Honoring MLK, first look at next year’s budget, and the disposition of Milford and Tohickon Valley

Honoring MLK, first look at next year’s budget, and the disposition of Milford and Tohickon Valley
Posted on 01/21/2019

Greetings from Quakertown schools! Hope you had a wonderful weekend and that the Philadelphia Eagles have a great night tonight!

Wanted to share a few things with you this afternoon. They include a review of both MLK Day activities and the canceled school day this past week, and foreshadow topics for this Thursday night's school board meeting.

Last Monday, when school was in session on the district's first Emergency Make-Up Day, Quakertown teachers did an incredible job of providing high quality instruction about the life, philosophy, and social impact of Martin Luther King, Jr. All kindergarten through 12th grade students had the opportunity to listen, learn and participate in discussion about MLK. Some of our students even designed service learning opportunities for the future. In my 20 years in public education, I have never seen or heard about a district totally focusing on one topic on the same day. The feedback from students, teachers, and parents indicated that it was a wonderful and meaningful day!

Over the past two weeks, the Board received about 25 responses from parents regarding next year's calendar. The responses to the Board were overwhelmingly in support of staying the course of making up school days during the school year, including using MLK Day. Many suggested the use of other federal holidays, too. Only three responses were against it. During the Board's discussion at the January 11th meeting (at 1 hr, 34 min on the video) about the calendar and MLK Day, all Board members expressed support for the calendar as presented. I am not sure if that will change given recent news media coverage, specifically the misperception about our community that was generated by an opinion column in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Many parent respondents recommended adding a community service component to MLK Day. Previously, we had little success in recruiting high school student participation in Holiday weekend service projects. A few parents volunteered to help us organize activities for the National Day of Service on MLK Day for the future. Organizing service projects and developing transportation plans to support these projects with a hit-or-miss due to weather events is problematic. The question and "right" answer regarding MLK Day is complex, if we are to give it meaning beyond a federal holiday. Your thoughts continue to be appreciated at Board@qcsd.org.

Last Wednesday, we had another snow day. The Emergency Make-Up Day is Friday, February 16th. Many of you were wondering why we did not simply have a two-hour delay. I did, too! Mr. Levy and I were both out driving the roads around 4 o'clock in the morning. They looked fine for a school delay. A fact bearing on my decision to close is what the Palisades and Pennridge School Districts do, as we share the Upper Bucks County Technical School. When two districts close, then the Tech School is closed. We do our best to work together to match up our school days, but oftentimes we disagree. I decided we should close after the other two superintendents decided to close their districts. The day off allowed me to personally answer ALL of the emails we received from outside of the school district regarding MLK Day.

In addition to the vote on the QCSD District 2018-19 Calendar at the Board meeting this Thursday, January 25, I will be presenting the QCSD 2018-19 Preliminary Budget, and the Board will be considering disposition of the Milford Middle School property and Tohickon Valley Elementary School, after it closes in June. What is driving the discussion now is juvenile vandalism at Milford and the impact of legislation on the docket this spring in Harrisburg. PA House Bill 97 - Charter School Reform, which is co-sponsored by our State House Rep. Craig Staats, gives charter school operators the first right of refusal on the disposition of every empty public school property (see Section 10 b.1. on pages 38-39).

As written, HB97 has the potential to be financially challenging to traditional brick and mortar public school districts across PA. Charter schools have no geographic boundaries and school districts have a responsibility to fund all students attending the school and transport students up to 10 miles of the closest school district boundary. A charter school at Milford would impact 12 districts besides Quakertown. Just last week, one of our municipalities was contacted by a representative of a charter school. They were looking for a tax reduction incentive to bring their charter program to town. It's known as LERTA, Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance. At the last Facilities Committee meeting, members appeared to be supporting demolishing both buildings, retaining the Milford property for future use, and selling the TVES property.

The Preliminary Budget is QCSD's first look at a potential spending plan. What is important about the discussion on Thursday is that the Board leaves the door open to considering the use of Exceptions above the Act I Index. Using Public Financial Management software, the Administration developed numerous scenarios for the Board (and you) to consider for next year. The Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) is not the major cost driver next year. The largest cost drivers are the establishment of a line item in the budget for capital projects -- a multi-year battle -- increased costs for students with disabilities, increases in health benefit costs, and debt service. Also provided is a slide that clearly shows the financial benefit of last year's decision to close two schools, and to renovate/expand Neidig Elementary. Again, what the Administration is seeking on Thursday night is leaving the door open for considering Exceptions under Act I later in the spring, if needed.

As always we look forward to your feedback and thoughts. Go Eagles!

Bill Harner

Superintendent, QCSD

Twitter: @BillHarner Email: WHarner@qcsd.org

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