It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything and so I thought now was a good time to take a few minutes and give an update on what I think are the important issues facing the school district.
The final budget is due in June. It’s been three years since taxes were increased and it looks like there will be a tax increase this year. While noone wants to increase taxes, it appears to be a necessary evil at this time. If taxes were not increased, then according to the 2014-04-28-General Fund Budget Presentation presented at the budget forum a few weeks ago, the General Fund would be almost wiped out by the end of next school year. That may not be completely accurate as the budget is generally conservative and our expenses will most likely be less than what gets budgeted, but it is still a cause for concern. There are many factors that influence the budget, but the biggest problems continue to be increasing pension costs and insufficient state funding. If the current proposed final budget passes as it stands now, taxes will increase a little over 1 mil. To put it into perspective, if your house is valued at $100,000, your property taxes are likely to increase a little over $100.
I feel that class size is an issue, particularly in the elementary schools. Many of us kindergarten parents successfully lobbied for a fifth kindergarten class last year, citing safety and educational concerns with class sizes in the high 20’s. For the 2014-2015 school year, the school board has made the decision to go back to four kindergarten classes, and keep first grade at four classes. This means that next year first grade will see a dramatic increase in class sizes. As of last week, there are 108 students going into first grade, 55 at Bellevue and 53 at Avalon, meaning one can expect class sizes of 28 and 27 at Bellevue and 27 and 26 at Avalon. As I understand it, first grade typically grows in number from the previous year’s kindergarten, so those numbers may grow slightly. I feel that these class sizes are significantly too high, and that first grade should not have some of the largest class sizes in the district. Unfortunately with the budget looking the way it does, I don’t see the board approving adding an additional teacher (unless the parents voice there concerns stronger and louder than last time…and even so it would be tough).
Elementary School Musical Chairs
At the beginning of last year, there were several kindergarten students who lived in Bellevue but were told they needed to attend Avalon (due to class size). Weeks into the school year, those same students where moved back to Bellevue when a kindergarten class was added. Recently, some of the same students were notified that they must attend Avalon next year. Shuffling students back and forth between elementary schools isn’t good for anyone and I feel horrible when I hear parents talk about how this affects their kids. One solution to this problem is to adequately staff the schools so that class sizes aren’t maxed out, but that is not going to be the case for next year’s first grade class. I feel that if we are going to continue to face these challenges for the foreseeable future, then we need to start looking at moving away from two separate elementary schools, and splitting our two elementary buildings where one is for K-2 students and the other is 3-6. This isn’t something that is possible for the 2014-2015 school year, but I think we need to look at getting the ball rolling to make it happen for 2015-2016. There will be challenges with regards to implementation, but I feel the benefits far outweigh costs. I’m not going into details at the moment because there aren’t any. This is an idea that has been tossed around from time to time, and I think it is something we need to move on.
May 2014 Primary Election
The biggest issues we face (in my opinion) all stem from our budget. Pension costs and lack of state funding are hurting Northgate just as they are hurting every other district in Pennsylvania. At the Stand Up For Education event that I attended, the state legislators (that showed up) acknowledged these issues but all agreed that nothing would happen in the near future to help remedy them. We need people in office that care about education and have a good understanding of the issues. Being an election year, we have an opportunity to put someone in office that will fight to solve issues that are threatening to destroy our schools. To put it bluntly, if you care about education then VOTE FOR TOM MICHALOW for state representative. Not only is he a teacher in the district but he has actively served his community and he has a deep understanding of the issues affecting our schools.