Sunday, September 4, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup Sept 4: It's harder to steal $8M when there are 9 pairs of elected eyes approving check registers in public meetings…

Daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 3900 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, Governor's staff, current/former PA Secretaries of Education, Wolf education transition team members, Superintendents, PTO/PTA officers, parent advocates, teacher leaders, business leaders, faith-based organizations, labor organizations, education professors, members of the press and a broad array of P-16 regulatory agencies, professional associations and education advocacy organizations via emails, website, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn

These daily emails are archived and searchable at
Follow us on Twitter at @lfeinberg

Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup September 4, 2016:
It's harder to steal $8 million when there are 9 pairs of elected eyes approving check registers in public meetings…

Southeastern PA Regional 2016 Legislative Roundtable: William Tennent High School (Bucks Co.) SEP 22, 2016 • 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Auditor General DePasquale slated to be Keynote Speaker
School Leaders from Northampton, Lehigh, Bucks, Montco, Chesco, Delco and Philadelphia Counties encouraged to attend.

Philadelphia City Council

Blogger comment: In Dec 2011 Stephanie Saul .@nytimes nailed this with a focus on PA:
Reprise Dec 2011: Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools
New York Times By STEPHANIE SAULDEC. 12, 2011
By almost every educational measure, the Agora Cyber Charter School is failing.
Nearly 60 percent of its students are behind grade level in math. Nearly 50 percent trail in reading. A third do not graduate on time. And hundreds of children, from kindergartners to seniors, withdraw within months after they enroll.  By Wall Street standards, though, Agora is a remarkable success that has helped enrich K12 Inc., the publicly traded company that manages the school. And the entire enterprise is paid for by taxpayers.  Agora is one of the largest in a portfolio of similar public schools across the country run by K12. Eight other for-profit companies also run online public elementary and high schools, enrolling a large chunk of the more than 200,000 full-time cyberpupils in the United States.  The pupils work from their homes, in some cases hundreds of miles from their teachers. There is no cafeteria, no gym and no playground. Teachers communicate with students by phone or in simulated classrooms on the Web. But while the notion of an online school evokes cutting-edge methods, much of the work is completed the old-fashioned way, with a pencil and paper while seated at a desk.  Kids mean money. Agora is expecting income of $72 million this school year, accounting for more than 10 percent of the total anticipated revenues of K12, the biggest player in the online-school business. The second-largest, Connections Education, with revenues estimated at $190 million, was bought this year by the education and publishing giant Pearson for $400 million.

@GovernorTomWolf - Don’t Want To Beat Them?  Join Them!
PCCY website September 2, 2016
As a candidate he railed against inadequate funding for Pennsylvania schools, making his top priority the same as the top priority of voters. As Governor, Tom Wolf may be overlooking a vital tool that could help him achieve his goals.  In addition to inheriting PA’s longstanding public education quagmire from the previous administration, Gov. Wolf also received a lawsuit from school districts (including William Penn District) and families that also names the Legislature for failing to provide a “thorough and efficient” education system. It originally named Gov. Corbett, but that’s what happens when you unseat an incumbent.  The suit had been dismissed by the Commonwealth Court in April 2015 based on precedent that the courts do not have a role in school funding. As more and more parties rallied behind the suit, the plaintiffs pressed on, asserting the case was worth a listen. This summer, the state Supreme Court agreed to hear their appeal and set a date and venue to hear the first phase of oral arguments: September 13, Philadelphia.

“The community school concept is to integrate social, health, family support, and other services into schools. The coordinators are the heartbeat of the city's plan. They are paid an average $50,000 to $60,000 a year by the city and tasked with determining what the community could benefit from and finding partners to make it happen.”
City begins organizing community schools
Inquirer by Julia Terruso, STAFF WRITER 215-854-5506 @juliaterruso Updated: SEPTEMBER 4, 2016 — 7:33 AM EDT
Richard Washington already spends much of his time at James Logan Elementary School in North Philadelphia.  The 43-year-old community organizer helps run youth basketball, chess club, and choir, and he volunteers in the cafeteria, at recess, and as a crossing guard.  Now he'll go from part-time volunteer to full-time employee. Logan is one of nine schools selected to adopt a Community School model, and Washington will coordinate its transition.  "Logan's kind of a hidden secret. We're a small school and it's because of support from the community . . . that we find ways to get the resources the district has not been able to provide with budget cuts," Washington said. "Now I get to expand upon that. One of the things that's most exciting is the opportunity to build more partnerships with La Salle, Einstein, some of the local businesses."

“According to data provided by the state Department of Education, 6,215 people were newly certified in 2014-15 compared to 16,361 in 2012-13. Local superintendents and state officials say layoffs and the pressure of high stakes testing as well as public bashing of teachers have soured many college students on education careers.”
Schools grapple with substitute teacher shortage
Jacqueline Palochko Contact Reporter Of The Morning Cal September2, 2016
With fewer college students becoming teachers, demand for subs exceeds supply
Broughal Middle School Principal Rick Amato found himself in front of a classroom 30 times last school year.  It wasn't that the former sixth-grade teacher missed giving lessons on fractions and decimals. It was because he was forced to pick up the slack when substitutes were hard to find at his South Bethlehem school, which logged nearly 700 teacher absences in 2015-16.  His school wasn't alone. A Morning Call analysis found that the Lehigh Valley's three city districts struggled last year to find substitutes, especially for their poorest schools. District officials said the substitute shortage is fueled by a precipitous drop in the number of people graduating with teaching degrees — fresh recruits who typically substitute to break into the field.

Blogger comment: It's harder to steal $8 million when there are 9 pairs of elected eyes approving check registers in public meetings….
Trombetta accountant to plead guilty
By Torsten Ove / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette September 2, 2016 4:34 PM
The accountant for Nicholas Trombetta, the convicted founder of Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in Beaver County, has indicated he will plead guilty in the same case that ensnared Trombetta.  The move was expected since Trombetta entered a guilty plea last month.  Neal Prence, of Koppel in Beaver County, filed notice today in U.S. District Court saying he will enter a plea on Sept. 19 before U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti.  Trombetta had been facing trial for three years on multiple counts of mail fraud, tax conspiracy and filing a false tax return in relation to the diversion of some $8 million from the cyber school for his own use.  Mr. Prence is accused of helping him in the tax conspiracy. The two were set to go on trial together last month, but Trombetta pleaded to tax conspiracy on Aug. 24.

Former accountant accused in tax conspiracy involving Pa. cyber school founder to plead guilty
Trib Live BY BRIAN BOWLING  | Friday, Sept. 2, 2016, 4:51 p.m.
The accountant for former cyber charter school CEO Nick Trombetta is scheduled to plead guilty to helping him divert about $8 million in public money, according to court records filed Friday.  Neal Prence of Koppel was scheduled to stand trial Sept. 19 on charges of aiding Trombetta in the tax conspiracy. U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti issued an order Friday changing the trial to a plea hearing.  Prence has agreed to plead to the tax conspiracy charge and is facing a recommended sentence of about 18 months, said his lawyer, Stanton Levenson. They plan to ask for leniency when Prence is sentenced, he said.  Trombetta pleaded guilty Aug. 24 to diverting about $8 million in public money from the Beaver County-based Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School to several other businesses he created or controlled. He is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 20 and faces up to five years in prison.  The investigation became public in July 2012 when agents searched Trombetta's office at the school. He resigned his post a month earlier.
Trombetta's sister, Elaine Trombetta Neil, pleaded guilty in October 2013 to filing a false tax return on her brother's behalf. She is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 9.

Here's a few things you need to know about cyber-charter schools: Michael Conti
PennLive Op-Ed  By Michael Conti on September 02, 2016 at 12:30 PM, updated September 02, 2016 at 7:46 PM
In response to a recent PennLive opinion piece by Lawrence Feinberg, As students return to class, some recommendations to improve cyber-charter schools; we feel it absolutely necessary that we reply, as Agora was the only one of the Pennsylvania's 13 cyber charter schools that was mentioned specifically in this piece.  First, it should be known that Agora admits it has endured a tumultuous year, however, our administration and Board have always done what is in the best interest of our students. In 2015, Agora severed its management relationship with K12 to become an independently managed school.  When we open our virtual doors on September 6, our primary relationship with K12 will be limited and they will serve as a provider of curriculum and support services.

Auditor General DePasquale Says PDE Charter School Payment Appeal Process Seriously Flawed, Favors Charter Schools Over School Districts
Blames faulty Charter School Law combined with PDE’s lack of consistent policies, oversight 
HARRISBURG (Aug. 25, 2016) – Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today said his latest audit shows that a faulty Charter School Law and the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s (PDE) protracted, inconsistent, confusing, and conflicting process for handling charter school payment challenges may unfairly favor charter schools over school districts.  Under the Charter School Law, charter schools receive funding from school districts based on a formula for both non-special education and special education students. If the school district fails to make a monthly payment to a charter school, the charter school sends an invoice to PDE and the department directly pays the charter school and deducts the amount from the school district’s state subsidy.    School districts may object for a variety of reasons, including questioning charges for students not residing in the school district or the number of days that the charter school claims to have educated a student. 

Restore state funding to Pennsylvania’s schools
Mary Dupuis and Cynthia Hall are members of the Education Policy Committee of the AAUW State College Branch.
It was a relief to see the state’s budget pass the House of Representatives in July. At first glance, K-12 education appears to have fared well with an additional $200 million in state funding. But the outlook for education isn’t quite as rosy as it may appear. Mandated expenses including pensions, health benefits, special education and charter school payments are increasing at rates that far exceed the additional $200 million increase. School districts across the state, unable to keep pace with these increases, have resorted to reducing or eliminating programming or raising taxes.  Pennsylvania’s school districts have lost approximately 20,000 jobs in an attempt to keep pace with these mandated expenses. A report by Temple University’s Center on Regional Politics found that by 2018, “60 percent of the districts in the state will face severe and prolonged program and staff reductions to balance their budgets.” Smaller districts have reported increases in both elementary and secondary class sizes, making it challenging, at best, to deliver adequate attention to the students most in need.

Guest Column: It’s time to fix education funding in Pa.
Delco Times By Alex Charlton, Times Guest Columnist POSTED: 09/02/16, 8:10 PM EDT
Alex Charlton of Springfield is the Republican candidate for state representative in the 165th Legislative District.
The problem of ever-increasing school property taxes is a major challenge for many residents in our community. The property tax burden puts pressure on hard-working families struggling to raise their children and balance their household budgets. Seniors on fixed incomes struggle to make ends meet while paying growing property tax bills. Far too often escalating property taxes force local seniors from their longtime homes.  The property tax issue, however, is not a universal problem across the state. In fact, in many counties in central and western Pennsylvania, school property taxes are far lower than in communities throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania. Here in Delaware County, residents pay roughly 2 percent of their home value in property taxes. In many counties in western Pennsylvania, that tax rate is typically between 1 and 1.5 percent.
The reason is a fundamentally flawed formula used by the state to calculate the amount of state funding individual school districts receive. That calculation contains what has been called a “hold harmless” provision, adopted in 1991, that guarantees school districts will receive at a minimum the same amount of state funding for education as they did the prior year.

District and religious leaders tout attendance increase
The notebook by Darryl Murphy September 2, 2016 — 1:40pm
Superintendent William Hite and local religious leaders said Thursday that a concerted effort by the School District and community members helped school attendance to increase by 3 percent last year.   According to Hite, 4,000 more children are attending school at least 95 percent of the time, adding 20,000 days to school attendance and decreasing chronic absence by 10 percent.  Research shows that students who are chronically absent, defined as missing 10 percent of school days, are at risk for literacy problems and academic difficulties, which can lead to dropping out of school in later years.  “Nothing is more important than children attending school,” Hite said. “When children attend school, literacy rates increase and more children are ready for a career or college.”  The District collaborated with Harvard University during the 2014-15 school year to create a program to increase attendance. Through the program, parents were sent letters informing them of their child’s attendance in comparison with their classmates' attendance, so parents could gauge the severity of their child’s absenteeism.

Lower Merion School District Appeals Ruling that Overturned 2016-2017 Tax Hike
NBC10 By Brian X. McCrone September 1, 2016
Lower Merion School District is appealing a judge's order to rescind the district's 2016-2017 tax increase.  The Lower Merion School District filed an appeal Wednesday to a judge's ruling earlier this week that the district's tax increase is unlawful and must be rescinded as soon as possible.  The appeal seemed a foregone conclusion after the Monday ruling by Common Pleas Judge Joseph Smyth when the schools superintendent and the school board president issued a joint statement declaring the district "will vigorously defend its right - and the right of elected school boards across Pennsylvania - to approve budgets specific to the unique educational needs of local communities."  The tax increase rejected by Smyth was a 4.4 percent increase, which the judge ruled was larger than a state-mandated cap of 2.4 percent. The district, however, argued that the state Department of Education granted Lower Merion a waiver allowing for the higher increase.

AS WE SEE IT: Standing up for quality public education in PA.
Main Line Media Letter By Robert Copeland and Robin Vann Lynch Published: Thursday, September 01, 2016
Robert Copeland is superintendent of the Lower Merion School District.
Dr. Robin Vann Lynch is president, LMSD Board of School Directors

We are grateful for the rapid and resounding support of Lower Merion and Narberth citizens in our appeal of an unprecedented – and we respectfully believe legally incorrect - trial court order that overrules the decision-making authority of our elected school board in enacting budget increases that support LMSD’s high-quality educational programs.  In developing the 2016-17 budget, the District acted as it always does: transparently, respectfully and lawfully to provide a budgetary framework that supports the highest-quality education to every student in our school district. Clearly, our belief in the power and necessity of high quality public education, and the manner by which we manage our school district, has countless supporters.

How to drive your Pa. school board nuts (and maybe trim your property taxes)
Inquirer by Joseph N. DiStefano, Staff Writer  @PhillyJoeD Updated: SEPTEMBER 2, 2016 — 3:57 PM EDT
Since a Montgomery County court slapped Lower Merion School District for exaggerating expenses, lowballing revenue, and thereby boosting property taxes excessively without a public vote (read Judge Joseph Smyth's order here; the district has appealed; more on Arthur Wolk, the lawyer-citizen who complained), maybe it's time to take another look at the Pennsylvania school budget surplus database set up by the government-critical Commonwealth Foundation earlier this year, and see if your local district is hoarding more cash than Lower Merion.  Lower Merion's reserves-to-budget ratio was high, at 24.5%. Radnor, Tredyffrin/Easttown, Abington, Avon Grove, Springfield (Montco) and Penn-Delco all had bigger cash piles, according to Commonwealth's PA School District Fund Balances for 2014-15 here.

Kipp Dawson - From Coal Mine to Classroom
YouTube The Brainwaves Video Anthology Published on Sep 2, 2016 Video runtime: 6:22
At age 71, Kipp Dawson is currently teaching middle school English in Pittsburgh, PA. Before that she spent more than a decade as a coal miner, yes you heard correctly, a coal miner. She is a union leader, civil rights activist, political activist, teacher advocate and a fighter for social justice. She is also a leader in the Save Our Schools movement. To quote Diane Ravitch, "This is one tough lady."

“I am an extremist on this subject. It's infuriating to know that a handful of party bosses have the power to ensure that incumbent lawmakers are protected from competitive elections and are almost entirely unaccountable to voters, thanks to district lines drawn to gather more voters from their own parties or to punish legislators who won't vote the way they're told.  As we grow closer to another census, after which election lines are redrawn again for the next 10 years, time is growing short to do anything about it until 2030.”
Gerrymandering is real source of voter fraud
Bill White Contact Reporter Of The Morning Call September 3, 2016
Support legislative efforts to end Pennsylvania gerrymandering.
When former state Rep. Sara Steelman, D-Indiana and Cambria, called a news conference 24 years ago to announce a bill designed to end legislative and congressional gerrymandering in Pennsylvania, the only person who showed up was Common Cause of Pennsylvania Executive Director Barry Kauffman.  "I was a little bit depressed about that," she told me a couple of years later when I wrote about redistricting reform for the first time.  Steelman is long gone from the state Legislature, and efforts by her and other reform-minded legislators have fizzled over and over in the face of party leaders who like the system just the way it is because it lets politicians choose their voters instead of the other way around. I've done what I could to support them over the years, with minimal success.  In fact, when I ranted and raved five years ago about the way vicious legislative gerrymanderers severed almost half of Northampton County from the 15th Congressional District and extended it westward across five counties to the shores of the Susquehanna — mostly in the service of U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, who needed more Republicans in his 11th District, but also helping Charlie Dent — the late Republican fat cat Charlie Snelling wrote an outraged letter to the editor that concluded, "Shame on you, Bill White, for being an extremist!"

Blogger comment: what if .@TeachForAmerica hired veteran experienced teachers using .@WaltonFamilyFdn funding to mentor newer teachers in high poverty schools?
Where Are The Veteran Charter School Teachers?
Those best-suited to teach need a sustainable pathway to stay in the classroom.
Teach for America website By Blair Mishleau Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Growing up, suppertime was my student teaching. I learned what an IEP* was as an 8-year-old, delved into differentiated instruction** as a middle-schooler, and by high school, knew what a manifestation meeting*** was.  This jargon, and endless knowledge, came from my mom. She’s a career teacher. Years before I even knew what Teach For America was, she provided me with (often unsolicited) guidance about education.  What I wouldn’t do to have her at my school today. I’m at my second charter school in one year (my first laid me off), and in both schools, I see very few educators with anywhere near the 15 years of teaching experience that my mom has. With these years comes the type of knowledge that only time can provide.

“His movement is credited with building thousands of educational institutions worldwide, including more than 100 in the U.S., where it has capitalized on growing public support for taxpayer-funded charter schools.”
U.S. Schools Caught in Turkey’s Crackdown After Attempted Coup
Bloomberg Mrket News by Bradley Joseph Saacks SaacksAttack September 2, 2016 — 12:00 AM EDT
The botched July coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government is putting renewed scrutiny on a global network of schools allegedly linked to an Islamic scholar living in rural Pennsylvania.  As Erdogan’s government continues its domestic crackdown in the wake of the failed putsch -- detaining or firing thousands of soldiers, teachers, judges and business leaders -- it has ramped up pressure on the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a 75-year-old preacher once allied with the Turkish leader and now blamed by his regime as the coup’s mastermind.  Part of that campaign involves persuading the U.S. to investigate or close schools Turkey says are tied to the cleric. A Turkish delegation visited Washington in August to reiterate their call for Gulen’s extradition and stronger efforts to clamp down on his support network, calling him a terrorist. That pressure continued when Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Turkey to meet Erdogan last week. Gulen rejects the accusations and publicly opposed the coup.

Explaining The Love Affair Between Hedge Funders and Charters
Diane Ravitch’s Blog By dianeravitch September 3, 2016 //
Most people who are active in school board elections never heard of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), know nothing of the duplicity of Stand for Children, and are unaware of the privatization agenda of corporate reformers.  This article by Justin Miller in the American Prospect seeks to demystify the strange confluence between hedge fund managers and the charter school movement.  Miller tells the story of the transformation of school board elections, once a sleepy affair, now attracting large sums of money from out of district and out of state organizations. The key organization in the race to control local school boards is Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), the hedge fund managers’ group.

School Funding Proposal in Kansas Will End Districts' Power to Levy Taxes
Education Week District Dossier Blog By Denisa R. Superville on September 1, 2016 2:46 PM
About 30 Kansas administrators have put forward a proposal that would end local school districts' authority to levy taxes for schools. Instead, the state would be empowered to set a statewide tax for education and distribute the money to the districts, according to the Associated Press.  The administrators' proposal came at a gathering of educators on Wednesday, shortly before Republican Gov. Sam Brownback asked Kansans to send him their ideas on a new school funding formula.   "Building a new school funding system is a very difficult task," the Kansas City Star quoted Brownback as saying.  "It needs a broad scale of input to it. We're trying to get that process started well ahead of the legislative session."  Kansas school funding has been something of a political football—the subject of legal challenges and attempted fixes—in the last few years. Oral arguments are expected to begin this month in one of those school funding cases, Gannon v. State, which focuses on whether the state provides "adequate" funds to schools.  The school administrators floated their plan because the state legislature is expected to come up with a new way to fund K-12 education next year.
But the school administrators' proposal is just that: a proposal.

The Sixth Annual Arts and Education Symposium – October 27, 2016
The 2016 Arts and Education Symposium will be held on October 27 at the Radisson Hotel Harrisburg Convention Center.  Sponsored by the Pennsylvania Arts Education network and EPLC, the Symposium is a Unique Networking and Learning Opportunity for:
·         Arts Educators
·         School Leaders
·         Artists
·         Arts and Culture Community Leaders
·         Arts-related Business Leaders
·         Arts Education Faculty and Administrators in Higher Education
·         Advocates
·         State and Local Policy Leaders
Act 48 Credit is available.
Program and registration information are available here.

Southeastern PA Regional 2016 Legislative Roundtable: William Tennent High School (Bucks Co.) SEP 22, 2016 • 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
PSBA website August 25, 2016
Take a more active role in public education advocacy by joining our Legislative Roundtable
This is your opportunity for a seat at the table (literally) with fellow public education advocates to take an active role in educating each other and policymakers.  Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, along with regional legislators, will be in attendance to work with you to support public education in Pennsylvania.  Use the form below to send your registration information!

2016 National Anthem Sing-A-Long - September 9th
American Public Education Foundation Website 
The Star-Spangled Banner will be sung by school children nationwide on Friday, September 9, 2016 at 10:00am PST and 1:00pm EST. Students will learn about the words and meaning of the flag and sing the first stanza. This will be the third annual simultaneous sing-a-long event created by the APEF-9/12 Generation Project. The project aims to bring students together – as the world came together – on September 12, 2001.

PA Supreme Court sets Sept. 13 argument date for fair education funding lawsuit in Philly
Thorough and Efficient Blog JUNE 16, 2016 BARBGRIMALDI LEAVE A COMMENT

Registration for the PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference Oct. 13-15 is now open
The conference is your opportunity to learn, network and be inspired by peers and experts.
TO REGISTER: See   (you must be logged in to the Members Area to register). You can read more on How to Register for a PSBA Event here.   CONFERENCE WEBSITE: For all other program details, schedules, exhibits, etc., see the conference

REGISTER NOW for the 2016 PA Principals Association State Conference, October 30 - November 1, at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel in State College.
The Early Bird Discount Deadline has been Extended to Wednesday, August 31, 2016!
PA Principals Association website Tuesday, August 2, 2016 10:43 AM
To receive the Early Bird Discount, you must be registered by August 31, 2016:
Members: $300  Non-Members: $400
Featuring Three National Keynote Speakers: Eric Sheninger, Jill Jackson & Salome Thomas-EL

PSBA Officer Elections Aug. 15-Oct. 3, 2016: Slate of Candidates
PSBA members seeking election to office for the association were required to submit a nomination form no later than April 30, 2016, to be considered. All candidates who properly completed applications by the deadline are included on the slate of candidates below. In addition, the Leadership Development Committee met on June 24 at PSBA headquarters in Mechanicsburg to interview candidates. According to bylaws, the Leadership Development Committee may determine candidates highly qualified for the office they seek. This is noted next to each person’s name with an asterisk (*).  Each school entity will have one vote for each officer. This will require boards of the various school entities to come to a consensus on each candidate and cast their vote electronically during the open voting period (Aug. 15-Oct. 3, 2016). Voting will be accomplished through a secure third-party, web-based voting site that will require a password login. One person from each member school entity will be authorized as the official person to cast the vote on behalf of his or her school entity. In the case of school districts, it will be the board secretary who will cast votes on behalf of the school board.
Special note: Boards should be sure to include discussion and voting on candidates to its agenda during one of its meetings in September.

1 comment:

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.