Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Selling Your Soul to Satan Would Offer A Little More Flexibility

On Tuesday, Methacton decided to pass the budget (a full thirteen days before the deadline...for some reason), which includes a 2% tax increase and yadda-yadda--honestly, if you've followed Methacton for any amount of time, you knew what was gonna happen before it happened, like most bad horror movies. Even the talk of a zero percent increase, which gained more steam--I think--then in the past, still stalled and ultimately ended, just like in the past.

What was more of an interesting subject was that during the Work Session as well, the School Board voted on the First Student contract after the contract. If you think about it, it's a little odd waiting until after voting for the budget to vote for this item, but as per usual, the Board decided to go this route well before the vote.

(Another note: during the Finance Committee meeting, it was shown in the budget presentation that First Students apparent savings was already factored in.)

Which is the norm here--there may be a public vote, and some discussion on items that are being voted on, but most discussion and decisions were made before hand. The voting is just a formality, in essence. There was little Pro/Con discussion (mostly just the administration explaining all the Pros they saw), little real public input, and moving the goal posts in the middle of the game.

Case in point with that last one: we were initially told that the contract would last five years. On Tuesday, the Board signed a contract with First Student until 2024. That's ten years.

According to Mr. Whiteleather, it will offer the Board "more flexibility" with First Student, which I'm still trying to figure that one out. Last time I checked, the longer a contract is, the more it usually costs to break out of it. That is on top of the fact that the School District is selling it's equipment (read: buses) to First Student, and if we were to decide three years in that we got tired of kids getting on and off of rundown buses that we would go back to self-transportation, you might as well accept that inevitable 4% tax increase and budget cuts, because it will cost us.

The difference between the Aramark situation and First Student is that the Aramark contract started out yearly--which was the best idea of the whole farce! If we did get tired of Aramark, we could just let the contract expire and start from scratch. Contracts are binding, and a divorce of this magnitude will impact our district, and will be felt in every facet for years to come.

And the way I see it, if this deal sours, then that will be the silver bullet that kills the Athletic Field Project. Right now, MSD outsourced the transportation department to save money to put towards the Field Project, which totals around $800,000 per year savings. However, the lowest bid received for the project was around seven million dollars, and was rejected. Even if the board uses all of the $5.5 Million from the Bond they financed (which has to be used within three years of taking it out), and factoring the about $800,000 from the Transportation Outsourcing, the district is still one cool million dollars short.

And that isn't factoring in the Light Ordinance fight from Worcester, the Zoning Challenge of the field (remember, the field would be turf, which may or may not be considered a permeable surface), stormwater management, and every extra charge because let's be honest--nothing ever goes completely to plan, especially with Methacton.

So we are locked in with a corporate transportation service for at least five years (the way I see it), that if it sours, will completely turn our district on its head.

Welcome to the new age.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

And Another One Bites the Dust

For the second time in two weeks, a Methacton School Board member resigns. This time it came out of left field.

Shortly after Joyce Petrauskas' resignation was accepted at the May 20th meeting, I was told through the grapevine that Mark O'Neill was leaving as well. I have heard a couple of reasons for this--ranging from a "personal illness" to the School Boards' "job changes" and "family responsibilities"--but I still didn't expect a resignation. I have pointed out a couple of times where I felt O'Neill was going in the right direction with voting, and personally, I felt he was one of the members who had a quote-unquote "financial background" who would actually use it during board discussions (like during the bond refinancing or the budget, O'Neill was always asking questions when others would stay quiet) and was one of the few bright spots on that board. He will be missed.

On the other hand, that makes two vacancies on the Board. If you, or someone you know, who thinks they can do a better job than the current Board, and wants to continue out the remainder of a members term (December, 2015), the Methacton website has the notice posted there (or click this link for the PDF file). Type up your resume and letter of interest, and send it in before 9:00 AM on Friday to see if you have a snowball's chance in Hell. Or better!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Next Logical Step Is Outsourcing the Teachers

I feel like every time I go to post here (and I haven't done it in a while--I apologize), I always want to start off "just when you thought it couldn't get worse," because I honestly feel that way. I know we haven't reached the bottom, because the state hasn't stepped in and removed local control yet, so we aren't that bad. I mean, MSD is in a bad way right now.

Apparently, we are in a bad enough way that we had to outsource our bus drivers just to get some extra coin.

(By the way, if you haven't clicked the link, please check out The Alternative Press of Lower Providence. They're doing a great job of keeping up in Lower Providence news, and a better job than I talking about school board news.)

Now, we are in a bad financial situation. The district is losing money, either from the residential tax base declining, from businesses moving out (like two Wawa's in Lower Providence moving to West Norriton and Upper Providence), or from the businesses fighting for a reassessment. Our income is going down, but expenses for Methacton is starting to break the $100 Million barrier, and with little signs of stopping. The buried but never dead Turf Field Project is still on the table, presumably, and no doubt the $825,000 or so we're going to save will go towards the current bastardized plans.

The major question is, will it be worth it in the end?

I mean, these aren't the lunch ladies, where no one wanted to see them outsourced, but the impact wasn't as major as losing the bus drivers (even though the food was terrible when the switch started). I mean, even if the food service people screw up everything they serve, the kids can get around it by packing a lunch.

But were talking about, honestly, the only group of people who is completely in charge of the students well-being. If the lunch person screws up cooking the pizza, big deal, they eat the costs (pun!) and re-make it. If the bus driver drops the kid off at the wrong stop...well, you get the picture.

And like most corporate, privately-owned, national level service companies, is that they have a structure to everything. If the route is planned, it's planned. There is little wiggle-room for adaptations (like the parent's aren't present at the stop), and the number one thing I have learned working my main job in the deli, is that things going to plan is time to be celebrated. Meaning, things almost always never go according to plan.

With First Student driving kids home, when the driver runs late, it affects them in their pay. Very, very few people work at a job and are a-okay losing money to make sure the job is done one hundred percent properly. That's actually the opposite on how jobs are supposed to work.

I have heard the rumors about First Student, as well. Especially about the First Student driver who ditched a kid after getting into an argument. Or texting while driving. Or how other school districts are looking into getting a different transportation service. It's not a particularly reassuring. To anyone.

And it hurts on a personal level. I have a friend I've known for years whose mother is a bus driver. Guess who was just told they're not working come next school year? Oh, but it's okay, First Student is going to offer to re-hire the bus drivers. Not a guarantee, but an offer--which is a slap in the face. Like with Aramark, I'm willing to put money down that less than fifty percent of the bus drivers who re-applied for a driving job will get it.

So, to recap, MSD in essance screwed over our bus drivers, who most are district residents, in order to save a couple bucks? And you thought the green in our district didn't represent our love for money!

If and when this whole situation blows up in the boards face, I hope those who voted for First Student seriously consider their stance on running for re-election. In fact, I hope those running now consider. I don't think this kind of move, right on the heels of the Coach Maida debacle, paints our district in any sort of prevailing positivity.

Meanwhile, remember that it can always get worse here.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Notes From the January 28th Meeting

I never understood why the apple is black,
and not red...
NOTE: If you want to watch the board meeting yourself, tune to Lower Providence's Community Channel (Comcast channel 28, FiOS channel 42) the Wednesday after the meeting at 6 PM, or that Friday and Sunday at 12 AM, 8 AM, or 6 PM. Or, here is their YouTube channel.

- Thanks to inclement weather last week, the Work Session was cancelled. So, the Board shoehorned last weeks' meeting into this week, creating a briskly-paced meeting totaling in at a mere four hours long. We didn't get home until about 11:20 last night, when most meetings don't last until 8:20. It's safe to say we won't see something like that again.

- A victory for the pro-turf crowd: the Board passed Resolution 14-01, which starts the process of taking out a $5.5 Million Bond with a variable interest rate (currently set at around 1%, but as the finance person noted, it varies week-to-week). According to Dr. Zerbe, Worcester recently edited an ordinance allowing Methacton to finally "put shovels in the dirt" and get this project rolling. Whoo-hoo.

Now, I've been a vocal opponent of this project for many reasons. I don't believe artificial turf is the way to go for Methacton, or sports in general. The heat absorption alone puts students at a massive risk, and seeing that the number one deteriorate of artificial turf fields is UV Rays, and Methacton's Football Field sits in the middle of an open area, you have a nice math problem that adds up to headaches in the coming years of turf-field-ism. And that all is on top of historical Methacton, who has allowed the football field, et al, to fall into this sort of disarray, where if you ask anyone who has played in The Vet, the one thing that is worse that an improperly maintained field is an improperly maintained turf field.

Oh, and remember when I said voting for the Teachers' Contracts felt rushed? That same feeling came at this meeting. The Bond presentation was given, then about forty-five minutes later, the Bond was passed 7-2, the dissenters being Mark O'Neil (who asked for the vote to be pushed back to allow the public more time to analyze the deal--good call Mark!) and Maria Shackleford. I personally feel that a major expense like this project, or the Bond refinancing, should be put up for referendum, but the Board, in typical Methacton fashion, eschewed true public opinion and went with what they felt was "true public opinion," because a thousand people signed a petition on Facebook means the majority of Lower Providence and/or Worcester wants this project to go through.

- The Conditional Use Hearing for lights in February 4th (my birthday!) at the Worcester Township Building at 5:30 if I'm not mistaken. Because, even though Worcester is allowing MSD to put shovels in the dirt for the turf project, the issue of lights is still a couple of four-letter words away from becoming a fist fight in Worcester. Don't believe me? Read for yourself.

- The School Resource Officer contract was renewed by MSD, making a three-year deal. Concern was raised about raising costs along with the program, since the program was started with Federal Grant money, and that said money has since dissipated, resulting in the school district to foot the bill fully now. A fun thing for those of us who live in Lower Providence, since Lower Providence police officers are policing the schools; you're paying township tax for the police officers and property taxes for those same two officers to be in the schools. And we wonder why Worcester doesn't want to establish a police force.

- An interesting new policy was put up for First Reading: Policy #815 and #815.1, which involve use of outside machines (read: laptops, smartphones, et cetera) and the use of social media during school hours. It's interesting because in the later years of me going to school, all social media was banned, even though we found ways around the proxy to go on Facebook, or we went on Twitter because it wasn't blocked. This was a snag if a teacher wanted to show a video off of YouTube--the proxy blocked YouTube as well, so this will be interesting to see how the classroom dynamic changes. I mean, MHS policy was for us to store our cell phones in our locker, and I can count on one hand who did that, since everyone had a phone on them during school hours, including teachers. It makes sense to pull that rule when no one was following it anyway.

- To boil it down, more money is being spent to aid MSD in the Conditional Use Hearing, which includes not playing music too loud. Which, is the reason why I still don't believe Worcester is just bending over and allowing turf, when Architerra first gave their presentation, the Worcester Board of Supervisors were in the room, and were very coy about how their township classifies artificial turf as a permeable or non-permeable surface.

- The Preliminary Budget presentation was last night. I will admit, I was struggling at that point to pay attention, but I do have a few nuggets of info. The proposed tax increase will be at four percent, thanks to the Bond issue that was just passed, and this is before any budgetary work. On the other hand, this is also before the State Budget is announced, and the index and PSERS exemption isn't really known, where last year it totaled to about 2.95%. Which is much less than four, but I digress.

- The Geothermal Update was last night, which impacts my family directly because of how close we live to Arcola/Skyview. From the slide we saw last night, only Skyview and Woodland has Geothermal Wells, where we were under the impression that Arcola benefit from them, too. The energy savings from Skyview was minimal at best, while Woodland seemed to have the benefit of about 30% savings, but to be honest, I had a hard time understanding the numbers behind it. I requested a copy of the presentation and hopefully I'll be able to better decipher it.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Notes From the December 3rd SuperMeeting

NOTE: If you want to watch the board meeting yourself, tune to Lower Providence's Community Channel (Comcast channel 28, FiOS channel 42) the Wednesday after the meeting at 6 PM, or that Friday and Sunday at 12 AM, 8 AM, or 6 PM. Or, here is their YouTube channel.

- We have new leadership for this year. Christian Nascimento is the new Board President and Herbert Rothe is the new Vice President, both will serve for a one year term. It is a very interesting set of choices; Nascimento barely beat out unendorced Republican candidate Brian Earnshaw, who used Nascimento's sub-par attendance record for Board Meetings and his own Finance Committee against him. The cynical ones would comment on hoping to see Nascimento improve on his attendance. If not, then we will be seeing a lot more of Rothe.

- There seems to have been a huge spat, for lack of a better term, involving members of the Methacton Home and School. (Find part in YouTube Video) Dr. Zerbe went at-length about what happened involving the Home and School while impressively avoiding the use of anyone's names or using any detail. From what I understand (with my lack of Home and School experience), it was resulted from lack of communication and the perceived rudeness between members that forced a new vote in the Home and School, prompting members of the Home and School to leave. It seems like a very small problem that just confounded and blew up into two Superintendent's faces.

- Remember how I said the teachers' contract felt rushed? Well thanks to that, there is language being worked on in the contract as we speak, after they signed the contract. According to Mr. Harney, it's "language involving how [the District] deals with employees in certain situations." Maybe it's because I don't really understand how contract negotiations work, but I feel like this should have been worked out before anyone even considered putting their John Hancock down on the contract, hmm? The language in question, most likely, deals with employees who break some sort of moral or ethical rule--or even the law--and have to be removed from their positions and their pay. That is something I would have made damn sure that it was worked out before anyone signed anything, but that's because I am more worried about problems down the road before I sign something. But apparently, this is how we work on major problems in politics today.

- Not posted to the agenda, but very important anyway. On January 7th, the Board (read: Dr. Zerbe) will be giving an update on the proposed turf field project. Which is good, because the Finance Committee spent it's entire time re-looking over the facts and figures involving taking out a five million dollar bond "for the project," and as far as anyone else can tell, we don't have a cohesive plan. I want to take this time right now to reiterate: please look into other options of fixing up the field besides turf! The field project was spawned by Dr. Quinn, who brought in ArchiTerra to sell them on turf and those are the only facts and figures the Board has been working with ever since. Again; the Board is basing off their need for a turf field from a company that specializes in putting in turf fields.

The project, last time I checked, was slated to cost upwards of four million dollars, and the Board is looking at options to reduce the cost on the taxpayers (read: fundraising), and I will be one to doubt that the community can pull in even one million dollars to defer the cost. If we as a District cannot afford the field, then we, as a District, need to look at other options more sustainable financially. I doubt we can be like Wikipedia and raise money every year to maintain the turf field.

Sorry about the late post, I had it saved instead of posted for about a month and a half. My apologies. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Take A Stand, Even If You Don't Understand

An engineers' concept for the Methacton
HS Baseball Field, from Methacton's Website
When I try to explain current issues within the current Methacton area--usually the reason why our football field doesn't have lights or something else so riveting--I try not to just paint Worcester with a broad brush, but it is almost inevitable. It usually boils down to those in charge of Worcester--or a lot of times, those who populate Worcester--are perceived as a cantankerous, overbearing Luddites who take a Tea Party-type of stance against all things that would be perceived as forward progress.

Now, please don't take me as another college-age mouthpiece who thinks they know everything. I do know everything. (That was a joke!) I have an infinite amount of respect for the way Worcester has preserved open space, and never fell for the whole "let's build cookie-cutter developments!" fad. And after attending two Worcester Zoning Board hearings, it's refreshing to see a government body make decisions using the oft-ignored vices of logic and reason.

Although it was amazing: the November meeting was where the Zoning Board was going to give their decision on the variance, and that is when the public came out en masse to show support or opposition. That's like coming out to a burnt shell of a building and telling the Fire Chief that the now-charred rubble was a fire hazard. That whole crowd could boo the zoning board to death, chuck tomatoes, and burn somebody at the stake; the decision would still stand. It's great to show support, but it's a day late, and y'all are a dollar short. 

Personally, I have a problem with sites that claim to be "the voice for the community/specific group/political party/Doctor Who fans," and are run by one person who just expresses their views. Usually, the aren't. They are just the opinions of one person who has limited knowledge of HTML. I do not do that: my site is used to do my version of reporting on Methacton politics (because until recently, The Times Herald was a waste of space in the Methacton political realm), and then put my own spin on it, not the communities spin on it. The content is produced by myself, and since I can't get Google to advertise on my site, I answer to myself.

(NOTE: If you want to advertise, let's talk.)

Regardless, when I try to produce content, albeit sparingly, I do my best to get the facts straight, which isn't the case for everyone. When you decide to talk about a topic--and this goes out to everyone--try and get all of the facts. Because if you don't and someone shows you up, it is embarrassing, and you look about as credible as facts from Facebook.

But more on this scoreboard: if you haven't been up to speed on what is happening, the Methacton High School baseball field is being renovated by J.P. Mascaro and Sons, a local waste disposal company, competently out of their pocket. Mostly because even though the baseball team has been playing really well, the field was...well, a joke. The baseline literally had a trench from rain run-off, and the field was about as even as playing One Square Tic-Tac-Toe and going second. It looked worse than the football field, and we're trying to carpet it with fake grass right now.

J.P. Mascaro decided to renovate the field, pay for it out of pocket, and asked only one thing: that the field be named Robert Childress Memorial Field. Their name isn't going anywhere, and let me italicize this for emphasis, Methacton School District isn't paying anything to put this field in. No taxpayer money is being used for this project. Just so we are clear.

The scoreboard is, yes, 36 feet by 10 feet, and yes, that is a size most commonly used by a "Division I College," as one resident put it. However, not only is the Methacton Baseball Team playing as a Division I team, the sign has also been proven to only be visible by the church that is across the street, aside from the spectators and players themselves, naturally. The sign will be painted green, and it will be treated so light will not reflect to drivers on Germantown Pike. The sign is internally lit, using LED's, and thanks to the lack of lights on the baseball field (again, italicized for more emphasis) will only be used during the daytime

To recap, this sign is basically free to Methacton, will only be illuminated during the daytime, and is only visible by another commercial property surrounding Methacton High School. On top of that, J.P. Mascaro's name will not be anywhere on the field. So why is there still near-venomous opposition and Luddite-like disapproval? That I still have a hard time wrapping my know-it-all mind around. (Another joke!)

To many, the "legacy" of Worcester (or realistically, the perception of a select few) is a township who is so committed to abolishing any movements forward that they are willing to refuse a good gesture by a commercial enterprise or ignore the wants of a community-at-large for the personal reservations of a few. Even if that isn't the intent, that is what it usually boils down to: that Worcester is populated with cantankerous, overbearing Luddites. And that is truly unfortunate.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Notes From the November 19th Meeting

NOTE: If you want to watch the board meeting yourself, tune to Lower Providence's Community Channel (Comcast channel 28, FiOS channel 42) the Wednesday after the meeting at 6 PM, or that Friday and Sunday at 12 AM, 8 AM, or 6 PM. Or, here is their YouTube channel.

- More M Awards! This time, the recipients are the high school golf team and the girls' tennis team for winning districts. Congratulations to them!

- If you take the time to comb the extensive List of Bills, you will see a handful for Bartle's office involving "[Right To Know] fees." When asked about this by a member of the audience, apparently, a resident involved with the ongoing dispute between Worcester and Methacton over conditional use asks for a "laundry list" of items under Right To Know, and when some of those items are denied (ie, items currently in litigation or information that cannot be released), that person appeals it. This also apparently happens every week. To someone like myself, or anyone else active in these activities, we can probably guess who that person is, and while it can be seen as that person being very meticulous in the current act of base-covering, one can also see it as a way to aggravate the opposing party in any way, shape, or form. By the way, it's costing the school district about $1,700 to do all of that.

- The Food Service Contract was approved last night, by a vote of 8-0 (Maria Schakelford was absent). I still have a bad taste in my mouth (pun!) over the whole Outsourcing-the-Lunch-Ladies-(and men) thing, even more so when Aramark was in their first year, in which I had the privilege to eat their food, it was terrible. According to what I've heard from some members of the Board and some people I've talk to offhandedly, it has gotten better. That being said, I still don't know why it had to be done in the first place. The guaranteed profit is what the School District is guaranteed to make under this one-year contract.

- The new Memorial Baseball Field is looking good--and it will look better with the Memorial Terrace approved by the Board last night. At last months Worcester Zoning Board hearing, I was told that the project has reached $170,000, and the Terrace's value is approximated at $40,000. (If Mascaro can pull this off for about $250,000, it will honestly be harder to prove the $4.5 Million football field project is a good value.)

- The Board thinks its a good idea to have one meeting in December, which is the post-election reorganization, work session, and regular session meeting, rolled up into one convenient ball. Because combining three meetings into one won't rush anything, and nothing will happen in December anyway.

- After last month's meeting, where Mr. Schanbacher questioned the board about a member receiving a "D.W.I. or D.U.I." and Lower Providence Patch's article about the same subject not just two weeks ago, it seems that this issue is reaching its head. Five members of the public--Winnie Hayes and Mary Jane Barbone, who both were former Board members and Presidents; John Andrews, Candy Allebach, and Bob Andorn--expressed their concern over this issue, with Mrs. Hayes asking for Joyce Petrauskas to step down as President. Which this is almost wonderful timing in that regard, because the Reorganization Meeting (and Work Session...and Regular Session) is December 3rd.