating class. This equates to a cost of $48,000.00 each for educating a graduating senior over the six years of educating them from the 7th through the 12th grade. This also includes some students who are not physically on the premises as they are attending Lenape Vo-Tech.

At the same time we are completing a study of facilities to the amount of $90,000.00+ to the architects. The only facilities that have been discussed or mentioned for renovations, at this time, are those of an increasingly under-utilized facility that will cost between $16,000,000.00 - $20,000,000.00 dollars or more. Of course if we were not considering renovations at Elderton Jr. Sr. High School, a building that should remain closed, the facility razed, and the property sold, and at the Elderton Elementary School we would not have this study completed and this fee to the architects to pay for. There are no other facilities that have been proposed by this current board for renovations. Please explain how this is a fiscally sound proposal for the entire tax base of the district in order to graduate approximately 42 students or less per year. Please also explain where the benefit is in the education to all of the students of the district including those attending Elderton. A great number of the Elderton attendance area students do not want to return, but they have been denied their transfer requests in order to suit the desires of the current school board.

Review the Freeport Area School District and their tax rates and make the comparison. You will find that for the same assessed property value you would pay significantly less in your school taxes. Freeport Area School District has been ranked by the state to be significantly higher in student test scores over the ASD student test scores for many years. Do not point to Leechburg as they are broke. Even if they raise taxes the maximum allowed, they are still broke. They are searching earnestly for any cuts they can make in order to reach their budget requirements and they are coming up short.

Is Leechburg area school district the mirror to the ASD’s future? They too are run by a school board and superintendent emphasizing the smaller community school. However, they have not found a way to continue to properly operate it with respect to revenues and expenditures and their budget, at this time, for next school year is looking to be in the red ink. They are searching for cuts and trims no matter how small in order to remain viable. How long will it be before they are no longer viable? What will suffer in addition to the obvious answer of the children’s education? This is a future that we can not permit to occur in the ASD.

C.N. Hanners, Dr. Brence, and Dr. Kerr, all were and are superintendents having a brighter vision for the ASD. These men were attempting to institute the appropriate and needed change for the future of the student's educations and the fiscal soundness of the ASD. Their visions were fought vehemently by those that fear change and as a result little progress has occurred. What is this current board’s plan for better educations for all students of the district and being fiscally responsible to the entire tax base? Or is it just back to status quo? What would Albert Einstein think of the sanity of the current situation we are faced with from this current school board majority?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Kittanning Paper Comments

Editorial by Jennifer Willyard and Becky Fullerton

The online version of the Kittanning Paper contains the same articles as are in print but there is also the option to comment on the articles, including this one (below). For the past several months there have been many articles in regard to the Armstrong School District and many specifically relating to the status of Elderton High School.

Here is a very interesting posting from this week:
“Please explain the math you are using when you make this statement: “The Elderton attendance area generates enough tax revenue to pay for the operation of the school and contributes to the debt service for schools in other areas of ASD.” Please indulge me for my own edification and please explain this to the people of: East Brady, Worthington, Shannock Valley, Dayton, Kittanning, and Ford City.

I am using the ASD reported attendance area Revenue and Expenditure Statement and I don’t see where you can make this claim.
The people from Elderton are good upstanding people that contribute positively to the community. We want your children to have as stellar of an education as possible, but not at the expense of other children’s education within the district. The misconception that the ASD needs Elderton and their taxes in the ASD is not factual. However, Elderton attendance area does need the ASD in order to keep their facilities open. Surrounding School districts sought for consolidation would and will not keep the Elderton Jr. Sr. High School open and renovate the facility. Our wanting for Elderton to remain within the district has nothing to do with revenues provided by the Elderton attendance area. Everyone has access to the data from the ASD for attendance area revenues and expenditures. We urge you to review them. (See above web-link) Yes, if Elderton attendance area is to remain within the ASD, the ASD needs to close and consolidate Elderton in order to reduce expenditures in facilities and staffing. This is where the greatest gains are to be had. However, a positive affect to the revenue stream for the ASD is also created by a secession of Elderton along with their revenues.

If secession to a neighboring school district is truly pursued by Elderton attendance area, for the price tag placed on the buildings you will find that the insured values of the facilities and assessed market value of the acreage should be a fair market price. Do insurance companies generally place higher replacement values on facilities that they insure? Regardless, the insured value of the buildings and the assessed market value of the acreage is the place to begin negotiation at a minimum. When Sugar Creek Elementary was closed by the ASD and re-opened to be continued to be used as an elementary school by the Karns City School District they paid for the facilities as such at that time. Other facilities that were closed and no longer to be used as a school have gone at lower prices. Which way would Elderton prefer it to be when their buildings are assessed for their value?

Do not get me wrong. I am NOT against Elderton, the people of Elderton, or the students of the Elderton attendance area. I am for ALL of the townships, boros, and municipalities and ALL of the people, and ALL of the students of the ASD. Elderton is not its own school district and has not been since the 1960’s. Due to declining enrollment, low student to teacher ratio, and ever increasing costs to educate a student (higher than all other attendance areas)it was time to close the facility and consolidate. If you truly believe that your above statement is correct, you may want the Elderton attendance area to earnestly pursue secession.”- Adam Scaife
Our reason for posting this particular comment? Savings is a very difficult thing to show.

We haven’t had a tax increase in this school district since approximately 2002 when the taxes settled at the current rate of 55 mills. Cost of education has gone up each year–so the “savings” have been used in one of two places. It is either being applied to off-set the increasing cost of operating a bloated school district (without increasing taxes)–or it is sitting in an over-taxation savings account (Fund Balance). Your savings which resulted from reducing costs are exactly in one of those two places.

And yes, there is savings which resulted from closing EHS. You simply can not remove the operation of a building and its associated staffing and not have “savings”.

The question is why hasn’t that savings been returned to the taxpayers in the form of a millage reduction?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

We call Shenanigans!

Sources tell us that last Friday, three science teachers from West Shamokin that have REQUESTED to be transfered back to Elderton, got to go out to Elderton and clean classrooms. Substitutes were provided for their classes. Remember that teacher transfer requests have not been approved as of yet. We are not sure who gave the permission to do this. So the kids are getting short changed when this cleaning should be done when students are not in session and we should NOT be spending our tax money on subs, when the teachers should be TEACHING their own classes NOT cleaning classrooms!

Furthermore, where are the cleaning supplies coming from?  We officially call Shenanigans!