Saturday, July 31, 2010

Markilinski Resigns - Who should replace him?

Well, God does answer prayers.  Word is that the Leader Times is reporting that MJM has resigned.  Now the question is, who will replace him?  The board is going to have to appoint someone to fill his position.  With the current structrure being 5-3, we can only hope we don't get a clone of MJM in there. 

We feel the perfect candidate would be Hank Cacurak.  He's a Manor Township resident, hes a father of children in the district and he's a retired PA State Trooper.  If you would like to get a taste of what Hank is all about, here is something that he wrote, publicly during the whole "let's make Lenape half day" period.

School Director Job Description

School board members have Job Descriptions/Expectations for all employees that work for or at a school. Do the School Board Members have a job description for their position? Are expectations of what School Board Members do clearly posted anywhere? We know what is expected of students, administrators, teachers, custodians, aids, secretaries, et cetera. I have taken liberty to produce such a list. The list is not intended to be all-inclusive but touches on some basic, core beliefs many members in our community have developed thanks to the newly elected School Board. The Description/Expectations are as follows:

School Board Member Job Description/Expectations List:

You shall represent the voters of the district that elected you. Assuming that you actually live in the district that elected you, your voting and actions should represent the will of your electorate and not the interests of a municipality in which you have substantial monetary interests (eg own a business). Refrain from generalities and referring to “doing what is best for the tax payer” – as an elected public official you agree to serve your electorate. You do not serve the generic taxpayer. You serve a specific group of taxpayers who elected you.

You must conduct yourself with the highest possible ethical values. Treat people with dignity. When a board member berates a citizen you must do your best to pull in the reigns on the out-of- control board member or you will be seen at the least as being ineffective and at best aligning yourself with a bully. Do not use generic terms such as “skaters” or “misfits” to describe people you believe to be lower than you on the social ladder. It demonstrates pre-judging people (aka prejudice) and makes it impossible for you to render an unbiased judgment which affects those lives. If you cannot clear your mind of prejudice then you must recuse yourself from any votes affecting people for which you consider lower life forms. Also, no racial or ethnic slurs, either.

If you apply a standard to a group of people then expect to have that standard applied to you. For example, if you accuse a school of being a failure based upon PSSA testing scores without considering the totality of the circumstances, then you must pass a test. A “Blue Ribbon Panel” of knowledgeable Voters from the district electing you shall put together an examination based upon facts and circumstances encompassing issues before the Board. You must pass the examination or else abstain from the vote. Your experience, background and accomplishments will not be considered—only the test results (similar to PSSA Exams). If you wish to reopen a school, you will be quizzed about how much money will it cost each person and business IN YOUR VOTING DISTRICT. You will need to understand the results of a cost effectiveness study (if you have to wait three months for the facts then you must wait three months for the facts. This will curb the impulse to be impulsive.). If the vote involves millage increases then an essay explaining what millage is and how it applies to the topic will be required. You will also need to be able to correctly solve a couple of millage “problems” to further demonstrate your understanding of the issue. Testing along these lines will ensure that the Board Member will make enlightened decisions for “the taxpayer”. Testing of Board Members will serve as a reality check and demonstrate that he or she is capable of making an informed decision or vote. If the member does not pass the test then the member can be considered to be a Failure and be placed “in corrective action and have his vote reduced by one-half (which would be called a “hybrid” vote).

You must undergo another test - a random drug test. Anyone working in the school with children is subject to one. Board Members, who make decisions with millions of taxpayer dollars and directly affect the lives of children, must not be chemically impaired.

Not agreeing to random drug testing equals no right to vote at a board meeting. The way some board members think and act begs the question: “What the heck have they been smoking?!”

The Board President should be firm and fair. When a member becomes obsessed with a single topic (such as the procedure on how another school district arrives at their costs) or gets a glassy-eyed stare and begins ranting about a mythical “super school”, you must advise him he is out of order. Board Members need to remind each other that mythical schools cannot exist in a county which has a severly eroded tax base. Part of each School Board Quiz will involve asking members if they realize that PPG and Eljer aren’t here anymore to foot the bill. You must also remind everyone that Armstrong County does not have an economic tax base that can even tie the shoe string of Butler, Indiana or Westmoreland Counties. Armstrong County is not the land of Oz but more resembles the dustbowl days of Kansas.

Members need to submit to psychological examination. Just because someone graduates High School or College does not necessarily mean that they have the maturity or stability to hold a position of public trust. Just because someone is elected to public office does not mean that they actually possess mental stability. Why does a person take on a demanding job that does not provide a paycheck? If the non-paid elected public servants are taking on this job for the proper reasons we would not be witnessing some individuals behaving as if they are part of a “Saturday Night Live” Comedy Skit. Test results may explain why a school board member is a lap-dog at one meeting and then becomes an attack-dog at another meeting.

You need to make the secret Executive Meetings public as well. What kind of back-door deals are being cut. Are weaker, indecisive members being bullied by overbearing, opinionated members? Let the public examine how all the gears of the body politics work – warts and all.

I have to thank many members of the school board. You have energized an ever widening base of average people who are becoming interested in grassroots government. The riff-raff, garlic eating, skating electorate is now beginning to understand that a candidate can be elected without disclosing his true agenda until after the election. Once elected, “buyers’ remorse” cannot undo the reckless and intentional “in your face” type of damage done by an elected official who does not consider himself accountable to the electorate of his district but actually considers himself as a superior to the electorate and not as its servant. The bottom line of the above School Board Job Description is Accountability. If a board member does not wish to be held to the above standards then do the respectable thing – Resign the position. Just think about It!

Hank Cacurak, Manor Township

Friday, July 30, 2010

Mission Possible

An Editorial by Becky Fullerton and Jennifer Willyard

The last time the ASD School Board adopted a mission statement and goal, it was 2003. We think it can be agreed upon, that there have been vast changes in the past 7 years.

It would be thought, with a large organization such as the Pennsylvania School Board Association behind it, our board would look to them for guidance and assistance in their policies and endeavors.

The PSBA adopted their 5 year strategic plan in 2007. What is wonderful about their plan is they clearly outline their goals:

  • Determine PSBA's role as the lead public education association
  • Develop programs to recognize and promote effective governance
  • Ensure PSBA has expertise to implement strategic plan
  • Enhance member participation in PSBA governance, advocacy and related activities
  • Expand consulting services to school boards and management teams
  • Develop a fully integrated communications function for all audiences
  • Increase utilization of PSBA programs & services
  • Be the leader in school insurance
  • Diversify PSBA's revenue base
  • Ensure sound administrative procedures & controls
  • Establish education research & policy analysis center
  • Strengthen advocacy impact

As stakeholders in our district, we would like to know if our school directors are taking advantage of these services. One item in particular that the PSBA was working on was "Expand consulting services to school boards and management teams". Has our board taken advantage of this? Has the board had an independent entity come in to see how they are doing? How they are engaging each other? How they are engaging the community? How they are engaging our children?

What about the curriculum? Are our students being challenged enough? Are they being challenged too much? Why are our students failing? How about this question concerning curriculum: Are our students prepared for college or the world of work? Do they have to take remedial classes? Are there follow up studies by the school district to see what the students are doing five years after they graduate? Does our curriculum have to change to meet the needs of a 21st century learner. Are our children ready for the start of the Keystone Exams? For those of you that did not realize this, Pennsylvania has instituted the Keystone Exams to begin the 2011-2012 school year. These final exams will count as 1/3 of a student’s final grade, oh and if they do not pass the test, they do not graduate.

Why has information regarding this not been presented to the community? There is still discussion of past AYP, past PSSA scores, but let’s look to the future folks!

Our district has again adopted the PSBA Effective Governance Standards, but are they putting the work into that? Do they truly know what the Effective Governance Standards are?

Are they taking advantage of the training and events that the PSBA offer? If they are, then hopefully our directors attended the Symposium of Education Issues that was held July 11-12 in Gettysburg. Hopefully they listened as former Pine-Richland School District Superintendent Dr. James Manley addressed them. Perhaps they heard him state "There is no room for big egos in a learning organization. Superintendent and School Board members are dependent on one another to lead the district. How this relationship goes; so goes the district. What they do, how they act, what decisions they make and how they handle conflict sets the tone for the school district."

Maybe one of Dr. Stan Chapp’s first objectives once he takes over the reins of our district is to truly evaluate it. Take a page from Trinity School District that had Dr. Manley in to do an independent audit of their district. Our board did not want to listen when Dr. Kerr spoke about change, perhaps an independent audit of our districts workings could help. Spell out the things we are doing right. Spell out the things we are doing wrong. Offer some guidance and help.

Our board is willing to spend thousands of dollars on study after study, how about spending some money and truly evaluating something in our district other than buildings? How about implementing what some of those studies suggest rather than just wasting district tax dollars on them.


Trinity Area School District "A Journey Toward High Performance Schools

PSBA Symposium on Education Issues

Friday, July 16, 2010

Soup's On!

An Editorial by Becky Fullerton and Jennifer Willyard

At this week’s ASD School Board meeting, there were several interesting things discussed….one of which is the closing of Kittanning Township Elementary School and the transfer of these students to Elderton Elementary School.

A good question to ask in regard to this, is how many additional classrooms will be constructed when the renovations occur at Elderton Elementary to accommodate the pending increase in class sizes?

While most studies show that learning in the secondary schools is better with larger classes, they also indicate that elementary students need a smaller class size to be successful. The students who have been found to have the highest achievement in class size studies are the youngest of elementary students in K-3. So what will the consolidation of KT and Elderton Elementary result in for the new class sizes for these children?

Another item for consideration in this is, will the board deny transfer requests? We know personally, if we had Lenape Elementary closer to our homes than Elderton Elementary, we would put a transfer request in, especially for Kindergarteners that are in school for only half a day.

In addition to renovations being done at the Elderton complex, it seems Ford City will be receiving some renovations and possible additions as well.

Do the directors really feel that spending approximately $24 million on (as HERO stated in one of their handouts) “the aging, structurally questionable” FCHS is a good thing? There are only so many band-aids you can put on a gaping wound before you bleed out. Exactly where did this addition come from (as it was never mentioned in the options presented originally by the architects) and where on the FCHS is it supposed to be located? Maybe the ASD board will attempt to have Ford City Borough use Eminent Domain! Gee perhaps those that live on 4th Avenue should watch out as they may be part of the pending renovations!

There was also slight discussion, by Director Solak, regarding the issue of flooding at FCHS. It was stated that none of the classrooms had taken water in, but nothing with regard to results from the mold testing that was recently done. We are very interested to read these results when they are in since, as stated by many, the mold seems to be a recurring problem at the high school.

Why does the mold problem keep recurring? Poor air circulation? Clogged drains? Leaking plumbing? How did we come up with the above probable problems? Easy! Those are the reasons listed in a mold finding report from back in 2007! Where any or all of those problems addressed? Did that stop the mold from recurring? Does anyone know exactly what that status is? Again, the mold is not a new issue in Ford City High School, but perhaps it is one that somehow, someday will be remedied, one would hope, with the $24 million band-aid being applied to that building.

So lets see….Ford City gets renovations, Elderton gets renovations, ($47 million in renovations with MINIMAL state reimbursement)West Shamokin is fine (contrary to what Ms. Yassem states)…..who are we missing? Ahhhh yes! Kittanning!

Sorry Kittanning, but no soup for you!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Abstract Math and Thinking (NOT)

An Editorial by Scott Starr

Already the misinformation campaign concerning the Judge’s ruling concerning the arbitrary and capricious decision to open Elderton has begun, and the ink is hardly dry on the decision. First Director Solak incorrectly stated “the judge voted in favor of opening Elderton”, this statement is entirely wrong, the judge ruled (in my opinion incorrectly) that the vote to open Elderton was not illegal. Early on in this case, it was argued that the suit was not about Community v. Consolidated Schools, yet the judge cited this in his opinion, the ruling was wrong and the judge, in my opinion, did not understand the issue at hand. Or perhaps he did, because the ramifications of winning the lawsuit would have been far and wide, imagine if there were a heroic judge ruling in our favor, we could stop such legal and useful spending as the Arlen Specter Library and the John P. Murtha Center for public policy ($20milllion) as well as the additional $90 million in projects which are yet unnamed in our Pennsylvania State Budget! That’s right this could have been a precedent setting case, but alas, many are still following the yellow brick road searching for the wizard.

Even worse, the arithmetically challenged Director Solak, cites the loss of 160 students and $1.6 million in revenue from South Bend Township if Elderton is not opened and they choose to attend Apollo School District (That’s $10,000 per student). The cost of an Elderton education is $14,000, sixth grade mathematics show that ASD is losing $4,000 per student! (that’s $640,000). This is a FACT !

Let’s use more Solakian math, add the $640,000 difference to the cost of $2.7 million to open Elderton and we are up to $3.34 million, let’s say we would save $100 K from not busing these students and we are at $3.44 Million. With abstract Solakian math we add in the $17 - $24 million in renovation, plus the interest on the bond to be floated (the longer the life of the bond, the more interest paid) and we are talking some real money.

Our friends in South Bend Township, this is not about you, Solak is using you as a pawn for reopening Elderton, just as the folks of Kittanning Township were used, you see where that got them.

The information needs to get out to the public.