Feb 13, 2013 School Board Meeting
Union President Speaks; DCIU Makes Proposal to Manage Healthcare Costs; Superintendent Announces Resignation; Vote on Charter School Application
Two speakers were on the agenda for the February 12, 2013 School Board Work Session. UDSD Board of School Directors President Maureen Carey introduced the first speaker, Anna Schneider, president of the Upper Darby Education Association, UDEA. (Editor’s note: UDEA does not have a new contract at this time and members continue to work under the terms of the contract that expired in August 2012.)
Schneider thanked Superintendent Louis DeVlieger, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Daniel McGarry, Director of Special Education Mary Cedrone, and Director of Business Management Edward Smith for their recent testimony in Harrisburg. (A video of their presentation is available via the District website). Schneider also shared that UDEA has placed more than 100 lawn signs throughout the District opposing charter schools and has distributed more than 3,000 fliers.
Delco Public Schools Healthcare Trust
The next scheduled speaker was Dr. Larry O’Shea, Executive Director of the Delaware County Intermediate Unit (DCIU), who was also introduced by President Carey. (The DCIU provides regional educational services to UDSD, as well as the other 14 public school districts in Delaware County, and 58 private and parochial schools, according to the DCIU website www.dciu.org) Dr. O’Shea made a presentation on the proposed Delaware County Public School Healthcare Trust. Dr. O’Shea introduced the Trust plan, which is to move the districts to a Self-Insured Trust with the goals of shared governance, then transition to a self-insured funding approach to manage costs through effective claim management, and then to streamline plan offerings. Designed to increase wellness and provide cost savings for districts, the first step in the process is that School Districts and Collective Bargaining units would sign a Memo of Understanding to agree to trust agreement. Dr. O’Shea mentioned the Trust would yield savings by eliminating premium taxes (typically two to three percent of overall premium), and eliminating the risk charge (typically one to two percent of the premium). The plan would still be provided by “Blue Cross/Blue Shield,” but administered by the Trust. A representative from Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc., assisted with the presentation. (Additional details about the proposal are available via links on the right hand side of the DCIU website homepage.)
Director of Business Management for UDSD, Ed Smith, thanked the men for their presentation. He stated that the intent is for UDSD Board to consider a resolution in March in order for Trust to go forward. The Trust requires minimum of 5,000 contracts to be put in place. From a business manager perspective, there are advantages to the plan, said Smith, and said that he endorses the move. Smith noted that in January Preliminary Budget presentation, he used four percent as the forecast increase in medical costs, and not the 7 percent forecast increase referenced in the presentation, because he was trying to give the most accurate forecast when estimating the funding shortfall, which is currently $9.7 million, and four percent is more accurate.
School Board Director Rose Conley asked if self-insured meant that members would no longer have Blue Cross/Blue Shield? Smith noted Blue Cross/Blue Shield would still be the provider but that the Trust would pay the bills up to certain Stop Loss. (Ed. Note: According to the DCIU document of Frequently Asked Questions, “Stop Loss insurance (also known as reinsurance) can be purchased to limit the Trust’s exposure to claims above a certain threshold amount.” During the presentation, the Stop Loss threshold was proposed to be $500,000. That would mean that the Trust would be liable for claims up to $500,000 arising from a single claim; costs beyond that would be covered by the Trust’s reinsurance.) Conley also asked if the Trust sets the parameters of what is insurable or not? Smith said that the level of benefits would remain the same. (The DCIU website offers additional information).
Mrs. Carey announced that there was a closed session of the Board between 6:15 p.m. and 7:27 p.m. to discuss Personnel and Litigation matters.
Regular Business Meeting
The following is an overview of the reports presented:
- Minutes of the January Meeting and the January 30th Budget presentation were approved. Motioned by Conley; no discussion; unanimous. (Ed. note: Director William Gaul was absent.)
- Report of the Secretary; Motion by Conley, no discussion, approved unanimously.
- Report of the Treasurer; Motion by Conley, no discussion, approved unanimously.
- Report of the Superintendent
Superintendent DeVlieger asked those in attendance to walk with him to the Performing Arts Center to see the Upper Darby HS Steppers Team. Upon returning to the Board room, DeVlieger presented the student captain of Steppers with a “Superintendent’s Achievement Award.”
Superintendent DeVlieger also presented the following information:
- UDHS Cheerleaders were in Disney at Nationals. During the meeting, he received a report that the JV Cheerleaders achieved a 4th place ranking. Varsity Cheerleaders did the best a team has ever done, with a placement of 3rd.
- An 8th grader at DHMS was also presented with a “Superintendent’s Achievement Award” for being a semi-finalist in the Rand McNally “Dear Mr. President” contest which awards the finalist $5,000 and the finalist’s school $5,000, as well. The speech, which the student read at the meeting, centered on the negative impact of the Federal mandate No Child Left Behind, the unfair funding, and the impact of cutting related arts.
- A BHMS student was also presented with a “Superintendent’s Achievement Award” for turning in a lost pocketbook and iPhone to Upper Darby Police Sergeant James Rief. DeVlieger noted the relationship that 5th graders form with their assigned UD Police Officer.
- DeVlieger said, “We have gained a reputation” within the area; we are sought out as experts in dealing with challenging issues. He then shared photo of Governor Corbett with an Upper Darby Royals sweatshirt; Lou Gentile was invited to Harrisburg to meet with Governor. DeVlieger also shared information about State Senator Erickson’s hearing on Special Education.
- DeVlieger reported that Education Law Center Executive Director Rhonda Brownstein included the following in her closing remarks at the hearing:
- 2010-11 – PSSAs had a 33% pass rate in the 50 poorest school districts for special education; 57% pass rate in 50 richest school districts for special education.
- From 2003-2011 Basic Education funding increased by 92% for Upper Darby School District; during that time PSSA scores went up by 40%.
- The Daily Times did full page story on 15 lowest achieving schools and Upper Darby has five of them. Charter schools are exempt from this rating. Forty-nine percent of the 156 Charter schools in Pennsylvania met the benchmark under the original standards of charter school reporting, but this percentage dropped to 28 after the recalculation, imposed by the Federal government. DeVlieger said that, “If charter schools had been included on the list of worst schools then no Upper Darby school would have been on that list.” He also suggested that all students take the PSSAs (public, private, charter) and all schools be required to educate all and then it would be interesting to see who is doing the best. He noted that the school districts with schools listed on the list of lowest-achieving were: Chester-Upland, William Penn, Southeast Delco, Interboro, Chichester, Upper Darby and Ridley. These are the seven lowest per capita districts in Delaware County. He also noted that the ratings were based on the 2010-2011 PSSA test results; cuts were made that year to reading specialists and reading support. He also said that there was no public outcry about those cuts. DeVlieger concluded by saying that “it is a slippery slope; we can’t raise scores if we’re cutting the support system.”
- Finally, acknowledging the rumors, Superintendent Louis DeVlieger announced that he is resigning, effective June 2013 – a full year ahead of the end of his contract, but with almost twice as much notice as the contract required. He said he informed the School Board during their closed session in January, to give the Board time to choose next Superintendent. The motion to approve Report was approved unanimously.
- DeVlieger reported that Education Law Center Executive Director Rhonda Brownstein included the following in her closing remarks at the hearing:
- Instruction and Curriculum Report, motioned by Conley, no Board comment, no Public Comment, Poll Vote; approved Unanimously
- Personnel Report, motioned by Gentile, no Board comment, no Public Comment, Poll Vote; approved unanimously
- Policy Report, motioned by Zarilli, no Board comment, no Public Comment, Poll Vote; approved unanimously
- Transportation Report, motioned by Gordon, no Board comment, no Public Comment, Poll Vote; approved unanimously
- Supplies Report, motioned by McElhenney, no Board comment, no Public Comment, Poll Vote; approved unanimously
- Facilities Report, motioned by Toole, no Board comment, no Public Comment, Poll Vote; approved unanimously
- Finance and Budget Report, motioned by Zarilli, no Board comment, no Public Comment, Poll Vote; approved Unanimously
Charter School Application Vote
The next agenda item was the consideration of the Charter School Application: Choices Charter
- Special Counsel Pupio recapped past hearings on 12/19/12 and 2/5/13, and noted that Mr. McElhenney had recused himself.
- Gentile moved to deny application.
i. No Board Comments
ii. Public Comments
- Stacey Hawley thanked Special Counsel for thorough job vetting inaccuracies
- Colleen Kennedy thanked board for hard work and wanted to make public aware of deceptive practices used by Choices Charter to gain support for Charter.
- Poll Vote
i. Conley – Wasn’t at hearing but has read transcripts. Aye
ii. Toole – Aye
iii. Zarilli – Appreciated public emails and comments. Aye
iv. Rucci – Reviewed transcript; has concerns about curriculum, facilities, and public support. Aye
v. Gordon – Reviewed transcripts. Aye
vi. Gentile – Aye
vii. Carey – Aye
- Gentile moved to accept the Finding of Fact
i. No board comment
ii. No public comment
iii. Poll vote; passed unanimously.
School Board members also accept collateral assignments. Reports are made as appropriate. The reports for the February meeting follow.
Each year, two high school students are appointed to serve as representatives to the School Board. This year those students are seniors K. McCoy and H. Goodeson. McCoy thanked Superintendent DeVlieger. She shared her experience at the Choral Festival and encouraged attendance at Beauty and the Beast, the UDHS musical, which will be performed in March (see District calendar for details). Goodeson also thanked DeVlieger. He commented on Gala and shared that Wrestling Championships were occurring. At that point Lou Gentile, Director of Public Safety, shared that he just came from the event and UDHS beat Garnet Valley HS. Goodeson also shared that a Pops Concert was coming up on 3/15/13 at 7:30pm.
Legislative Council, Director Ken Rucci
- 1. Attended the national School Board Association Federal relationship conference in Washington, D.C. Topics included Federal Funding and avoiding sequestration, or “fiscal cliff.”
- Heard from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan – priorities higher education funding, school safety, and special education.
- Met with Senator Casey. Priorities to avoid fiscal cliff and school safety.
- Met with Congressman Meehan – Unfunded mandates were discussed.
Safety Committee, Director Rucci – Board will begin reviewing recommendations of Safety Task Force.
At this time, Director Judith Gentile noted that the Choral Festival was an inspiration; 1,000 students from across county singing “America.” She said that Mrs. Barbara Benglian spoke about Upper Darby and while other school choirs meet before or after school, UDHS students meet for choral rehearsal during the day, as part of their school-day schedule. Gentile said that Mrs. Benglian also noted that she lost many students who graduated early to go to DCCC through special agreement with DCCC.
There was no Old Business. New Business consisted of announcements, made by Public Information Coordinator Dana Spino:
- 2/21 – Assistant Superintendent McGarry and UDHS Principal Chris Dormer will give presentation on class rank at 6:30 p.m.
- 2/28 – McGarry and Assistant Superintendent for Personnell Daniel Nerelli and Director Gentile will present on the new Raptor system.
- In March there will be a PSSA presentation by McGarry
- In April there will be a presentation by Dr. Angela Duckworth regarding Positive Psychology.
- Details for presentations will be posted to District website and shared through Global Connect.
- Survey regarding future presentation topics will be on website.
The final portion of each School Board meeting includes the opportunity for Public Comment. In order to avail themselves of this opportunity, residents must sign in before the meeting begins, by 7:20 p.m. This month, we salute Eboni Ellis, who signed up to speak and then waived her right to do so. Ellis reserved her right by abiding by this formality and waived her right since she did not feel compelled to speak when it was time.
The occurrence led to Candice Johnson becoming the first speaker. Johnson asked about the proposed changes to insurance, questioning where does the board intend to direct any savings that are realized from the proposed Healthcare Trust. Would it go to hiring teachers for the positions that were lost? She also asked what the District is doing to prevent loss of students to charter schools.
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Daniel McGarry volunteered to answer the last question. He stated that at the closed session of the Board last month he presented changes to the Opportunity Center to attract more students. He said the proposed model will be available for review in March when the Board will take action on the proposal. Johnson had explained in her comment that the safety rating District schools may have makes charter schools more attractive. Assistant Superintendent McGarry said that the District is working to compete with the charter schools for students. Surveys the District conducted indicated that students like working at home. He said that safety is a priority and that the District had met about that topic earlier in the day. Director of Business Management Ed Smith addressed the first of Johnson’s questions, saying that any savings would go toward the $9.7 million deficit in projected revenue (Editor’s note: The $9.7 million deficit, which presumes offering the existing basic education program, is currently proposed to be filled by $2.5 million from the Fund Balance and $7.2 million from the monies generated by the proposed 8.7 percent property tax increase.)
Phyllis Fields commented that she thought it was great the District was bringing in the University of Pennsylvania to try to find ways to save money. (Editor’s note: The District contracted with the Penn Project for Civic Engagement to help the public understand the difficult choices that must be made when the existing revenue cannot fund existing programs.) She said pressure must be put on Harrisburg to increase funding. She also wanted to know if the Board had looked at Administration. Had they considered consulting with an independent business manager to go through administrative positions and eliminate redundancies? When Business Manager Smith explained that only 38 people work out the Administration building, Fields expressed surprise. She had expected and hoped that there were more opportunities for administrative cuts. Fields asked: “How do you propose to reduce $9 million deficit? Smith said there would be painful cuts.
Stacey Hawley asked if the Policy section on the District website could be organized better, with the documents itemized and categorized, with hyperlinks. (Editor’s note: Currently, the District Policy must be downloaded. Users must open the index file and then match the individual pdf files with the various references across various categories.)
Sekela Coles remarked that Assistant Superintendent McGarry seemed to reference that the District’s Safety Committee met that morning. Coles said she was glad to hear this since there were no updates when she asked about the Safety Committee in November. She wanted to know when Safety Committee information would be updated or provided to the public, since safety concerns are a reason that people choose charter schools. She questioned why the District was focusing only on Cyber charter students? McGarry stated that Cyber charter students are 283 of 341 charter students. Coles replied that the District needed to address the loss of the students choosing brick-and-mortar charter schools. McGarry said that the District needed parents, like Coles, to help with the issue. Coles said she had already spoken with McGarry about the issue, noting that the loss of hundreds of District students to charter schools didn’t happen overnight. Director Gentile interjected, saying that where the issue really became a problem was when cyber charter schools became an option. Coles concluded by stating that the District’s lack of communication with parents leads to parents moving to charters, and that if the District were more proactive, the losses could have been avoided.
Damien Warsavage noted that Upper Darby School District had a presence by attendees at the ELPC School Board Candidates workshop; he encouraged others to get more involved. He also noted that there had been legislative action regarding bullying at the State level by State Representative Simms. Warsavage said that Representative Simms was co-author of the PASS Act – PA Safe Schools Act regarding bullying. Simms noted that particularly following Matthew Shepard there were a lot of anti-bullying bills with “no teeth.” (Editor’s note: The PASS Act was reintroduced January 23, 2013 as HB 156, and, as of February 8, 2013, has 70 bipartisan co-sponsors. More information is available via the Pennsylvania General Assembly website http://www.legis.state.pa.us) Warsavage asked the board to follow this legislation closely and to consider a resolution of support.
Charlotte Ryan began her public comment by noting that she loves the District and asking the Board to take that into account as she brings negative feedback. Ryan asked about the Citizenship training in the Middle School. She said it is her understanding that the first half hour of day is dedicated to Citizenship, but that there is no real curriculum or training. She said students tell her that they do homework or talk to each other during that time. She noted that there is a discipline problem at BHMS; most kids there are great but that there are a lot of disrespectful behaviors. She said students curse at teachers and other students. Ryan said she does not think teachers are getting backing from administration. Is there a formal discipline code? If not, why not? She is concerned; hearing this from teachers and kids. What can we do? Assistant Superintendent McGarry replied that the District is aware of safety issues. He said he was not going to sugar coat the issue; but that it is being handled. So far this year 3,353 discipline incidents have been handled by administration. McGarry noted, “There are community issues that cannot be solved by four administrators. There are also special education laws that protect certain students.” Ryan expressed concern that student can curse at teacher without consequence. Both McGarry and President Carey noted that resources are limited and in some cases the District’s hands are tied.
Janai Gibson raised concerns regarding her son, a sophomore at UDHS who has Down Syndrome and attends a special program at Elwyn after school. Gibson explained that Community Transit is supposed to pick up child in office but an incident on 2/7/13 revealed that he was being picked up outside and was allowed to wait outside unsupervised. Director of Special Education Mary Cedrone shared that after Ms. Gibson spoke to her she took care of it that day, and noted that the entire pick up system had been changed at school.
A Motion to Adjourn was made just after 10:00 p.m. by Mrs. Gentile; the Motion Carried.