Rethinking MLK Day; first look at 2018-19 budget

Rethinking MLK Day; first look at 2018-19 budget
Posted on 01/28/2019

Good evening!

Before you begin your week, I wanted to share a few things with you.

Thursday night, at the QCSD Board Meeting, the Board approved the QCSD 2018-19 District Calendar. After considering community feedback, the Board voted for "Option B" - that changed Martin Luther King Day from a possible Emergency Make-Up Day to a school (student and teacher) holiday. That means that students and teachers will not have any possibility of having school on MLK Day next year. The Board's decision was based on community feedback and understanding the importance of creating an inclusive culture. The Board is most sensitive to the importance of Dr. King in the shaping of our nation's character and, in turn, our community's character, values, and respect for others. They also asked the Administration to develop voluntary service learning opportunities for our students, which will become a part of the Superintendent Goals for next year.

We are still in the the first phase of the "Welcome Workplace" initiative - our culture and diversity training with the Pearl S. Buck Foundation. The first phase includes completing surveys by our teachers, administrators, and board members. Members of the QCSD's Parent Council will be asked to complete the survey. I will be providing a report of the survey completion rates and their findings to you shortly. Other components to the first phase is listening to our minority parents and hearing their stories and learning about their local experiences. In November, the Board President and I hosted a dinner for parents of our African American students. He and I hope to be meeting with the parents of other QCSD minority students very soon.

On Thursday night, I presented QCSD's Preliminary Budget for 2018-19. A motion to Opt Out of considering "Exceptions under Act I" failed in a 5-4 vote. This means that the Board will have the flexibility to consider using exceptions under Act I for items like retirement and special education costs. At the February 8 Board Meeting, the Board will vote on the Preliminary Budget, which will then allow the Administration to apply for exceptions to the PA Department of Education. After four years of building annual budgets for QCSD and using best practices to identify where savings can be achieved and efficiencies can be made, it is paramount this year, in my view, to have the exceptions on the table as a option. By May, we should have a much better financial picture for next year, and hopefully we will not need to use Exceptions.

The Board also voted to direct Public Financial Management to prepare the district for a spring bond sale to finance the first stage of the renovation and expansion of Neidig Elementary School. This will be an approximate $20 million project that will house 600 students. Unlike the Board's decision with the renovation project at the high school seven or eight years ago, debt service (mortgage payment) will be factored ahead of time into the QCSD Preliminary Budget for 2018-19.

Over the next few weeks, 8th through 11th graders will be making decisions about what high school courses to take next year. I talk to high school students almost daily about their dreams and aspirations, and how their course work is going. I would like to suggest a few thoughts for parents to ponder prior to completing course registration. Quakertown students have incredible options that will prepare them for college and career. About 27 percent of our HS students go to Upper Bucks County Technical School. Over 90 percent of the students who start at Tech stay there all four years, pass the NOCTI exam their senior year, and get great jobs - some immediately earn much more than college graduates, and WITHOUT debt. I am also seeing an increasing trend for our students to get certified in an occupational skill at Tech AND go to college, with some students taking Advanced Placement courses at QCHS to better prepare themselves. That's a powerful combination.

For all of those planning to go to college, I strongly suggest that students take at least some of our most challenging courses. The more rigorous curriculum your student takes, the better they will perform on the SAT/ACT and the better prepared they will be for succeeding in college. Our teachers do a remarkable job teaching courses and preparing students for Advanced Placement exams. To insure college readiness, every college bound student should be taking at least one AP course and test themselves on one AP exam.

To give you perspective on what has happened over the past four years, when we opened up AP courses to 9th and 10th graders, students flourished in AP coursework. Like anything worthwhile, success requires hard work and commitment. It is beneficial for students to start taking challenging courses at the earliest opportunity, at least beginning their 9th grade year with one or more honors courses. Then, they can build upon that foundation in subsequent years.

AP Students

Finally, after reviewing with the School Board, I announced two internal Administrative changes at the affected schools' faculty meetings on Friday. The moves will take place this summer for the 2018-19 school year. Eric Thompson, the Principal at Pfaff Elementary School, will move to the Sixth Grade Center, and Dr. Orathia Bradley, Principal at Tohickon Valley Elementary School, will move to Pfaff. Mr. Thompson is a former middle school teacher and Assistant Principal at Strayer Middle School. With the opening next year at the SGC, and knowing of his desire to return to the middle school level as a principal, I asked him if he wanted the position. We certainly did not want to lose an exceptional leader to another district. With Tohickon Valley closing in June, Dr. Bradley will be moving to Pfaff along with 160 of her current students.

Thanks for reading, and also to many of you for sharing your thoughts over the past few weeks about MLK Day. It made a difference.

Bill Harner

Superintendent, QCSD

Email: wharner@qcsd.org; Twitter: @billharner

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