Happy New School YearPosted by William Harner at 9/11/2017
Greetings from QCSD! Hopefully, all of your children and you have already had two excellent weeks of school. From reports and many school visits, our teachers and principals were ready for another exciting and rewarding school year. I was impressed by teacher readiness. Literally hundreds of students told me last week that their teachers were ready from day one! What was also impressive was the summer cleaning of our schools and classrooms. Feedback from our principals and teachers was very positive on how things looked. It was the first time in many years that our buildings were truly ready on the first day of school. Thank you, SSC!
Many of you may be wondering where I have been with my blogs! I do apologize. It’s not like there is not much to report, because there is - don't worry, I won't overwhelm you now. But, on the second day of school, my mom, a 91 year young lady, passed away after a very short illness. So, I was out of my superintendent groove of reporting our news to you. Now, I am thrilled to back and excited for ALL of our students this year!!!
On to business:
In our elementary schools, we started the academic year with new science and social studies curriculum. Teachers worked through the summer learning the new material. In early August, the Board conducted a “Hearing to Close to Tohickon Valley Elementary School” and the Community Committee for Re-districting Elementary Schools met several times. The next meeting is Monday night, September 11th, at 6 pm in the District Service Center. The Committee’s work and reports may be found on the QCSD webpage and all meetings are open to the public. At this point in their work, they are evaluating several different configurations - a K-6 configuration across the district using the Sixth Grade Center as a K-6 Building, and a K-4 configuration across the district with 5th and 6th grade at what is currently the Sixth Grade Center.
Thanks to our middle school principals, support staff, and teachers for making the transition to the new Strayer Middle School and Sixth Grade Center seamless. After the Board made its final decision to close Milford in July, everyone worked tirelessly to get things ready for orientations and the first day of school. I was truly impressed with the effort our teachers put into working with new colleagues. The only report that may be considered negative was about transportation. Besides the routine late pickups and dropoffs that occur during the first week of school, we received a concern about a bus with three students to a seat on middle school buses. In turn, I asked Alan Rosenberger at Levy Bus, Inc. to share with all of us the “Anatomy of the Three Tier Bus System.” For decades, Levy planned elementary and middle school routes with some of the seats on bus with three children per seat. For example, half the seats on a MS bus are planned to have three students per seat, with other half planned for two per seat. Part of our '17-'18 Budget last spring was to add up to three additional buses to the middle route to shorten rides from the western part of the district, at a cost of approximately $55K per bus/year. Levy only needed to add two of those buses.
We began the new academic year at the high school with 1,704 students. Secondary math teachers teaching Algebra I through Calculus had to learn our new curriculum and work with new textbooks. Last spring, we knew at the HS with 9th graders assigned that we would be short approximately 150 wall lockers. Historically, not every student uses a wall locker. Principal Finnerty reports that every student who requested a wall locker has one. For the ‘17-’18 Academic Year, QCHS Daily Announcements will be found on Parent Q-mmunity Canvas page. Parents must sign up for Canvas access.
Out in social media, I have read reports by parents of concerns about crowded lunch periods, long lunch lines, and not enough seating. At least one parent mentioned a safety concern about overcrowding. I have attended at least a half dozen lunches, walking around asking students their opinions about lunch and other things, observing the seating arrangements, and I also invited in the Quakertown Borough Fire & Safety Marshall to assess the situation. Like the first week of a new school year with bussing, it takes time for everyone to adjust. We received a written report and thumbs up for safety, are in the process of purchasing some additional outside tables and chairs - as the Court Yard is a popular place to sit, and a few additional tables for the gym. Lines for those purchasing are often empty by half way through the lunch. Students have already “normed” on where they like to sit. By the way, we now sell Jersey Mikes hoagies at the HS for $3.50.
A reminder that QCHS also offers free speed, agility, and strength training sessions for ALL high school students throughout the entire calendar year. To participate, students are not required to be a member of a varsity sport. It’s an invaluable opportunity to develop a habit of lifelong fitness!
This week’s School Board meeting includes a few items of interest: I expect the Board to reconsider their previous vote on the location of graduation. Last week, seniors voted overwhelmingly not to hold graduation at Alumni Field. However, with a cost of over $20,000 to hold graduation at the Stabler Arena or PPL Center, I expect seniors will receive four free tickets for their family/friends, and be charged $3 to $5 for each ticket above that.
Thank you for reading. Happy New School Year! I look forward to hearing from you.
Two Weeks to GoPosted by Bill Harner at 8/11/2017
Good afternoon! As we approach the last 2 ½ weeks of the summer, I hope that you and your family have had special time together creating wonderful memories.
There is a lot going on as we gear up for the start of school. We have our first school board meeting of the academic year, preceded by Education/Curriculum Committee and Facilities Committee meetings at 5:30 PM this evening. At the Ed Committee meeting Board members will get an update on summer Professional Development activities for rolling out the new elementary level Social Studies and Science curriculum, along with the new math curriculum for Algebra through Calculus. Additionally, the Ed Committee will be reviewing new Planned Course Statements and approving new textbooks, which is required by law.
The Facilities Committee will be receiving an update on Capital Improvement Projects for AY ‘17-’18, e.g. bleachers in the Sixth Grade Gym. Also, they will be briefed on what projects were deferred from the QCSD Capital Projects Long Term Plan because of the budget cuts made last February, e.g. Sixth Grade Center Parking Lot and construction work at Richland ES - approximately $800K worth of badly needed work. We do not want to get too far behind with our Plan. Funds for these types of projects come out of the annual operating budget and are not funded through debt service like the QCHS Renovation and athletic fields.
In other news:
- The Board conducted a Hearing to Close Tohickon Valley Elementary School last Thursday. The decision to close or keep TVES open will be made after a minimum of 90 days, and after the Community Committee for Elementary Reassignment briefs the Board of School Directors in late October. The only parent concern expressed at the Hearing was about elementary class sizes across the district if TVES is closed. We will be watching that along with several other important factors. We will routinely post class sizes across the district beginning in September. The Community Committee will be examining and evaluating our options and will be meeting on a number of Monday nights this fall. Those meetings are open to the public.
- Pay to Play: At the May 25th Board Meeting, the Board publicly directed their Policy Committee to review, develop, and recommend new guidelines for Pay to Play in order to address the sharp escalation in athletic insurance. Previously, the cost per student for participating in extracurricular activities was $50. At the June 1st Board Meeting, the School Board approved Policy 211 raising the cost to $75. Why? Our insurance carrier increased QCSD’s annual premium from $20K to $50K this year. Our insurance cost went up due to nearly $100K in claims per year over the past two years. The new policy “strongly encourages” students to have their own insurance coverage, but still does not require it. For some families this is problematic, and the Board did not want to exclude students from participating in our great programs due to a lack of medical insurance.
- Graduation: The location of the QCHS Class of 2018 graduation ceremony at Alumni Field has concerned many students and parents. During the first week of school, all members of the Class of 2018 will have an opportunity to complete a survey to voice their opinion on the matter, e.g. Alumni Field, PPL Center, or Stabler Arena. Survey results will be presented to the Board at the first Board meeting in September.
- Follow up on ‘17-’18 QCSD Budget: Through retirements and resignations of teachers (14) this spring and summer, we achieved our objective for reducing staff per the Board’s budget decision on June 1st. This means there will be no furlough letters going out in September which was publicly discussed this past spring.
- MS Chromebook 1:1 Initiative: Beginning this school year, all 6th graders will be issued a Chromebook. The district already has enough Chromebook devices for every student to use, so the only additional cost to the district in moving to a formal 1:1 is the cost for Chromebook cases. Mr. Zackon will be following up with more specific information.
Thanks for reading! Looking forward to seeing you and your children back in our buildings and classrooms soon.
Half way through the summer, here we are!Posted by Bill Harner at 7/13/2017
Greetings from the Quakertown Community School District!
I hope the first half of your summer has gone well and that you will have quality time with family and friends. My vacation is already behind me, as is the 5,800 miles that I drove out to Arizona and back. Our son got married in a destination wedding by Cathedral Rock in Sedona. It was a very special day for my family! Our return trip took us through several beautiful places in the Rockies.
While school is not in session, there is still a lot going on in the Quakertown schools. For example, throughout the summer the Office of Teaching & Learning is holding numerous professional development sessions to introduce the new social studies and science curricula as well as digital portfolios to our elementary school teachers. We are excited that already a good number of teachers have already participated in these sessions. If you recall from a previous blog, the district had not revised its elementary social studies and science curriculum in over a decade. What curriculum we develop/select matters! Having a comprehensive content-rich curriculum that is implemented with fidelity across all schools is essential for making significant student learning gains. A committee of teachers selected the new science curriculum. Chad Evans, a supervisor in the OTL and former social studies teacher, developed the new elementary social studies curriculum. Click here to see a broad overview of the changes to the elementary science and social studies curricula.
In other academic news, last week, the PA Department of Education and College Board released spring assessment results for PSSAs, Keystones, and Advanced Placement. It was the third year of PSSAs using the PA Common Core Standards. There are a lot of positives in our results, especially considering this past year was the first year of district-wide implementation with the Eureka Math curriculum. In early August, we will provide you a detail report on the results. What we do know is that math is still the one content area where we need to continue to offer professional development opportunities for our teachers to improve student performance. This past school year, teachers had the opportunity to develop new curriculum maps, and they participated in selecting new textbooks for Geometry, Algebra II, and Calculus, which will be available next month for students. This completes the K-12 math curriculum review and purchase of new math textbooks that began three years ago.
With our endgame being the preparation of students for college and career readiness, QCHS and Upper Bucks County Technical School continue to knock it out of the park! There are several key data points as evidence. For Quakertown’s seventy UBCTS Class of 2017 graduates, 89% passed their NOCTI (Occupational) exam. At QCHS, there was significant growth in the number of students passing an Advanced Placement exam (up 13%), which means QCHS has doubled the number of students taking and passing a college level exam over the past four years. Special kudos to our students and teachers in several of the AP course areas: it was the first year QCHS students tested in Art History, Research, Microeconomics, and Macroeconomics. Their results were spectacular! There were several all-time highs in the number of students passing exams: Music Theory, US Government, US History, World History, with 12 students passing both Macro and Microeconomics. Eight students were awarded the coveted AP Capstone Diploma for successfully completing AP Research and Seminar, along with six other AP courses. Congratulations to all!
As part of our ongoing work to evaluate all program areas for effectiveness, the Board approved a three year contract with the District Management Group at the Board meeting. DMG will review and assist us with improving the effectiveness and efficiency of our special education supports and services. It is important that we serve all students, especially those who face additional challenges. We are looking for outside assistance to insure we are faithfully serving these students correctly while following state and federal guidelines. It is a sizeable district commitment - $14 million or roughly 14% of the QCSD budget, with 56 district and BCIU special education teachers serving over 800 students. The Board also received a presentation/update from the Office of Pupil Services, so they are most sensitive to program requirements and needs in the district, including state targets.
A really cool opportunity that we expanded on this year is Summer Camp! Over 140 Quakertown students are participating in camp over the next three weeks at Richland ES and Quakertown Community HS. I received feedback about it already from parents and teachers alike. , at at the HS there will be a showcase of activities by each camp. Don’t hesitate to stop in.
The four years of renovations at QCHS will be over shortly. Official handoff of the two hallways in the back of the HS is scheduled for mid-August, but already teacher boxes have been pre-positioned in the new classrooms. It looks wonderful! If you happen to drive by the HS on 5th or 7th Streets you will see the beginning of the construction of the sports fields out back. The fields are expected to be completed by November.
As a reminder, next is the Special Meeting to vote on the closure of Milford MS. Members of the public will have the opportunity to speak for up to 3 minutes each during public comment towards the beginning of the meeting. A special Transition FAQ, addressing transition issues specifically, is posted on the website.
Thanks for reading and allowing me to catch you up on the latest.
Continue to have an awesome summer!
Many thanks and many activitiesPosted by Bill Harner at 6/1/2017
Lots going on in Quakertown Community School District as we are less than one week away from graduation and the end of the school year. Thank yous and congratulations and are in order for so many people and organizations and teams throughout the district. Here are a only a few: to Jonathan Lechner and his team for a wonderful musical - The Pirates of Penzance, to the 7th grade faculties at Milford and Strayer Middle Schools for Outdoor School, to the Girls and Boys Softball and Baseball teams for making it several games deep into the post-season playoffs. Special shoutout to Junior Hudson Delisle for winning a Bronze 3rd Place Medal at the Pennsylvania State Track & Field Championship in the 800M. And, thank you to all of our elementary school teachers who implemented the new math curriculum - Eureka, with fidelity this year. Finally, thank you to teacher Ricki Stein for keeping us all up to date with all of the celebrations across the district with the weekly Quake. She works tirelessly to get the word out from writing stories to YouTube videos produced by our students.
We have several important events happening in between now and Graduation Ceremony at the PP&L Center. On QMPO will be holding its Annual Antique Car Show and Fundraiser. That begins at at the Freshmen Center. Then at in the Quakertown SHS Performing Arts Center, Leon Bates will be conducting a piano concert with Strayer MS’s Messa Di Voce singers. This event is sponsored by the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation and the Quakertown Community Education Foundation. Tickets are still available!
evening, June 1st is a Board Meeting at where the Board of School Directors will have two important items for consideration for final approval. The first is the final vote on the Academic Year 2017-2018 Budget, and the second is the vote on the ‘change order’ on sports fields behind the high school. Currently, there are no changes from what the Board initially approved for the Final Budget several weeks ago. The Administration’s Recommendation for the sports field ‘change order’ warrants some discussion here.
At the beginning of the Board meeting, during the Superintendent’s Report, Assistant Superintendent Nancianne Edwards and I will be discussing the history of the change orders throughout the HS Renovation Project. There have been many! When I arrived to the district in January of 2014, the QCHS Renovation Project was halfway through Phase One of a four year construction project. Architectural drawings were complete, a construction company was on-site and had begun work, and the Board had sold its initial bonds to begin paying for the project. Only two current Board members - Paul Stepanoff and Bob Smith, were on the Board at the time when the initial decisions/votes had taken place.
What I found during my first month was there was no district administrative oversight of the project, except for paying the bills, and there was only limited, to no teacher input for ‘educational specifications’ of special content area classrooms, e.g. the Performing Arts Center, band and chorus, Project Lead The Way (pre-engineering), art, and Family Consumer Science, in addition to important science lab educational specifications. This first came to my attention during a meeting I requested with the band and chorus teachers three weeks into my superintendency. Chorus teacher Jonathan Lechner shared with me issues with the poor quality stage floor that had been designed for the QPAC - it was not designed to sustain dancing on it. As I dug further into the renovation project, I found that teachers had not been consulted or their recommendations were overlooked and ‘value-engineered’ away. In fact, the old plexi-glass window corridor was eliminated to cut costs and the old two story boiler room was left intact - a complete waste of space and unsightly blemish right in the middle of the building. The connecting corridor elimination would have caused a serious safety hazard for students, staff and faculty in the high school. The ‘change order’ to make it right was approximately $450K. After finding one challenge after another, I assigned the Assistant Superintendent, Ms. Edwards to be the administrative project lead to get things right! She did, working hand-in-glove with end-users, our teachers, to make sure that the future phases of the project met the needs of our students and programs.
By eliminating the boilers and putting in a floor, we captured additional classroom space, which allowed the construction of a combined Dance Studio/Black Box Theater, all as a part of building a Performing Arts Academy - a performing arts school within a school. With a new dance curriculum and experienced teacher in place this fall that matches what is offered at a charter school in Allentown and will support other performing arts programs, the return on investment will be significant for our students. I am most grateful for the Board’s approval of these change orders to get things right inside the high school and allow us to offer more opportunities for our kids.
The finishing touch for the HS Renovation Project lies behind the high school. In the spring of 2014, I found a swamp out back. Due to the lack of adequate drainage, our baseball team could only practice four days out of the entire baseball season and did not play a single game out there. The current Board-approved plans call for it to remain the same. After expanding on our partnerships with RASA and Quakertown Borough for use of their softball and baseball fields, the Administration was directed to work with other coaches and the marching band, along with the architects, to get maximum use out of the property behind the high school. The bonds have already been sold to complete the sports field, but change order approval is required by the Board to set in motion the building of the new sports field that will meet the needs of the district for years to come. That will hopefully happen night!
As always, I am most grateful for you reading my blogs and look forward to your feedback.
QCSD Needs Your Advocacy Help with State Reps by Monday!Posted by Bill Harner at 5/20/2017
Good afternoon! It is Friday, but there is still a lot going on, especially in Harrisburg come .
I wanted to share with you news about a PA House of Representatives bill that just came to my attention yesterday that has the potential to have a serious negative impact on our school district. Quakertown CSD and the 499 other public school districts across Pennsylvania need your help now! Since legislation for Property Tax Elimination has stalled (so far) in the PA Legislature, there was legislation introduced that shifts the property tax burden from commercial properties on to homeowners. It is House Bill 1213, kindly referred to as “Dark Store Theory.” Here is a link to give you more information about the bill.
If HB 1213 passes there would be serious implications to school district budgets in the short term. For example, it is projected that this bill alone will diminish annual revenue to the QCSD by $2.4 million, Pennridge SD - $2.1 million; and Palisades SD - $350,000; a total loss to 13 Bucks County school districts of $42 million. (2015-16 projections). The annual loss of revenue due to the impact of the bill is then anticipated to increase over time. So as we are digging ourselves out of a $4.7 million structural deficit over the next two years, the legislature is poised to throw us another curve ball that will cost us another $2.4 million annually.
After reviewing what this legislation is about, I urge you to contact Representative Craig Staats or Representative Marguerite Quinn immediately and let them know your thoughts. Their contact information is listed below. The debate and vote on this bill is scheduled to be held this Monday, .
As always, I am very grateful for your active involvement with our district.
PA House Representative for Milford Twp, Quakertown Borough, Richland Twp, Richlandtown Borough, Trumbauersville Borough:
10 South Third Street
PA House Representative for Haycock Twp.:
Please thank your children's teachersPosted by Bill Harner at 5/10/2017
I wanted to make you aware, if you didn’t know it already, that it is National Teacher Appreciation Week. Please take a moment out of your very busy day to send an email, or two, or even three to teachers who have made a difference in your child(ren)’s life. Teachers are the sina qua non - without which nothing follows, of the public education system! A great teacher kicks wide open the door to student learning, makes student achievement happen on a daily basis, is a wonderful role model, and genuinely cares for each and everyone in their classroom. Teachers ultimately change the future potential of their students, our community, and the nation. Quakertown Community School District is blessed with an awesome teaching faculty that we are very proud of and feel lucky to have.
All of us can reflect back when we were in school, and remember teachers that made a significant difference in our lives. For me, there were many - which is a major reason I got into public education! Since I am not far from my own hometown roots - Route 309 south to Glenside and Cheltenham Township schools, I deliberately looked up to say thank you to many of my own K-12 teachers. I even invited a few of my teachers up to Quakertown for sporting events. For those I am on Facebook with, I thank them on their birthday! Teachers do rock!!!!
So, I respectfully request that you take the time to say hello to your child(ren)’s teachers. Thank them for their time, commitment to public service, and for being a great role model for our students.
Last Week's Board Vote, Course Change Opportunities & the Spring MusicalPosted by Bill Harner at 5/4/2017
It’s hard to believe that it is May, only weeks away from graduation for the Class of 2017! High school students began Advanced Placement testing this week, which will continue through - 420 students are taking 777 AP exams, up 125 exams over last year! Having this many students stepping up and taking a college level class while in high school is awesome, then challenging themselves on a national exam, is an important part of ensuring their college readiness. We are so proud of them!
Speaking of college readiness, congratulations are in order again to the students and our entire K-12 faculty for QCHS earning the US News & World Report’s Silver Award for America’s Best High Schools again. This is clearly a team award. It’s QCHS’ third year in a row as a Silver Award winner. QCHS climbed six more positions in the state rankings over last year - now ranking 60th out of 686 high schools in the state. The USN&WR measures college readiness using four steps/criteria from the senior class data. Special thanks to all of our teachers who prepared our students throughout their Quakertown experience to get them college ready!
Last Thursday evening at the School Board meeting, in an 8-1 vote, the Board approved the Proposed Final Budget presented by the Administration. The Administration’s presentation on the budget remained basically the same as the one I shared with you two Fridays ago, with the addition of two slides. One slide depicts the history of QCSD’s fund balance and PSERS, with the impact of various courses of action for ‘17-18 and ‘18-19 on it - ranging from closing the gap using the fund balance to approving the administration’s recommendations. The recommendations included their expectation for the Administration to plan and prepare for the possibility of closing Milford MS, including scheduling, packing, and staffing. As a result, we have created different buildings and scenarios in Powerschool that reflect possible school assignments, so you may see that when you use the parent portal. This is a necessary step in ensuring that our principals can develop different versions of the staffing and student assignment requirements for next year.
The Board’s direction also opened up a window of opportunity for rising 7th and 8th and 9th through 12th graders to review and change/modify course registration requests for next year. As an example, with the possibility of 9th grade students attending school in the Senior High School building next year, there is a wider elective opportunity, from AP Computer Science to music. However, due to scheduling time constraints, the window of opportunity to select a different class is only open this week. We also changed the prerequisites for participating in AP Computer Science A and AP Computer Science Principles. The only prerequisite is successful completion of Algebra I. This brings our Program of Studies in alignment with the suggested recommendation of the College Board, whose standards and curriculum we use.
Since September, our secondary math teachers have been evaluating multiple secondary math resources aligned to our end game (Keystones, SAT, ACT, AP), which also contain digital resources that will support students and parents in navigating the content in school and at home. After months of research and feedback, we are happy to announce Board approval for the purchase of Carnegie resources for Geometry and Algebra 2 and National Geographic/Cengage for PreCalculus and Calculus (including APs). These new resources will provide a long awaited refresher to our 10+ year old resources and curriculum. As a footnote, and because of student and teacher suggestions, we added Honors Calculus back into the Program of Studies.
Finally, the Office for Teaching and Learning (OTL) is collecting data on the content areas entering the research and review phase of the curriculum cycle for their work in the 2017-2018 school year. In order to provide the OTL with as much information as possible, we are asking that parents, teachers and students provide us feedback on the secondary RELA, K-5 Digital Literacy, PLTW and Tech Ed courses using the link found here. This feedback will give the OTL and the curriculum committee, comprised of teachers and administrators, the feedback needed to kick off the year with stakeholder direction.
Thank you for reading and allowing me to catch you up on some of the activities in the school district. Please share any thoughts with me, when you get a chance. Be sure to read up on all the cool things happening in the weekly Quake newsletter at www.qcsd.org.
Oh, one more thing! Tickets went on sale for this year’s high school musical - The Pirates of Penzance, by Gilbert and Sullivan. There will be four performances: - ; - and ; and - . We will have a fantastic display of student artwork for viewing before and after the show, and during intermission.
Suggestions Reviewed; Thursday Finance Committee and Board Meeting Open to PublicPosted by Bill Harner at 4/23/2017
As we head into the weekend, I wanted to give you an update on the Budget for ‘17-’18.
As I mentioned before, at the Finance Committee meeting, the Administration will be presenting its recommended Proposed Final Budget ‘17-’18. The meeting will be from on at DSC. There are only two other items for the Finance Committee to discuss that evening, so I expect that the discussion of the Budget will take up the bulk of the Finance Committee’s time. If there is time remaining after the Board Committee discussion, and before , the Committee will have time to receive public comment. Nevertheless, there will be ample time for public comment on the Budget for ‘17-’18 during the regular scheduled Board meeting at that follows the Finance Committee Meeting.
In preparation for the Administration’s recommendation to the Board next week, we reviewed and considered more than 60 public comments made at two Board meetings and the hearing, along with questions and comments received in scores of emails and two town hall meetings, a meeting with QMPO leadership and music teachers, and comments and suggestions made on Facebook. Of all of the feedback, I confess that I found the suggestion or possibility that aliens had taken over the superintendent and school board quite interesting! Seriously, the feedback/input has been most helpful in shaping our thinking and has been incorporated into our recommendations to the Board. For example, to eliminate any new construction costs we took the suggestion from the QCEA President and several parents to move all of the 9th graders up to the high school to create a 9th grade through 12th grade building. Then move all of the 6th graders to former Freshmen Center to create a 6th Grade Center.
As you would expect, digesting 44 pages of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), reading and re-reading emails, attending town hall meetings, and attending the hearing to close Milford is quite time consuming for our School Board members. With that in mind, I also conducted four information sessions for groups of Board members this week, to insure they have all the information they need and a thorough understanding of the issues and recommendations regarding the Budget for ‘17-’18.
So that you have ample time to review the Administration’s recommendations for the Proposed Final Budget for ‘17-’18, I wanted to share a copy of those recommendations in advance. Naturally, we will continue to receive and analyze your input.
Have a very nice weekend.
Important update about the budget processPosted by Bill Harner at 4/18/2017
Good evening! Forgive me for the long blog, but this is really important.
I would like to thank all of you who have engaged in the many discussions about the QCSD Budget Options for ‘17-’18 presented to the Board of School Directors last month. Many of you have unfortunately experienced a gloomy budget cycle before. From the ‘stoplight’ - red, yellow, green list budget discussions of many years ago, to last year’s budget when the PA Legislature and the Governor could not agree on a state budget until March, to this year’s fiscal challenge. We shall get through all this, again!
This is my 14th budget cycle as a school district superintendent. I have had to work with and through what appears to be capricious decision making by elected officials. Elected officials/ decision makers - at the state and local level, bring to the table various agendas. These agendas could be to support specific programs such as early childhood education and full day kindergarten, or the performing arts, to even more drastic agendas like support for for-profit cyber charter schools. Cyber charter schools have become lucrative to campaign finances for elected office.
Very few elected officials want to be labeled “tax and spend,” so they do their best to hide or pass on to the next lower level unfunded mandates to cover the agendas they support or mistakes that they have made. The most glaring examples are the ever increasing cost of PSERS and paying the prevailing wage for construction. The result of these two egregious agendas has cost your district dearly - tens of millions of dollars. It has put our student programs, quality of instruction, and proper maintenance of our buildings at risk. It is a man-made crisis! This crisis was created in Harrisburg, and can only be fixed in Harrisburg. For over three years now, the QCSD Board and I have aggressively communicated with our locally elected state representatives and other state leaders about fixing these two problems. All to no avail! In fact, after the Board discussed not paying PSERS at one public meeting, they were quickly rebuked and threatened by Harrisburg.
QCSD is an incredibly effective school district. We need to keep it that way! There is no other school district in Pennsylvania (there are 499 other districts) with our socio-economic poverty index of 31% or higher that outperforms us at the high school level. Our graduates are getting academically stronger each year, and our performing arts and athletic programs are top shelf, too. Even with the fiscal realities imposed upon us, it is the QCSD Board’s direction to me to not only sustain what we have, but get better. Despite capricious decision making and agendas in Harrisburg that are neither taxpayer nor student-centric, we are required by law to balance the budget every year. QCSD has a structural deficit that was not created by the Board, nor any nefarious contract or commitment. Decisions are required in the short term to close the deficit as much as possible, so we can keep the great programs and culture that we have for the long term.
Last week at the hearing on the potential closure of Milford MS, and then at the school board meeting, the board listened to hours of input from many of you. They are sensitive to the impassioned pleas to “wait a year to close the school," and to slow down. After reading and listening to public feedback, the Board is frustrated because they know that they have a finite amount of revenue and have the legal responsibility to address the structural deficit. Additionally, our financial advisor from the Public Financial Management Group strongly discourages the Board from balancing the budget using the fund balance for annual operating expenses due to its potential impact on our bond rating.
At the conclusion of the budget discussion at the April 13th board meeting, Board Member Jon Kern asked the Administration to review the next tier of budget options per the decision matrix/flowchart (pg. 6) that was part of the Administration’s budget presentation. There is a twofold purpose for looking at Tier 2 Options for budget reductions at the next board meeting. The first is that in the event that the Board does not select most of the options from the original proposal they should consider which of the Tier 2 Options they might use to balance next year's budget. The second is that if the board decides to select the “wait a year” recommendation - made by some constituents - and not accept the original Tier 1 budget options, the board will be foreshadowing the Tier 2 Options for the future. If there is a deferral of a decision to close the structural deficit at all until next year, some of the Tier 2 Options will likely become Tier 1 Options. That would be catastrophic to Quakertown and some student programs, and is not the preferred or recommended course of action.
It is important to note that in order to legally generate savings in personnel from furloughs, one of these things has to happen:
there is a significant reduction in student enrollment,
a school or schools are closed,
and/or an entire program has to be eliminated
These are total program costs for Tier 2 Budget Options, by program:
Art $1.33 million Library $949 thousand
Music $2.03 million Tech Ed $959 thousand
Spanish $1.43 million German $237 thousand
Mandarin $96.3 thousand Full Day K $261 thousand
Business $1.22 million Guidance $2.42 million
Sports $550 thousand
, at , at the Finance Committee Meeting the Administration will present the Proposed Final Budget. The Administration’s recommendation will include the original Budget Options for ‘17-’18, along with the recommendation to close Tohickon Valley Elementary School for 2018-19. Later that evening at the regular scheduled Board Meeting, the Board is scheduled to vote on the Proposed Final Budget. Given all of the feedback and recommendations received from the entire Quakertown community, the Administration believes that the recommended Proposed Final Budget optimizes our finite resources and minimizes the impact on student programs. We hope we will also be able to accomplish the staffing reductions in the plan mostly through attrition in order to take the best care we can of our precious teaching resources and amazing support staff.
As always we look forward to your feedback.
Bring your ideas to the April 11 Hearing to Consider Closing MilfordPosted by Bill Harner at 4/7/2017
Good morning! I would like thank the hundreds of you who have either reached out to the School Board and me, attended one or both of the Town Hall meetings, or taken to social media to discuss the tough decisions ahead for the Quakertown Community School District. I am most grateful!
Your feedback has painted a clear picture of your concerns and questions for the Board of School Directors on how to handle the $4.7M structural shortfall! It is so important to stay engaged and involved in what your public schools are doing. It is my belief that our school system’s success becomes our students success, and the school system’s success comes from only an engaged community.
Next week, the Board of School Directors will be conducting a Hearing for Closure of Milford Middle School. It will be held in the District Service Center from . The hearing will be conducted by Jeffrey Garton, Esquire, the Solicitor for QCSD. The purpose of the meeting is for the Board of School Directors to listen to the constituents, about the option to close Milford Middle School. Constituents will have up to 3 minutes to speak to the Board. The Board has the opportunity to ask questions, but will not be making comments nor be making a decision at this hearing.
The Administration will be making a statement at the beginning of the meeting regarding the closing of Milford Middle School. The Option that I will be presenting is “Close Milford Middle School and combine all 6th, 7th and 8th grade students to create Quakertown Community Middle School,” at Strayer Middle School. I believe this option will provide us the greatest opportunity to not only sustain our high quality academic, arts, and athletic programs, but create the synergy for even stronger programs in the future.
I look forward to your continued feedback and input as we move forward with the ‘17-’18 Budget process, and the School Boards consideration of the Options they requested to correct our structural deficit.