Tuesday, August 11, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Aug 11: Budget? What budget? No deal in sight as Harrisburg goes into dog days of summer

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for August 11, 2015:
Budget? What budget? No deal in sight as Harrisburg goes into dog days of summer

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

"Where I live our public school, North Penn, in the Philadelphia suburbs is well resourced and staffed because our community can afford it.  But I am embarrassed and ashamed as a taxpayer that so many other children in our state attend schools that cannot afford the essentials of learning that North Penn has—school libraries and librarians, nurses, counselors, smaller class sizes, art and music programs, and instructional technologies."
Let's grab this chance to fix a broken school-funding system: Debra Kachel
PennLive Op-Ed  By Debra Kachel on August 10, 2015 at 1:00 PM
As an educator and former school librarian. I know the impact that quality education can have on students.  It predicts the future health and wealth of our state.  There is no greater use of our tax dollars than to adequately and equitably fund a public education system for all children.   And that is where we come up short.  Pennsylvania has the widest funding gap between wealthy and poor school districts of any state in the nation, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.  State and local per-pupil spending in our poorest districts is 33 percent less than in our wealthiest districts.  If you live in the "right" zip code your child has the opportunity for a good education.  If you live in an area with a shrinking tax base, however, then your kid is starting from behind.

Budget? What budget? No deal in sight as Harrisburg goes into dog days of summer: Analysis
Penn Live By John L. Micek | jmicek@pennlive.com Email the author | Follow on Twitter on August 10, 2015 at 9:00 PM
Welcome to the Sitzkrieg.  Forty-two days into the 2015-16 budget year, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republicans who control the General Assembly have spent a long summer lobbing rhetorical shells at each other, but neither side is even close to the tactical win or negotiated peace that will win a settlement.  In that, they're kind of like the French and British, who in September 1939, declared war on Germany, and then spent a whole year just sitting around before launching a major ground offensive.

Lawmakers mixed on taking pay during budget stalemate
Citizen's Voice BY ROBERT SWIFT, HARRISBURG BUREAU CHIEF Published: August 10, 2015
HARRISBURG — Several Northeastern Pennsylvania lawmakers will not take paychecks while a state budget stalemate continues.  Sen. John Blake and Reps. Aaron Kaufer and Mike Tobash said they have gone without pay since the new fiscal year started July 1.  The majority of area lawmakers contacted continue to draw pay even as the stalemate has now reached its 41st day with no end in sight, but some may reevaluate that if local nonprofit agencies start to experience serious financial problems next month due to delayed state payments.  The current stalemate differs from earlier ones because state agencies are open for business and state employees are paid. State payments for welfare recipients and Medicaid programs continue to be made, but not payments to counties and nonprofits for locally run social services and subsidies for school districts.  “If schools and human service agencies aren’t getting paid I ought not be paid either,” said Blake, D-Archbald.  He said he would take the missing pay after a new budget is enacted.

Pa. budget impasse impacts county investments
By Kaitlyn Foti, The Mercury POSTED: 08/10/15, 1:54 PM EDT
As the Pennsylvania budget remains at an impasse, financial officers are starting to eye their books and how long they can survive the stalemate.  While county governments and school boards around the state are often able to cover the missing funds from the state’s budget for the time being, that coverage comes at a price.  “It’s called Opportunity Cost,” said Berks County Chief Operating Officer Carl Geffken.  That is the cost of missing interest payments the money would have been earning from investments and accounts if it were not being used in place of state funding. Geffken said “thousands of dollars” in earnings will evaporate because of it.  In the Boyertown Area School District, for example, the budgeted earnings from interest are $600,000 for the year. While David Szablowski, the district’s Chief Financial Officer, said that local revenue will fund the district through almost half of the school year, if that happens, the district would also lose about half of its earned interest.  “If we don’t have the money from the state, that could equal about a hundred to a couple hundred thousand dollars depending on the length of the impasse,” Szablowski said.  Boyertown will be functioning exclusively on local revenue until Pennsylvania adopts a budget. Szablowski said that the district’s tax collecting schedule will secure the funds to pay the bills through November, at least.
In the meantime, school districts across the state are still guessing what that funding will be for the 2015-2016 school year.

Legislature: tax dollars not at work
Times Tribune BY THE EDITORIAL BOARD Published: August 11, 2015
Pennsylvania’s government is in its sixth week without a budget, but all 253 members of the needlessly huge state Legislature continue to be paid.  Members of the executive branch continue to be paid, also, but they actually operate the government.  In the current impasse with Gov. Tom Wolf, legislators have managed to demonstrate their own ineffectiveness and the terrible public policy inherent in allowing them to hoard scores of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to shield themselves from it.  Legislative leaders always defend sitting on scores of millions of dollars on grounds that they might need it to maintain legislative operations in case of a budget impasse with the administration. That, of course, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. By ensuring that they have the money to pay themselves in the event of an impasse, legislators don’t hesitate to create one for political purposes.  In this case, Republican leaders of both legislative majorities declined for four years to pass a series of initiatives proposed by former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett — from public pension reform to divesting the state booze monopoly — because they did not want to absorb the political fallout that always comes with true reform. With a Democratic governor in office, they passed a budget including those reforms, knowing that it would be vetoed. It’s at no cost to them because they can tap the reserve they have accumulated.

Republicans must stop playing games, work with Wolf on budget| Letter
Express-Times Letters to the Editor  by Monique Fritzinger on August 05, 2015 at 12:05 PM
I wish to remind fellow voters that on the campaign trail, state Rep. Justin Simmons said he supported a natural gas drilling extraction tax. If Simmons now sides with his party leadership in Harrisburg, who are refusing to consider a severance tax on drillers, he is not keeping his campaign promises.  Republican legislators such as Simmons created this budget stalemate. They wasted the last week before the deadline passing a budget they knew would never go into law; now they're trying to win a PR battle to make Gov. Wolf look bad for rejecting their awful budget. They'd be happy if we all forgot that the problems we must address were created by Republican former Gov. Corbett and GOP legislators.  Republicans in Harrisburg are more concerned with protecting handouts to drillers than restoring funding to schools and delivering property tax relief to working families and seniors, as Wolf has proposed. Wolf's budget uses a severance tax to increase funding for the East Penn, Salisbury Township, Saucon Valley, Southern Lehigh and Upper Perkiomen school districts by $2 million. Pennsylvania is the only natural gas-producing state without a severance tax.  Pennsylvanians voted Wolf into office because we wanted change. We didn't want Harrisburg to continue the failed Republican policies of Corbett. It's time for politicians like Simmons to stop playing games and work with the governor to pass a budget that restores school funding and provides property tax relief.

Pa. secretary of education tells Inquirer: PSSAs are here to stay
KRISTEN A. GRAHAM, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Tuesday, August 11, 2015, 1:07 AM POSTED: Monday, August 10, 2015, 6:32 PM
HARRISBURG - Teachers are right, says Pennsylvania's education secretary, Pedro Rivera - the goalposts keep moving, and it's not fair to them.  Based on standards that in some cases had students learning material that was a full year ahead of where they had been previously, state exams got tougher amid a period of steep decline in state aid. Scores, which have yet to be released publicly, dropped sharply, he said. And teachers will now be judged in part on student scores.  In an interview late last week in Harrisburg, Rivera, a former Philadelphia teacher, principal, and union official who is now the state's top educator, said it brought to mind a "Peanuts" character.  "It's almost like we're Lucy, and pulling the ball away at the last minute," he said.  Don't expect the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, as the state tests are known, to go away. Nevertheless, Rivera repeatedly sounded a theme: "Standardized tests are important, and they're one measure, but there are many other measures we should be using to ascertain whether teaching and learning is happening across the commonwealth."

Area schools bracing for lower PSSA scores
By Evan Brandt, The Mercury POSTED: 08/10/15, 1:55 PM EDT
The first days of school may still be weeks away, but there are already some worrisome test scores out there.  The administration at the Pottsgrove School District is trying to get out ahead of the coming sticker shock when PSSA test scores come back and September and show a marked drop below last year’s levels.  “It is going to be a shocker,” Pottsgrove Schools Superintendent Shellie Feola told The Mercury.  The drop, which is a statewide phenomena, is not because of a change in the students, or a change in the teachers, but because of a change in the test, taken in grades three through eight.  The PSSA, or Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, was changed for the most recent round of testing to make it more rigorous and to comply with the Pennsylvania Core standards, Pennsylvania’s version of the Common Core, adopted in 2013.

Philly schools see big shakeup at the top, but principal turnover recedes
Winds of change have been blowing through the Philadelphia School District.  Several top administrators have announced their departures in the past few months.  In May, Chief Financial Officer Matt Stanski said he was leaving to take a similar post in the Montgomery County, Maryland, school district.  In July, Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn resigned.  A few weeks later, Chief Academic Officer Donyall Dickey accepted a position as chief schools officer in Atlanta.  In late July, Grace Cannon, the head of the newly created Office of New School Models, stepped down.  Cannon had to take on additional responsibility during the 2014-15 school year after Saliyah Cruz left her position as founding principal of an innovative new high schoolless than two weeks into the year.  Despite the shakeup, Superintendent William Hite said the turnover will have little impact on operations.  "It does not change the work. The work continues," he said.

"The Methacton controversy has been a textbook example of how districts are increasingly flummoxed in managing tough decisions in an age when community members can quickly rally opposition through email campaigns and social media."
Textbook case: Activists fight Montco school plan
In an age of viral marketing, Methacton School District officials are learning a lesson about how a PR campaign can become toxic in a hurry.  In February, a news release heralding a unanimous board vote to consider closing an elementary school was written up and circulated by a school director.  But it was written before the meeting took place, as inquisitive parents and activists would later learn from a right-to-know request that unearthed other embarrassing documents. One mapped out a public-relations strategy, warning that an "emotional environment" required "some visible response."  The opposition already has forced the board to slow down a consolidation plan, postponing a scheduled spring vote on closing Audubon Elementary School until December. 

Do kids count for legislators?
INQUIRER EDITORIAL BOARD POSTED: Sunday, August 9, 2015, 1:08 AM
New data showing a slight retreat in how well Pennsylvania takes care of its children should have inspired legislators to speed up the funding of programs that serve the state's youth. Instead, their monthlong failure to pass a budget continues.  The latest state rankings by the Annie E. Casey Foundation dropped Pennsylvania from 16th to 17th in overall child well-being. New Jersey ranked eighth, just as it did last year, but Pennsylvania is going in the wrong direction, which doesn't bode well for the state's future.  The Casey Foundation's annual Kids Count Data Book provides a snapshot of how well each state is doing on several indicators of child well-being, including economics, education, and health. The report showed child poverty declining nationally for a second consecutive year, but it said the gulf between children who are in economically secure families and those who aren't is getting wider.

Partial agreement reached in Moon Area teacher’s contract
Post Gazette By Sonja Reis August 11, 2015 1:17 AM
Educators and administrators at Moon Area reached a partial agreement Monday settling financial issues, including salary and benefits.   The term of the five-year teacher’s contract agreement is retroactive to July 1 and is contingent upon reaching agreement on other items still under negotiation by an Oct. 30 deadline.  If the district and Moon Education Association fail to come to an agreement by this deadline, the contract will revert to a one-year contract set to expireJune 30, 2016. All items will need to be renegotiated if this would occur.  Under the new agreement, teacher salaries will increase incrementally between 3.52 and 3.9 percent annually. In addition, employee contributions to health care will gradually increase from 8.4 percent to 10 percent of the premium over the life of the contract.

Why this week's Perseid meteor shower will be especially awesome
York Dispatch By DEBORAH NETBURN Los Angeles Times (TNS) POSTED:   08/10/2015 08:30:07 PM EDT
The Perseid meteor shower maximum is almost upon us, and this year especially, you don't want to miss it.  The annual August meteor shower is one of the most prolific natural light shows of the year with up to 100 shooting stars streaking across the sky per hour at its peak.  It's also the brightest of the annual meteor showers. In 2013 NASA declared the Perseid meteor shower the "Fireball Champion" because it had the most shooting stars that shone at least as brightly as Venus in the night sky.  This year the meteor watching should be especially good because the shower peaks between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, coinciding with the new moon.  With no moon in the sky, even the dimmest meteors will be visible if you can get yourself far away from man-made light pollution.  "Moonlight is the bane of meteor watchers because bright moonlight washes out faint meteors," said Alan MacRobert, senior editor at Sky and Telescope. "It is nature's own light pollution."  The last time the Perseids peaked at the same time as the new moon was in 2007.

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

Slate of candidates for PSBA offices now available online
PSBA website July 31, 2015
The slate of candidates for 2016 PSBA officer and at-large representatives is now available online, including bios, photos and videos. According to recent PSBA Bylaws changes, each member school entity casts one vote per office. Voting will again take place online through a secure, third-party website -- Simply Voting. Voting will openAug. 17 and closes Sept. 28. One person from the school entity (usually the board secretary) is authorized to register the vote on behalf of the member school entity and each board will need to put on its agenda discussion and voting at one of its meetings in August or September. Each person authorized to register the school entity's votes has received an email on July 16 to verify the email address and confirm they are the person to register the vote on behalf of their school entity. 

Register Now for PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference Oct. 14-16, 2015 Hershey Lodge & Convention Center
Save the date for the professional development event of the year. Be inspired at more than four exciting venues and invest in professional development for top administrators and school board members. Online registration is live at:

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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