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School Directors go to Harrisburg

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School Board Directors go to Harrisburg

 

It’s not what you think. We are conservative school board members who banded together over similar new construction horror stories. The purpose of the trip was a meeting with Representative Hickernell, Chairman of the House Education Committee and Representative Garth Evertt.  The four of us came from across the state. Myself from Upper Perkiomen SD, Ron Snell, from Montoursville Area SD, Joy Beers, from Lehighton SD, and Tom Harley, from Indiana SD.

 

None of us were able to change the outcome of new construction in our districts although Upper Perkiomen did vote to terminate the project after it was started, but the administration did not send the termination letters to the contractors. Instead they put pressure on the weak link and managed to flip the vote two weeks later. The other three districts all have similar stories to UPSD. We are attempting to get legislation introduced into the House that would make it law that if a school district wants to do a major building project or renovation and the cost of the project is more than 30% to 50% (preferably 30%) of that districts yearly revenue then it would need to be put to a referendum.

Each of us explained to Chairman Hickernell that too many boards are putting their districts in massive debt taking money away from the purpose of the public education system. To educate our children. Money spent on debt service takes away from education. If a project is truly needed school boards would finally be forced to get community support rather than force the community to accept the inevitable.

PDE recommends renovation over building new. Yet too many districts (Not just UPSD) are shoving projects down the throats of their communities. Architects recommend new buildings and in UPSD case, the district didn’t even go out to bid. They gave the project to the same architect that did the feasibility study as if there isn’t a conflict of interest. I understand the other districts had similar stories.

UPSD put their project into overdrive after the election to spend as much money as fast as possible and the rush to start the project. The same happened at Montoursville SD before the board was sworn in. In their case, the board members had to do a write-in as the district waited to hold the Act 34 meeting until after the petition deadline. They did it on purpose hoping there wouldn’t be any election challenge. The Montoursville SD candidates ran write-in campaigns for all 5 board members. All 5 won by 72% to 75% of the vote, a landslide, and they still have a high school project they don’t need, nor can they afford. Unlike UPSD, their district actually did spend too much money to terminate the project before they had a chance to be sworn in. Just speaking with these other districts tells me there is some sort of training the administration goes through to manipulate the outcome.

The Indiana district shared that their architect told them that the roof of the building was in jeopardy of collapsing and it wasn’t safe to teach the children. It would cost $2 million to fix the roof and all the other items added up, the architect recommended a new building not realizing one of the new board members was also an architect. That conservative board member convinced the rest of the board to get a second opinion. In the end, the roof cost $27,000 (not $2 million) to repair and that the building was structurally sound. Sounds to me that the districts are ‘in bed’ with the architects, or the architects use fear to sell new projects. UPSD should have gotten a second opinion before spending all this money.  Maybe this piece of legislation could have a clause requiring the district to go out to bid.

We had a good meeting with Chairman Hickernell and we all did their best to summarize our experiences in the last 2 years. This legislation would be a win for the state as it wouldn’t cost them a dime. In fact, it would save money as the state won’t have to bail out irresponsible districts in the case of Erie SD. The state gave ESD an extra $14 million for their financial decisions. Chairman Hickernell indicated he wasn’t happy with that when it was pointed out to him that it was like giving a bonus for being irresponsible.

 

We would prefer a stand-alone bill but Chairman Hickernell stated the reality was that the union and PSBA, PASBO, and any other PAS organization would immediately be against the bill.  He recommended that we feel them out and invite them to a meeting to hash out the details.  (I don’t know that I agree with this, I’ll keep you posted of any further meetings.)

 

Then we talked about the PlanCon reform and that it already had sponsors so maybe they could write it into that bill. Something along the lines of forfeiting reimbursement if the project is higher than the threshold and the district doesn’t go out to bid.  I don’t like this idea as it’s not a requirement, it’s a loophole.  Not to mention there is no money for PlanCon so any smart business administrator will recommend moving forward with construction without a referendum and forgo the possibility of being reimbursed years later.  I don’t want smoke and mirrors, I want real reform.  I don’t want the districts to be following the ‘letter of the law’ and not the ‘spirit of the law’.  This legislation needs to come with no loopholes.

 

Please contact your Senator and Representative to inform them of the request for new legislation requiring school districts to go out to referendum (real local control) if the district plans on spending more than 30% of their budgeted revenues.

 

Raeann Hofkin

Upper Perkiomen School Board

Palm, PA

 

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