Wednesday, July 22, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup July 22: Judge: Trombetta case can proceed; PA Cyber Charter Cutting 43 Jobs

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for July 22, 2015:
Judge: Trombetta case can proceed; PA Cyber Charter Cutting 43 Jobs

Interested in letting our elected leadership know your thoughts on education funding, a severance tax, property taxes and the budget?
Governor Tom Wolf, (717) 787-2500
Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Turzai, (717) 772-9943
House Majority Leader Rep. Dave Reed, (717) 705-7173
Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Joe Scarnati, (717) 787-7084
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Jake Corman, (717) 787-1377

"While there is little doubt that Pennsylvania’s most challenged schools need support, the state’s existing track record of managing fiscally and academically distressed districts provides little evidence to recommend such policies."
SB6: Teachers aren’t widgets
Yet state legislators seem to think they work in factories
Post Gazette Opinion By Adam Schott and Kate Shaw July 22, 2015 12:00 AM
Adam Schott is a senior policy analyst and Kate Shaw is executive director for Research for Action, a nonprofit that works to reform education policy. Mr. Schott is a former executive director of the state Board of Education. Ms. Shaw is a former Pennsylvania deputy secretary of higher education.
We have 180,000 teachers in the state of Pennsylvania. If we laid off 10 percent of the teachers in the state of Pennsylvania, we’d never miss them.”  So said Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York County, to a member of the Capitol press corps as policymakers blew past the state budget deadline.  The most charitable explanations for misstatements fall short in this case, especially when more than 180 Pennsylvania school districts and charter schools already have cut 10 percent or more of their teachers and other professional employees since 2010. A recent survey by two state education associations found 41 percent of districts plan further staff reductions ahead of the 2015-2016 school year.  But it would be a mistake to discount Mr. Wagner’s comment completely. That’s because an increasing number of state policy proposals reflect on some level the sentiment at the heart of his remarks: That teachers are an interchangeable commodity, rather than highly skilled professionals. Each of these proposals needs to be examined against available evidence and research.

Wolf, lawmakers sound upbeat after 4-hour budget talk
Lehigh Valley Live By Associated Press on July 21, 2015 at 9:48 PM, updated July 22, 2015 at 1:00 AM
A nearly four-hour budget meeting in the Pennsylvania Capitol on Tuesday left the governor and Republican leaders sounding upbeat even though they had no major breakthroughs to announce.  Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said negotiators made progress but he declined to "even guess" how much longer the budget stalemate will go on.  "We have, each of us have, a better understanding of why the things that separate us separate us," Wolf said.  The meeting focused on spending, the sort of process that historically has been done by staff, not by the governor and the leaders in person.  "Everybody felt that it was a productive meeting and we really have a dialogue going on," said House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny. "We want to get to an agreement, but we realize there are some significant differences but we had to get into the details and we did that today."

Three weeks in, getting down to Pa. budget details
WHYY Newsworks BY MARY WILSON JULY 22, 2015
Pennsylvania legislative leaders say after three weeks without a state budget, they're starting to get around to detailed discussions.  For nearly four hours on Tuesday, top GOP lawmakers and staff sat with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and his staff for a line-by-line review of their respective spending proposals. One top aide called it an "icebreaker," albeit the kind of icebreaker that should have happened a month ago.  The evening meeting didn't yield any big agreement, but leaders emerged smiling, complimenting one another, and touting the "productive" talks.  "The differences are narrowing," said House Majority Leader Dave Reed. "It's not exactly going quickly, but they are getting smaller."

Wolf, GOP discuss proposed Pennsylvania budget; no agreement yet
Trib Live By Brad Bumsted Tuesday, July 21, 2015, 8:18 p.m.
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican leaders on Tuesday broke bread together.  
In the longest budget negotiation during a 21-day stalemate, Wolf, a Democrat, and legislative GOP leaders shared pizza while claiming they made progress. But they reported no breakthroughs and acknowledged they focused only on expenditures. The lawmakers and governor also didn't agree on how much the state should spend.  The differences dividing them have been revenue-raising proposals such as Wolf's plan to increase the state income and sales taxes and levy a severance tax on Marcellus shale gas wells. A Republican-drafted budget, which the governor vetoed June 30, did not raise taxes.  “We have a better understanding of where our differences are (on spending),” House Majority Leader David Reed, R-Indiana County, said after the closed-door 3½-hour meeting.  House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, called them “productive discussions.”  There was also a more positive atmosphere.  “It was a great chance to sit down and go through where we are right now,” Wolf said.
Budget negotiators find a “better understanding” of differences, but no final product
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Key budget negotiators in Pennsylvania’s three-week long budget standoff emerged from a nearly four-hour long late afternoon meeting Tuesday announcing they have not come to an agreement on a final budget product, but have found one nugget of success in the search for an agreed-to spending plan: “better understanding” of their differences.  Both sides acknowledged this is a key first step toward an eventual agreement on Pennsylvania’s FY 2015-2016 spending plan.  “We really rolled up our sleeves and found where some agreements are and where the disagreements are,” said House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) of the meeting.  He said the meeting was productive in that the sides were able to establish parameters—guiderails, as he and Gov. Tom Wolf put it—for future discussions.
“It was an important process step to take,” he said. “We want to get to an agreement, but we recognize there are significant differences, but we had to get into the details and we did a lot of that today.”  Gov. Wolf agreed that the meeting was productive in that it led to a much better understanding of what separates the parties and what work is left to do.

Budget summit leads Wolf to say: 'We're going to get through this'
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on July 21, 2015 at 8:09 PM, updated July 21, 2015 at 10:03 PM
Following a more than three-hour budget summit on Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolfand Republican legislative leaders say they now have a better understanding of the justifications behind the $4 billion difference that separates their spending plans.  Although no agreements were reached on how to resolve those differences, they agreed the meeting was productive and moved them closer – even if just by inches – toward a final budget product.  The state has been operating without an enacted budget since July 1.  "Each of us have a ... much clearer understanding of what we have yet to do but I feel comfortable, even more comfortable than I did coming into this meeting, that we're going to get through this," Wolf said, following the lengthy meeting that went on so long they called out for pizza.

Centre County school districts await state budget resolution
Centre Daily Times BY BRITNEY MILAZZO July 21, 2015 
When Penns Valley Area resident Jay Martin approached the school board last week regarding its financial future without a state budget having been passed, board President Chris Houser said the district had nothing to worry about.  “So we are good for months?” Martin asked. “Could we make it more than eight months?” “If we had to, yes,” Houser replied.  District business manager Jef Wall said the board approved the $25.5 million budget in June — a 2.61 percent increase from 2014-15.  And he expects the district to receive $4.8 million in state funding, the same amount as last year.  But the state hasn’t passed its budget yet, despite a June 30 deadline.  “We want to keep government working, but the budget is stalemate,” Rep. Rich Irvin, R-Spruce Creek Township, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I don’t think it’s going to happen soon.”

York County school districts: State budget battles are old hat
York Dispatch By JESSICA SCHLADEBECK 505-5438/@JessDispatch POSTED:   07/21/2015 10:37:44 PM EDT
Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican legislators have been locked in state budget negotiations for more than three weeks, but York County school districts aren't worried about the delay. Yet.  Most districts, having faced similar delays in the past — seven of the last 10 state budgets have been agreed upon after June — have plans in place to protect themselves and their staffs for the short-term.  In 2009, Pennsylvania was the last state in the country to approve a budget, more than 100 days after the deadline, and in 2010 the state approved a budget on time for the first time in eight years.

Day 21: Politics no excuse to further delay Pa. budget
Lancaster Online Editorial by The LNP Editorial Board Posted: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 6:00 am | Updated: 9:45 am, Tue Jul 21, 2015.
THE ISSUE: Some Republicans in the House and Senate are calling  on their leaders to stick with what’s known as the “majority of the majority” rule, under which no budget agreement could go to the floor for a vote unless it had majority support among Republicans in that chamber. The unwritten rule came about after Democrats provided the majority of votes for a 2003 budget signed by then-Gov. Ed Rendell.  We’re 21 days into the 2015-16 fiscal year without a state budget. And whatever rules they have, Pennsylvania’s legislative leaders have no excuses for not dealing in good faith with Gov. Tom Wolf to deliver one.  Disagreement over taxes appears to be the key sticking point between the governor and Republican lawmakers. This is a good debate to have. And, as we noted before, Republicans were right to pass their own plan so Pennsylvanians can compare their proposal with the governor’s.  What Republican leaders cannot do is point to “majority of the majority” or any other rule as an excuse for failing to reach a reasonable agreement with Wolf. It is up to voters to tell their lawmakers what they believe a reasonable approach would be. And it is up to lawmakers and the governor to deal with the realities of public opinion and of budgeting and come up with a compromise that serves the state’s needs now and into the future.

Philly region Republicans weigh in on severance tax, budget deadlock
Sweating under the mid-day sun, nine Republican lawmakers from southeast Pennsylvania took Gov. Tom Wolf to task on the steps of Montgomery County Courthouse for what they called "campaign" tactics during budget negotiations.  As the state's budget deadlock stretches into its fourth week, the governor's administration and Republican legislators are each engaging in a campaign to sway public opinion about spending. In an unusual move, relatively moderate republicans in Philadelphia suburbs called out the Governor for messaging they say isn't fair.  At issue were mail, television and radio ads paid for by a political action committee called America Works. According to Rep. Bill Adolph (R-Delaware County), who is also the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, the total cost of these ads is between $750,000 and $1 million.

"In 2013, Nick Trombetta, who founded the school and helped it grow into one of the largest online K-12 programs in the state, pleaded not guilty in federal court to 11 criminal charges related to the diversion of $990,000 in public educational funds to private uses. That case is still pending.".... "Enrollment has declined from a peak of 11,500 in 2013 to about 10,000. Mr. Conti attributed the decline "in part to increased competition from some local school districts offering online learning options"
PA Cyber Charter School cutting 43 jobs
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette July 21, 2015 11:44 AM
Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School today announced it is eliminating 43 positions in the face of declining enrollment.  The school said the cuts are part of a "strategic restructuring" that includes renegotiating external contracts for curriculum, technology and managed services; consolidation of internal and external operational functions and an adjustment in its instructional model. The restructuring is expected to save $12 million.  School CEO Michael Conti said, "While these cost savings closed the gap, they did not get us where we needed to be. The next step was to implement a restructuring that enables PA Cyber to strategically allocate resources to best meet the needs of our students, while ensuring we operate within our current budget."  Enrollment has declined from a peak of 11,500 in 2013 to about 10,000. Mr. Conti attributed the decline "in part to increased competition from some local school districts offering online learning options, along with some consolidation among students and families who have embraced PA Cyber's more rigorous academic and performance standards."

Federal judge approves lawyer evidence against indicted founder of PA Cyber Charter School
By Torsten Ove / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette July 21, 2015 1:15 PM
A federal judge has rejected indicted Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School founder Nick Trombetta's bid to have his indictment dismissed on his claim that the case is built on conversations that the FBI improperly recorded between Trombetta and four lawyers in violation of the attorney-client privilege.  After months of arguments and legal wrangling on both sides, U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti ruled Tuesday that Trombetta did not have an attorney-client relationship with three of the four lawyers involved.  The decision means the case will proceed, although the judge said Trombetta can try again to prove his claim involving a fourth lawyer, Tim Barry, who had been the corporate counsel for PA Cyber.  Trombetta's criminal defense lawyers wanted Judge Conti to toss the government's charges or limit the evidence gleaned from the recordings.  Trombetta is charged with siphoning about $1 million from the Midland-based school through several corporate entities he controlled.

Judge says three of four attorneys did not represent Trombetta
Beaver County Times By J.D. Prose Tuesday, July 21, 2015 6:15 pm
PITTSBURGH -- A federal judge has ruled that Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School founder Nick Trombetta did not have attorney-client privileges with three attorneys the federal government recorded him talking to, but he can still argue that a fourth attorney represented him.  On Monday, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Joy Flowers Conti issued a 73-page opinion in which she said Trombetta was not represented by former Beaver County solicitor Joe Askar, the attorney for Rochester-based Lincoln Learning Solutions (formerly the National Network of Digital Schools), or Leo Daly and Ralph Monico, attorneys with the Pittsburgh firm Grogan Graffam, which used to represent NNDS, when Trombetta was recorded speaking with them.  Trombetta, an East Liverpool, Ohio, resident, and his accountant, Neal Prence of Koppel, were indicted in August 2013. Trombetta faces 11 charges, including mail fraud, theft or bribery concerning a federal program, tax conspiracy and filing a false tax return, while Prence is charged with one count of tax conspiracy.

"The report stated that a small group of Pennsylvania school districts is "grappling with severe financial stress," saying key factors include increasing pension contributions and competition from charter schools "draining cash reserves and pushing districts into a deep structural imbalance."
Moody's report rates some Pittsburgh area school districts as below investment grade
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette July 21, 2015 3:01 PM
Moody's Investors Service has issued a report noting McKeesport Area, East Allegheny, Penn Hills and Philadelphia school districts are all now rated as below investment grade, putting them in a category some others would characterize as junk.  Nationwide, there are only 20 such districts, including the four in Pennsylvania. Moody's rates districts on request in conjunction with planned borrowing. The rating is based on Moody's opinion of the chances of the bondholder getting paid back in full and on time.

Pa. auditor general to look into ASD's charter school review process, prompted by Morning Call report
By Jacqueline Palochko Of The Morning Call July 21, 2015
State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced an upcoming audit of the Allentown School District will include a review of the district's charter process and district's real estate lease arrangements.  DePasquale's announcement comes the same day The Morning Call published a story saying the district and developer Abe Atiyeh agreed to a side deal when agreeing to a lease for the district's new high school, Building 21.  "Recent media accounts allege that Allentown School District may have violated the state Sunshine Act by not publicly disclosing what could be construed as a quid pro quo arrangement for a developer to not to apply to open more charter schools in the district in exchange for the district leasing a property owned by the same developer," DePasquale said in a news release. "The public has a right to know about any school district business agreements and the school district members had a legal obligation to vote on such matters in a public meeting. If these allegations are true — it does not pass the sniff test."

Rose Tree Media School Board president resigns
Delco Times by LESLIE KROWCHENKO POSTED: 07/21/15, 11:04 PM EDT
MIDDLETOWN >> In an announcement that apparently surprised his fellow directors, John Hanna announced his resignation Tuesday night as president of the Rose Tree Media School Board. He made the statement at the beginning of the meeting, citing the stress of recent events and the desire to act in the best interest of the board.  The district has been involved since February in the hearings surrounding the now former Indian Lane Elementary School principal Bill Bennett and the board voted earlier this month to approve an agreement with him. The terms included a $300,000 cash settlement and his resignation from the district. The directors have been addressed each month by numerous parents concerned with the situation.  Vice President Bill O’Donnell took the gavel to conduct the balance of the meeting. In the second surprise of the night, he said Director of Human Resources Anne Callahan will be retiring in November. Callahan was one of a number of employees who testified on behalf of the district during the hearings.

Maryland developers see opportunity in Philly's institutional shells
A group of real estate investors from Bethesda, Maryland, are betting big on Philadelphia schools—the closed ones, anyway.  In the next few months, Concordia Group expects to close on a deal to purchase five school buildings put up for sale two years ago when the Philadelphia School District was trying to raise money through real estate sales. The five former school buildings, in Pennsport, Point Breeze, Port Richmond and Germantown, had all been shut down in the few years prior. According to the School District, Concordia is expected to pay $6.8 million for the five buildings.  Will Collins, a co-founder and managing partner of the development company, said that along with the proposed redevelopment of Mt. Sinai hospital in Dickinson Square West, the school projects are Concordia’s first foray into Philadelphia. They were attracted, he said, by the locations.  “Infill development is something that is our focus and we just love the idea of being in town …” Collins said. “We just think these are great opportunities.”

What Recovery? Report Reveals Rising Poverty for Children in America
Annie E. Casey Foundation study finds recovery from Great Recession has left out children of color altogether
Common Dreams by Sarah Lazare, staff writer Tuesday, July 21, 2015

There are roughly three million more U.S. children living in poverty today than during the outbreak of the Great Recession in 2008, and the so-called economic recovery has bypassed children of color altogether, a harrowing new report reveals.  The 2015 Data Book, released Tuesday by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, evaluates information from numerous federal agencies from 2008 to 2013 to determine child well-being nationwide.  The report finds that approximately 22 percent of U.S. children were beneath the poverty line in 2013, a significant increase from 18 percent in 2008. Moreover, 31 percent of children in 2013 had parents without secure employment, compared to 27 percent in 2008.  The data showed that, for many, there has been no economic recession at all.  "Although we are several years past the end of the recession, millions of families still have not benefited from the economic recovery," said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation, in a press statement. "While we’ve seen an increase in employment in recent years, many of these jobs are low-wage and cannot support even basic family expenses."

FairTest Testing Resistance & Reform News: July 15 - 21, 2015
FairTest Submitted by fairtest on July 21, 2015 - 1:06pm 
The U.S. Senate has joined the House of Representatives in responding to growing, grassroots pressure by voting to overhaul "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB). The bills passed by both the Senate and House reflect widespread rejection of failed top-down, test-and-punish strategies as well as the "NCLB on steroids" waiver regime dictated by Arne Duncan. While neither version is close to perfect from an assessment reform perspective, each makes significant progress by rolling back federally mandated high-stakes, eliminating requirements to evaluate educators based on student test scores, and recognizing opt-out rights. FairTest and its allies will closely monitor the conference committee working on compromise language to make sure the gains remain in the final bill sent to President Obama -- the alternative is to keep the yoke of NCLB-and-waivers in place for at least two more years, if not much longer. Meanwhile, organizers in many states are keeping the spotlight on the problems of test overuse and misuse, modeling better practices and winning additional policy victories.

Nominations for PSBA's Allwein Advocacy Award now open
PSBA July 7, 2015
The Timothy M. Allwein Advocacy Award was established in 2011 by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and may be presented annually to the individual school director or entire school board to recognize outstanding leadership in legislative advocacy efforts on behalf of public education and students that are consistent with the positions in PSBA’s Legislative Platform.  The 2015 Allwein Award nomination process will close on Aug. 28, 2015. The 2015 Allwein Award Nomination Form is available online. More details on the award and nominations process can be found online

Register Now – PAESSP State Conference – Oct. 18-20 – State College, PA
Registration is now open for PAESSP's State Conference to be held October 18-20 at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel in State College, PA! This year's theme is @EVERYLEADER and features three nationally-known keynote speakers (Dr. James Stronge, Justin Baeder and Dr. Mike Schmoker), professional breakout sessions, a legal update, exhibits, Tech Learning Labs and many opportunities to network with your colleagues (Monday evening event with Jay Paterno).  Once again, in conjunction with its conference, PAESSP will offer two 30-hour Act 45 PIL-approved programs, Linking Student Learning to Teacher Supervision and Evaluation (pre-conference offering on 10/17/15); and Improving Student Learning Through Research-Based Practices: The Power of an Effective Principal (held during the conference, 10/18/15 -10/20/15). Register for either or both PIL programs when you register for the Full Conference!
REGISTER TODAY for the Conference and Act 45 PIL program/s at:

Apply now for EPLC’s 2015-2016 PA Education Policy Fellowship Program
Applications are available now for the 2015-2016 Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP).  The Education Policy Fellowship Program is sponsored in Pennsylvania by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC).  With more than 400 graduates in its first sixteen years, this Program is a premier professional development opportunity for educators, state and local policymakers, advocates, and community leaders.  State Board of Accountancy (SBA) credits are available to certified public accountants.  Past participants include state policymakers, district superintendents and principals, charter school leaders, school business officers, school board members, education deans/chairs, statewide association leaders, parent leaders, education advocates, and other education and community leaders.  Fellows are typically sponsored by their employer or another organization.  The Fellowship Program begins with a two-day retreat on September 17-18, 2015 and continues to graduation in June 2016.
Click here to read about the Education Policy Fellowship Program.

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