Welcoming new members to the team

Posted November 15, 2011 by psba
Categories: New Board Members

Tags: , , , , , ,

State law provides for the election of five board members in this year’s municipal election, not counting individuals appointed to vacancies on the board. That means that you may see many new faces beginning in December as new board members are seated.

We’d like to encourage you, as veteran board members, to do everything that your team can to bring new members into the Team of Ten. It is especially important since new board members may be asked to adopt a preliminary budget just days after being sworn in. Here are some tips that you may remember:

The Team of Ten. Many board members come to their duties without any clear knowledge of the roles and responsibilities of the school board, of the individual board member and of the superintendent. Help your new members understand the board’s responsibility for advocacy, modeling responsible governance and leadership, setting and modifying policy, planning, monitoring the progress of plans, and engaging the community. Help your new members understand the superintendent’s responsibility for daily operations, for administrative regulations, for compliance with state and federal mandates, and reporting to the board. Share with them what you, a veteran board member, learned about the subtle dance of leadership.

Budgeting. New board members may not know of the details of the current year’s budget, and may not be familiar with the many deadlines that govern the board’s adoption of the 2012-13 budget. Provide new board members with a copy of the current year’s budget and as much information as is available about next year’s budget, including the deadlines that the board must meet.

Contracts. Share with your new board members a copy of the collective bargaining agreements between the district and its teachers and support staff, and Act 93 plan that the board has adopted for its administrators. Be available to answer any questions your newest colleagues may have about these important documents.

Policy. School boards adopt policies relating to numerous and varied issues, sometimes over a period of many years. Policies are the “local laws” for the district and should be made available immediately to new board members so that they understand the local laws in the district and board’s operating framework.

Minutes and board procedure. For school boards, minutes serve to show what action was taken by the board, not what everyone said. Familiarize new board members with the purpose minutes serve for your district. Additionally be sure that new board members know how the meeting agenda is created, what the Sunshine Law requires and what the Right-to-Know Law means for them as public officials. Help your new colleagues by providing them with a primer on these important aspects of board service.

Student success. What does NCLB mean? What is AYP? What are PSSAs? These questions are ones that boards have been discussing for years. Make sure that your newest members understand these important issues and how the strategic plan can help ensure the procedures are in place to ensure success for every child. It can also be important for veteran board members to learn from their new colleagues what “student success” means to them, so they can work together to ensure success for all their students.

Regardless of whether your board has one new member or seven, a vital part of integrating new members into the Team of Ten is having your local board orientation that covers many of the aforementioned issues and more. It is also a good time to have a board retreat so that everyone can understand the concerns and desires that motivate members, their hopes and fears for the future, and their visions of the ideal school district. And don’t forget PSBA’s two-day new board orientation program, Ready, Set, Govern!, available in 11 convenient locations across the state.

PSBA welcomes new board members to their service and urges them to ask questions freely and seek out information vigorously during their terms of office. Please remember – PSBA is here to serve you.

Report paints stark picture of PA school

Posted May 19, 2011 by psba
Categories: Uncategorized

Report paints stark picture of PA schools program/personnel cuts, threat to edu. progress made by our students | http://ow.ly/4YkKS #budget

Impact of Marcellus Shale, part 1

Posted September 17, 2010 by dsalter
Categories: Marcellus Shale

Legislative action on a Marcellus Shale severance tax is anticipated sometime next week (Sept. 20-24) and PSBA Governmental Affairs Specialist Lisa Schaefer has been talking to school districts where shale drilling is taking place. Lisa is chronicling the experiences of districts statewide, this one from the Jefferson Morgan School District.

The Jefferson Morgan School District has seen a wide variety of impacts from Marcellus Shale drilling, some of which cause great concern for the local community. The district has seen increased student enrollments this year, although the district has not explored the reasons for the increase. However, an estimated 50 to 70% of the Marcellus Shale workers in the area are from out of state. Many live in local hotels, while others reside in mobile homes and trailers.

One individual indicated there are currently about 20 wells in the district which produce 7.5 million cubic feet of natural gas each day. It’s anticipated that quadruple that many wells will be in place by the end of the Marcellus Shale drilling cycle. The district has around 40 acres it could lease, but is waiting for and evaluating offers.

Additional funding from a local share of severance tax would mean a lot to local property taxpayers in a district where the aid ratio for 2010-11 (a number from 0-1.0 that reflects a district’s market value, personal income and number of students) is .72. Higher aid ratios indicate lower relative local wealth (and thus a lower local tax base), and Jefferson Morgan’s aid ratio puts it in the top 15% of school districts in the state.

PSBA is hosting a free web conference on Tuesday, Sept. 28 at noon. Thomas B. Murphy, co-director of the Penn State Marcellus Shale Center for Outreach and Research will discuss what is the Marcellus Shale and how it might impact school districts. He will be joined on the call by PSBA staff who will provide a legislative update. (Registration and information is here: http://www.psba.org/workshops/web-conference/index.asp)

Make certain Marcellus Shale is not an opportunity lost

Posted August 25, 2010 by psba
Categories: Budgets, Marcellus Shale, Pensions

Tags: , , , , ,

The following is an editorial by PSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel

We’re not always fortunate to discover the kind of opportunity for which we are searching. Not everyone is lucky enough to unknowingly purchase a garage sale painting only to uncover a priceless document secreted away in the frame. Similarly, many can gaze intently at an opportunity, yet fail to act on the possibility because of fear or uncertainty.

Seventy-nine percent of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is perched atop Marcellus Shale, which hides beneath it valuable and vast natural gas reserves. Not only can this resource provide an alternative energy source, but it also can provide a big financial benefit for our state.

Under current law, natural gas is not expected to significantly increase the local tax base, and, consequently, is not expected to significantly increase tax revenues for local governments. Unfortunately, approximately 45 of the 50 school districts with the highest aid ratios – meaning with the lowest relative wealth in the state – are within the Marcellus Shale region. Of the 250 districts below the state’s median aid ratio, fully 207 are located in this region.

The expansion of drilling in the Marcellus Shale region will further compound the existing challenges in these districts, since the methodical exploration and extraction requires, among other things, specialized manpower. While the hope is that many Pennsylvanians will be trained for these jobs, initially this expertise is arriving from out of state. Research shows that other states where natural gas extraction has been going on for a while have seen tremendous population growth. Denton County, TX, for example, has witnessed a 133% explosion in its rural population. Other shale drilling states like Arkansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming have experienced similar growth.

A 2008 study from Penn State confirmed that Pennsylvania can expect similar population shifts. What are the consequences, given the expanse of the shale in Pennsylvania, of hundreds or thousands of new families arriving in rural communities that are unprepared for the influx?

Local school districts certainly will feel the strain. So what’s a local school board to do? Build new buildings or expand and renovate existing structures? Hire more teachers or ignore the preferred student-teacher ratio? Purchase more textbooks or have students share them? School districts almost certainly will be forced once again to turn to residential property taxpayers, or to eliminate programs, if alternative resources are not found.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association strongly advocates for passage of legislation to accomplish two primary objectives: provide a local share of severance tax revenue to the communities and the school districts immediately impacted by drilling and extraction, and dedicate a portion of the state’s share of severance tax revenue to mitigate the unfunded liability of the Public School Employees Retirement System. The state has been searching for a way to shore up the school pension system and, while this might not solve the entire problem, it could make a significant dent.

The governor and the General Assembly have agreed to have a plan in place by October 1 that outlines the taxing structure for Marcellus Shale. Let’s not waste this opportunity to bolster funding for public education and take a big bite out of the pension crisis.

Place Harrisburg Schools in Elected Board’s Hands

Posted May 28, 2010 by dsalter
Categories: Education Empowerment Act, governance, Uncategorized

The Patriot News editorial of May 26 regarding the Harrisburg School District is directly on point. It is difficult to imagine meaningful teaching and learning taking place in an environment where there has been so much turmoil, almost all of it caused by local politics and questions over who should run the school district.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association  believes the elected board in Harrisburg is ready to resume the reigns of the school district. Earlier this year, they took the initiative to contact PSBA for training on several facets of school district operation and several board members have attended additional seminars.

These are the actions of a board that is ready to govern. To be sure, they will face huge challenges come July 1, but they will have the support of those who elected them.  They also know that they will stand accountable for their actions at the ballot box in 2011 and 2013.

If the argument is that the district has not made meaningful improvements over the last ten years under the mayor’s control, what makes anyone think that it can suddenly turn around in the next three?  Let’s get back to the business of educating the city’s students and bring some sense of normalcy back to the Harrisburg School District. That can only be done by allowing the Education Empowerment Act to take its course and return the elected board to power on July 1.

‘Trimming the Fat’: A lesson on reducing costs for school districts

Posted May 14, 2010 by dsalter
Categories: Budgets, Mandates, Uncategorized


No matter who you talk to, it seems like everyone has an opinion on how school districts could reduce costs and cut spending. Just look at the comments section of any education article related to funding or spending and you’ll find a plethora of suggestions on how to reduce the costs of education. As it should be, taxpayers hold their school districts accountable for every penny that is spent. School board members have a fiduciary duty to each and every citizen of the district. However, most taxpayers are unaware just how inundated school districts have become with the various federal and state mandates that continue to be shoveled upon them. Instructing a school district to simply “trim the fat” is often easier said than done.

School districts, unlike private business or the Commonwealth, are required by law to fulfill hundreds of unfunded and underfunded mandates. Each program, employee, construction project, administrative duty or decision by the board of school directors comes with a specific set of requirements and mandates that must be met. That is not to say that every mandate placed on a school district is “bad” or even necessarily cost-prohibitive. However, the list of mandates that essentially tie a school district’s arms behind its back continues to grow while districts battle for adequate state funding. Every dollar required to pay for burdensome mandates is a dollar funneled away from the classroom and away from student achievement. School districts require flexibility in order to make the most out of every valuable education dollar.

Compounding this ever-growing list of mandates is the June 30, 2010, sunset date of the Education Empowerment Act (Act 16 of 2000). The mandate waiver program, as a provision of the Education Empowerment Act, will cease to exist on this date unless the General Assembly reauthorizes this important program.  Rep. Ron Miller (York) will introduce House Bill 2499 that reauthorizes, with some modifications, the mandate waiver program. The bill allows the governing body of a school entity to adopt a resolution to apply for a waiver of any provision of law, regulation, guideline or reimbursement approval process that does not inhibit compliance with Federal and state law, regulation, case law, provisions of law providing for public safety, and provisions of law relating to bribery or corruption.  The bill also streamlines the application process for waivers, including allowing a school entity to apply for multiple waivers with a single application and allowing consortia of school entities to apply for waivers using a single application.

Pennsylvania school districts will continue to face some of the most difficult financial issues in modern history. In the next few years, school districts must reckon with the pension crisis, state budgetary limitations and the loss of Federal stimulus funds. Taking away a school district’s flexibility in the face of these economic challenges only further hinders the ability to provide a quality education to the youth of Pennsylvania.

PA House makes symbolic budget gesture

Posted March 23, 2010 by dsalter
Categories: State Budget

Tags: ,

On the heels of an embarrassing budget impasse last year, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives today approved the proposed 2010-11 state budget 100 days ahead of the June 30 deadline, and more than two months earlier than that same body sent the budget to Senate colleagues a year ago.

The $29 billion spending plan goes to the state Senate, but that body is unlikely to take any action until May. A few months ago, PSBA was encouraged by the Governor’s budget proposal.

“Governor Rendell realizes that even in a bad economy, we cannot afford to underfund the education of our children,” said PSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel… “This budget treats education as it should be — an investment in the future of our children and the future of our state,” he added. The governor’s budget proposal would expend $5.8 billion on the Basic Education Subsidy, the largest line item in the education budget and one of the largest line items in the entire budget. This represents a $354 million, or 7.28% increase over the current state budget. This budget marks the third year of the governor’s commitment to a six-year plan to provide adequate resources for the state’s funding formula for public schools.

Can You Handle the Truth?

Posted March 6, 2010 by dsalter
Categories: Pensions


Perhaps one of the most effective dramatic scenes in a movie was Tom Cruise’s JAG lawyer character interrogating Jack Nicholson’s smartaleck colonel character in A Few Good Men. At one point in his testimony, Nicholson arrogantly asks Cruise if he wants the truth. When Cruise replies, “I want the truth,” Nicholson responds with one of the most memorable lines in movie history, “You can’t handle the truth!”

This scene reminds me of where we currently are in the debate about PSERS. Certain groups can’t handle the truth that it’s disingenuous to continue to condemn school boards for not having paid their fair share into the fund over the past 10 years as the primary culprit for why the fund faces the crisis previously foretold. Actuaries, experts in this number-crunching game, have stated that while employers (school boards and the state) have not paid their fair share over the past decade, that is a tiny piece to the underfunded puzzle, and most definitely not the only root cause of the dilemma.

The time to point fingers and assign blame is over. Solutions need to be worked out now or the pension tidal wave will wash over taxpayers and school districts, leaving them angry and frustrated. We need to look forward not back.

The Governor recently included his thoughts on the pension issue in his budget address; however, that solution is short-sighted in that it only pushes the problem down the road for someone else to solve. If the Governor’s solution were combined with a new funding source and addressed the benefit levels provided by the system, then we might have something.

Interesting news item of the week, as we continue to see news of school districts struggling to put together next year’s budget, Gary L. Otto, the superintendent of Daniel Boone Area School District, announced he would forgo his salary increase for 2010-11. Some in his community are accusing him of doing this with ulterior motives, but you can’t ignore the fact that he’s passing up a pretty decent raise in a bad economy.

Finally, Pennsylvania is one of 16 finalists for the Race-to-the-Top funds. On Thursday, the U.S. Dept. of Education announced the 16 states that will now send delegations to Washington in mid-March to make presentations in an effort to win a grant. (View the press release on Ed.gov here  http://is.gd/9P4FO  )

Rising taxes should help understanding

Posted January 25, 2010 by dsalter
Categories: Pensions


Nothing short-circuits a good idea like a lack of understanding. Most folks understand the basic concept of a pension: an employee being rewarded for good work and years of service with a financial benefit once the employee retires from the world of the employed. The most common contemporary form of a pension is structured in a way that the employee contributes a portion of his/her income into a fund, possibly with the employer matching some percentage of the employee’s contribution. The employee selects the fund(s) and manner in which he/she will invest that money in order to maximize the investment and thereby provide for themselves once retired. The responsibility of the contribution as well as the manner in which that contribution is invested lies with the employee. Your retirement is not guaranteed, but dependent upon wise investment decisions and frequent monitoring of those investments to ensure that you can retire in the manner in which you’d hoped.

The way that the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) is structured, contributions are made by school employees and their employers (school districts and the commonwealth). Participation is mandatory and the fund is managed my an independent third party. Here’s the hard part. The retirement benefit for school employees is guaranteed, based upon a formula that takes into account years of service, a multiplier and average salaries. Regardless of how the stock market performs, the retired school employee is guaranteed a specific dollar amount for the remainder of his or her days.

Right now, there are news stories circulating almost daily about school districts throughout Pennsylvania who are beginning to tackle next year’s budget, and are staring down an enormous increase in their contribution to the PSERS fund. The State College Area School District, for example, expects to pay approximately $1.4 million into PSERS in the coming year. The business manager projects that bill to increase to $12.2 million in 2016-17.

Penns Valley School District raised its real estate tax .99% last year, but is looking at a 5.58% increase this year, nearly $100 more for homeowners assessed at the district average. Bellefonte is looking at adding $117 to the average tax bill next year. The Riverside School District’s current PSERS obligation is approximately $478,000, but the business manager expects that to rise to $3.1 million in 2012.

How are the taxpayers going to be able to come up with the ever-increasing tax bills to pay for this flawed system?

The Truth shouldn’t be Half

Posted January 14, 2010 by dsalter
Categories: Pensions


As with any complex problem, there usually exists more than one reason contributing to the condition in which that situation evolves. Take the PSERS situation in which taxpayers, school boards and school employees now find themselves engaged. If solutions, both short- and long-term are not soon enacted by the state legislature, both school boards and taxpayers will face a financial burden not previously experienced nor planned for.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association, on Dec. 16, had its legislative proposal for a hybrid pension plan adopted by state Rep. Glenn Grell (R-Cumberland) and state Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming). The details of the proposal can be found on the PSBA website along with an abundance of information about PSERS.

There are some who want to make this crisis a political football, and have devised as strategy the simple political ploy of telling half-truths. So while the strategy can’t be termed lying, it’s not telling the truth, either.

There is one group that wants everyone to believe that the PSERS crisis has been caused by one action: the failure of  employers (school districts and the state) to contribute their fair share to the pension fund. PSBA has acknowledged that legislative action taken in 2001-03 has contributed to the current dilemma. The association has stated this publicly and in supporting documents. What the other group fails to include in its argument, however, is the fact that the teachers’ union bargained for and received added benefits as part of that legislation. The union received an increased multiplier in the formula to determine a retiring teacher’s final pension, a retroactive COLA for annuitants and a reduced vesting option from 10 years to five years. Additionally, there is never any mention of the fact that for the 40 years earlier, the employer contribution either matched or greatly exceeded the contribution of the employees to the fund. Those benefits lobbied for and received have also contributed to the PSERS scenario, as well as down investment markets in both FY 2001-03 and 2008-09.

Just as there usually is not one cause for a problem, there also can be more than one solution. So let’s work together to develop a comprehensive pension fix that saves school boards and taxpayers from having to make impossible decisions, while also honoring our school employees.