"Fiscal responsibility and a high quality education are not conflicting goals."
The Pennsylvania School Board Coalition (PSBC) is a coalition of elected school board directors and concerned taxpayers who are actively participating to reform their local school districts throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.Our interest is not recruiting and/or endorsing any candidates for school board elections. Instead, we offer and share strategies and information to empower existing school board members, activists and citizens to become leaders for reform in their districts.
We all know that things in Washington are a mess, but do you know what's happening in your own backyard in your school district? While national issues are important, we as individuals have very little impact on them. However, at the local level each of us can play a major role for reform and implementation of common-sense solutions.
Next to the federal income tax, your property taxes are the biggest hit to your wallet. Without significant reforms, property taxes are poised to skyrocket.
Join with fellow concerned taxpayers to learn more about the challenges facing our school districts and what you can do to affect the decisions made and impact the future direction of your district. Over time, such efforts and successes will "bubble up" through the political structure.
Published on September 14th, 2012
As Joe mentioned in the last Chairman's Note, we've certainly been "On the Road Again" recently. Leadership for Liberty has been criss-crossing the state spreading the word about the Alternate Budget Strategy and the Lehigh Valley School District Project.
Last Saturday, we were invited to participate in an informational school board forum organized by State Senator John Eichelberger (30th District) in Hollidaysburg, PA in Blair County (near Altoona). Twenty-four school board members from thirteen different school districts in four counties attended to learn about issues from the taxpayers' perspective, a side which is not typically represented in school board training. In addition to LfL, education reform organizations like The Commonwealth Foundation, Stop Teachers Strikes, and The Commonwealth Education Organization discussed subjects ranging from the new Common Core curriculum standards, to contract negotiation, to the facts about education funding and school choice. Dr. Maurice Flurie III, CEO of the Commonwealth Connections Academy, a former teacher, principal and school district superintendent, also spoke about the success of the cyber school he leads and compared his experiences in the cyber/charter world vs. standard public schools.
One of the main objectives of the forum was to dispel many of the myths and misunderstandings surrounding the responsibilities and capabilities of school board members. From Senator Eichelberger's letter inviting school board members from his district:
School board directors receive sometimes conflicting information about budgets, laws, testing requirements, and many other areas of school administration. This forum will bring together experts from across the Commonwealth to share their knowledge on education-related issues...[The forum] will provide members with the opportunity to ask questions and discuss important education topics in an open setting.
Like in almost all of the other districts the PSBC has been actively involved in, a majority of the board members present admitted that they too struggle to overcome two major educrat philosophies:
While some attendees of the forum found some comfort knowing they are not alone in their battles, we found the additional evidence of a seemingly systemic effort to undermine the authority of school board directors disturbing. When asked about their experiences at the new school board director training offered by the PSBA, most said they had heard similar advice there about not concerning themselves with the details, but instead relying on the "expertise" of the administration to make district decisions. This only furthered our earlier assertions that the PSBA is part of the problem. And, we're not alone. Nearly every organization at the forum had poor reviews of the training and services provided by the PSBA.
Another area of concern was the amount of inaccurate information provided by district administration, in particular Solicitors. On several occasions, attendees inquired about specific instances where their Solicitors have provided inaccurate information based on their "personal" opinions as opposed to "legal" opinions based on statutory authority and case law (again, a common occurrence in other districts). One district even said that they were told that if they didn't raise taxes, they could lose all of their state and federal funding, which of course is absurd. Luckily, the group of reformers on the board are sharp enough not to just take the word of this apparently misguided administrator and are doing their own homework.
This example alone should demonstrate why school board members shouldn't "rely on the 'expertise' of the administration to make the decisions." But here's another. According to Dr. Flurie, since most district superintendents have at most six to nine credits in public school finance, they don't even have the training or background to put together a multi-million dollar school district budget! While a good superintendent is capable of the routine, day-to-day decisions, they should not be left responsible to make the major decisions including the budget. That's ultimately the school board's job and responsibility.
Finally, given the enormous amounts of funding that willRead more: Blair Co. School Board Forum a Success
Published on September 13th, 2012
Have you ever seen a school administrator reopen a contract to reduce his or her own salary? I have. Catasauqua Area school district Superintendent Robert Spengler did on Monday night. A new contract was drawn up with a three year salary freeze followed by a two year 2% or a percentage equal to the Index increase. Spengler's former contract had been a 4% increase or the Index rate. The Index is defined as the 'tax hike' Index applicable to CASD as established by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and communicated to the district under section 313(I) of the Taxpayer Relief Act. This act was volunteered by Spengler because he believes leadership begins with what one is willing to do in their own life. Actions speak louder than words. This isn't the first time I have seen him make hard choices, beginning with himself, for the sake of our kids.
Our school district is small, there are many people in the community that have suffered in recent years due to the economy. It's hard to ask the locals to pay more when they are having to do with less. Perhaps Spengler's compassion comes from being a native of Catasuaqua. He grew up here and is still very much a part of who we are, something that is often lost in average negotiations.
Going forward hard decisions will have to be made to keep costs down for the sake of our district children and their families. It's nice to know we have responsible education leadership and a Superintendent who understands finances in the real world.