Tuesday, April 16, 2013

East Penn Area Republican Committee Questionnaire and Candidate Responses

As part of the endorsement process, the East Penn Area Republican Committee submitted a list of questions to the candidates in advance and had their responses printed out for us committeefolk to peruse as the night went on.

The questions were as follows:

1) What is your stance on support for charter, private and parochial schools and how they might interact with the current public schools?

2) Last Fall a parent expressed concern about the use of The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test and Prep as part of the curriculum. How would you have addressed this issue at the time and what, if any, changes would you make in the future?


3) How do you perceive East Penn can accommodate anticipated population growth, especially in Lower Macungie, without overburdening the tax payers in the rest of the School District?


4) If elected, how to you propose to reduce or control spending in the District?


5) Since you will be involved with the next round of contract negotiations what would you like to see happen?


6) Are you familiar with Common Core and is East Penn using this data collection system? What aspects do you like/dislike? (ed. note http://www.pdesas.org/standard/commoncore)

Here are the responses that were received by the committee:

Chris Donatelli
 1) What is your stance on support for charter, private and parochial schools and how they might interact with the current public schools?

It is my opinion that parents should have freedom of choice when it comes to the education of their children.

2) Last Fall a parent expressed concern about the use of The electric Cool-aid Acid Test and Prep as part of the curriculum. How would you have addressed this issue at the time and what, if any, changes would you make in the future?

I would refrain from immediate comment on any topic of concern until I could review and become familiar with it.
Changes or updates to the currently approved curriculum would be presented to the school board for their review and comment.

3) How do you perceive East Penn can accommodate anticipated population growth, especially in Lower Macungie, without overburdening the tax payers in the rest of the School District?

Growth of the tax base goes hand in hand with growth of the community. Our industrial growth helps, as well.
If it has been decided a new facility or expansion is needed, the contract should include a clause that penalizes the contractor for poor performance and provides an incentive to save the district money.
Look for other ways to save money. We need to stop thinking the same way and start to think outside the box. Possibly eliminate the need to build by arranging for a grade level with fewer kids to be moved to a school or schools with additional space making an opening for growth for another grade in its school. Look at build v. purchasing an existing structure or even leasing a building.

4) If elected, how to you propose to reduce or control spending in the District?

In regards to the annual budget, a preliminary budget should be presented to the board for review in a timely manner. The board should be able to determine costs that benefit the education of the children and remove wasteful spending.
Expenditures should be presented to the board for review. The board should make sure Best Value Practices are in place; not all budgeted items need be purchased just to use up the budget.

5) Since you will be involved with the next round of contract negotiations what would you like to see happen?

Eliminate ½ day Wednesday for grade schools.
Address pay and pensions; make sure they are in line with private industry or the tax payer.
Request concessions – This is not unheard of in private industry. When the economy was good, much was given. Now we are in the worst economic downturn since the great depression, it is time for reciprocity

6) Are you familiar with Common Core and is East Penn using this data collection system? What aspects do you like/dislike? (ed. note http://www.pdesas.org/standard/commoncore)

I do not agree with any programs mandated by the Federal gov’t. They take away the teachers ability to be dynamic in the classroom. A dynamic teacher will always have the attention of the students, in turn the students will learn.
Every Federal gov’t education program fails and a new one is introduced; each seems to be worse than the previous. Common Core is just the next in a generation of programs to replace the failed “No Child Left Behind”.

Alan Earnshaw
  1) What is your stance on support for charter, private and parochial schools and how they might interact with the current public schools?

Charter schools, private schools, and parochial schools all have their place within the education ecosystem. Public schools, with few exceptions, offer an outstanding education for students, preparing them effectively and efficiently for continuing education in college or trade schools or for directly entering the workforce or the military. For some students and their families, a private or charter school is the best option, and I fully support their right to make that selection.
The points of disagreement around these alternatives generally fall into questions of performance (do alternatives outperform public schools?) and funding (whether and how public dollars should be used to support alternatives to the public schools).
When comparing performance of schools, we rely on student performance on standardized tests (PSSA, SAT, NAEP, and Advanced Placement, primarily). These are a deeply flawed measure of student learning, but they are the only criteria by which legislators have chosen to measure school performance, so I will use it here.
Private and parochial schools are not required to administer the PSSA tests, and they do not use them. There is, therefore, no direct comparison to public schools. When comparing SAT scores, students at private and parochial schools generally score higher than the local public schools. When adjusted for economic factors (the number of students coming from economically disadvantaged backgrounds), some studies have shown that public schools outperform private and parochial schools, some have shown no statistically significant difference in performance, and some have shown that private and parochial schools outperform public schools.
Studies comparing traditional public schools to charter schools have consistently shown that brick and mortar charter schools perform at the same level as the public schools from which their students are drawn and that cyber charter schools consistently and significantly underperform traditional public schools.
The Charter School Law explains the intent of the legislature for charter schools:
1. Improve pupil learning.
2. Increase learning opportunities for all pupils.
3. Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods.
4. Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site.
5. Provide parents and pupils with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system.
6. Hold the schools established under this act accountable for meeting measurable academic standards and provide the school with a method to establish accountability systems.
Some brick and mortar schools have done a very good job of employing innovative teaching methods, and I applaud their efforts. The East Penn School District has partnered with the Seven Generations Charter School in Emmaus, completing a thorough analysis of the performance of the school, providing feedback on areas of weakness, and sharing professional learning opportunities for the Seven Generations faculty. I will continue encouraging this attitude of partnership and will vote to renew their charter as long as they continue to provide strong learning opportunities for their students and meet the provisions of their charter.
If the district receives an application for another brick and mortar charter school, I will give it fair consideration and evaluate the application using the criteria outlined in the Charter School Law. I initially voted against the Seven Generations charter because they had not met the requirements of the law. When they revised their charter to correct the defects, I voted to approve the charter. I would do the same for any application.
Cyber charter schools are another matter entirely. They are all failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind. By all accounts, they are providing an inferior education for students. While the schools themselves are non-profit entities, they are operated by for-profit management companies that are neglecting the educational needs of their students to maximize their profits. Until they demonstrate significant improvements in student performance, I would not support the creation of any new cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania.
Funding for private and parochial schools is currently borne entirely by the students and their families. I support this funding mechanism. Section 15 of the Pennsylvania Constitution reads, “No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.”
Some proponents of parochial and private schools have advocated that funding should “follow the student.” This argument is flawed in several key ways:
1. Property and earned income taxes paid are not linked to the cost of educating the students in the household.
2. State funding is not allocated to districts by formula. (Pennsylvania is one of only three states that has no funding formula.) Since the funding is not determined by formula, how can state funding be appropriately allocated to private and parochial schools?
3. Public education was established in Section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution: “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” As a required institution of the Commonwealth, the costs of public education should be borne by society as a whole, not by the students and their families.
Therefore, if state or local funding is to “follow the student,” the Legislature would need to make other provisions for “providing for” the public education system.
The funding mechanisms for charter schools are in need of reform. Funding for charter schools is based on the spending in the home district of each student. Charter schools, therefore, receive less money for students from Allentown and more money for students from Salisbury than for students from East Penn. And yet they receive the same education at the charter school. To be fair and equitable, funding should be based on a formula that considers the costs required to educate a student of the charter school.
Funding concerns are even worse for cyber charter schools. East Penn currently has a cyber education option that costs district taxpayers about $4,500 per student per year. Tuition to a cyber charter school for East Penn is over $8,800 per student per year. Shouldn’t a cyber charter school be able to operate at least as cost-effectively as a public school’s cyber option?
Currently, the law requires public school districts to bus students to charter schools. If the district provides transportation to its own non-special education students, it must also transport private and parochial school students to schools within 10 miles of the district border. I would prefer to see the distance measured from the student’s home, perhaps 10 miles from the student’s home or the distance to the assigned public school, whichever is greater.

2) Last Fall a parent expressed concern about the use of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Prep as part of the curriculum. How would you have addressed this issue at the time and what, if any, changes would you make in the future?

The East Penn School District has a policy, #109, that permits any resident to challenge materials used in the curriculum or kept in the libraries. There is a well-defined procedure for handling these challenges. It begins with the resident meeting with an administrator, normally the building principal. If they cannot agree to a resolution of the challenge, a committee is formed to study the materials and make a recommendation to the board. The committee includes the administrator, affected teachers, librarians, a board member, and two members of the general public, preferably including the person who lodged the complaint.
I fully supported this process last fall, and I believe the matter came to an appropriate resolution. I believe this process continues to offer the public a fair way to review the materials in question, giving full consideration to their merit—or lack thereof—as a whole work, not a few paragraphs taken out of context.

3) How do you perceive East Penn can accommodate anticipated population growth, especially in Lower Macungie, without overburdening the tax payers in the rest of the School District?

The costs of public education are borne by all taxpayers within the district. There is no provision in the law for providing differential tax rates by municipality, nor does the law allow a school district to charge impact fees to developers. School districts also have no voice in approving or denying zoning changes or building permits. About three years ago, school board members from across Lehigh County met with our legislators and asked them to sponsor legislation that would enable school districts to charge impact fees to developers. The legislation was not taken up for consideration by the legislature.
Since we have no way to limit or control growth and no way to force developers to share in the cost of education, we are only able to react to new students moving into the district. If and when necessary, we will hire teachers, add bus routes, and construct new schools to accommodate increases in student population, and these costs will be shared by all residents of the district.

4) If elected, how to you propose to reduce or control spending in the District?

The district has done an excellent job of controlling the growth of spending in the district. When I was elected in 2001, East Penn was 156th of 501 school districts in per student spending, 3.2% above the state average. In the 2010-11 school year (the last year for which statistics are available), East Penn’s spending per student was 275th of 500 school districts, 6.9% below the state average.
Over the last five years, we have eliminated several positions, including three central office administrators, one high school assistant principal, and many teachers, deliberately increasing class sizes. We have renegotiated contracts with vendors, made capital improvements to reduce energy usage and costs, eliminated some extracurricular programs, such as middle school band camp, increased employee payments for health insurance premiums, reduced the number of items mailed home to families to reduce postage and copying costs, found advertising sponsors to pay for the district calendar, and much, much more.
Every time there is a resignation or retirement, we carefully consider whether the position should be eliminated, filled in kind, or filled with a lower cost option. We will continue to implement energy efficiency projects, negotiate firmly with our vendors and unions, and look to reduce costs and waste wherever possible.

5) Since you will be involved with the next round of contract negotiations what would you like to see happen?

It would put the district at a disadvantage to telegraph our intentions and objectives in advance of negotiations. We will negotiate firmly and in good faith with each of our unions as their contract comes up for renewal, but it would be foolish to discuss desired outcomes.

6) Are you familiar with Common Core and is East Penn using this data collection system? What aspects do you like/dislike? (ed. note http://www.pdesas.org/standard/commoncore)

The Common Core is a set of standards that form the foundation of a curriculum. It includes learning objectives at each grade level in each subject area. Here is one example from the Grade 4 Mathematics standards:
Gain familiarity with factors and multiples.
CCSS.Math.Content.4.OA.B.4 Find all factor pairs for a whole number in the range 1–100. Recognize that a whole number is a multiple of each of its factors. Determine whether a given whole number in the range 1–100 is a multiple of a given one-digit number. Determine whether a given whole number in the range 1–100 is prime or composite.
Pennsylvania has adopted the Common Core Standards, so East Penn is required by the Pennsylvania Department of Education to integrate those standards into its curriculum. As a result, we have teams of teachers and administrators redesigning our curriculum now.
In my opinion, the Common Core has not been sufficiently tested to determine its effectiveness in instructing students or achieving the desired learning outcomes. It may well be the right approach, or it may be misguided. Until we have more data from actual students, we will not be able to answer that question.


 Garrett Rhoads
 1) What is your stance on support for charter, private and parochial schools and how they might interact with the current public schools?

I am a firm believer in school choice of all kinds. There needs to be a clear distinction made between private/parochial schools and charter schools. The former does not rely on public tax dollars to operate. Charter schools do. As such, if charter schools are going to receive taxpayer dollars then they need to be help to the same educational standards as public schools. Taxpayers must also realize that with addition of brick & mortar charter schools comes added cost. The state does not fully reimburse school districts for the cost of funding of charter schools. Finally, we need to pressure our state legislators to re-visit the formulas used to fund cyber charter schools. They are significantly less expensive to operate than physical schools and PA taxpayer dollars should not be used to fund overly profitable “public/private” partnerships.

2) Last Fall a parent expressed concern about the use of The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test and Prep as part of the curriculum. How would you have addressed this issue at the time and what, if any, changes would you make in the future?

With tens of thousands of books available to choose from in the marketplace today, I think choosing to promote books on recommended reading lists with highly questionable content to young teens is an exercise in extremely poor judgment.
As firm believer in 1st amendment rights, I would never call for an outright ban on any book. This case was unique in that we are weighing a constitutional right against the responsibility of following state law as it pertains to the protection of minors under the age of 18.
Were the decision left up to me, I would have kept the books in question in the High School Library and allowed anyone over the age of legal consent (16 in PA) to check them out. Additionally, I would allow younger students to check out the book with the written consent of their parent or guardian.
I believe that we can reduce further incidents and improve the quality of our educational system if we allow for a Parent/Teacher Council that reviewed curriculum material together. This would allow for greater input from parents, thus reducing the potential for further embarrassment. The current system involves only the respective English departments in the schools and does not allow for the parents to be included in the decision making process.

3) How do you perceive East Penn can accommodate anticipated population growth, especially in Lower Macungie, without overburdening the tax payers in the rest of the School District?

Growth and development within the school district is not something a school board director has any power to control or legislate. I think East Penn can do a substantially better job of actively communicating with the other local governments within its districts. I have been to some township and borough meetings lately and I
can tell you that our locally elected officials are frustrated with the utter lack of communication and unwillingness to share information with local municipalities. In one instance, I was told that I was the first candidate or school board director to attend one of their council meetings… ever. We need school board members who will go the extra mile and get involved in local government in their communities so they can know what’s going on and share information. We could ask township commissioners to consider the added cost to the schools when considering impact fees for starters.

4) If elected, how to you propose to reduce or control spending in the District?

As a business owner, I know that the costs of goods and services consumed are a vital part of operating any enterprise. In this case, we are running a school district. Keeping in mind that we cannot reduce the quality of the education we are giving our students, we need to make sure that the taxpayer dollars being spent are allocated to maximize the investment in our children’s education and not on extraneous programs designed to “increase awareness” and “add status” to the school district.
Products and services should be publicly bid out on an annual basis at a minimum. Complacency in procurement can lead to unnecessary expenses and increased costs. Educational services, supplies, insurance, and utility costs must constantly be scrutinized and actively shopped for the best price. In today’s on-line world, this is a relatively simple matter.

5) Since you will be involved with the next round of contract negotiations what would you like to see happen?

Public service sector unions need to understand that the taxpayer is not an unlimited resource from which to draw. The last five years have seen our economy drop, the average household income drop by $4,000 per year, real inflation has gone up significantly, and we are all forced to reduce our standard of living to cope with the mess. In the meantime, our current school board continued on with “business as usual”. Our salary, wage, and benefit costs have continued to climb far outpacing the economy and inflation.
I think we need a school board which will actually negotiate on behalf of the taxpayer to allow for realistic changes in teacher contracts. We do not need yet another board which will simply “rubber stamp” whatever is presented to them by the Superintendent. We cannot continue with business as usual.

6) Are you familiar with Common Core and is East Penn using this data collection system? What aspects do you like/dislike? (ed. note http://www.pdesas.org/standard/commoncore)

I think that much like “No Child Left Behind”, Common Core was created and promoted with good intentions. As far as I can tell, the unintended consequences of its implementation will be catastrophic to our educational system and financially unsustainable for future generations.
One needs only to look at our neighbors in the ASD. They implemented this scheme using grant money (as thought grant money isn’t still made up of tax dollars).
This grant money paid for the extra staff hired for the implementation of Common Core for two years. After the first two years, the cost of operating the program was shifted over to the district which had to maintain the added staff. The staff in question was all given “administrative positions” at a massive cost of teacher jobs. The ASD was forced into further teacher layoffs and reductions. School teachers are now teaching their own music, art, and gym programs because they don’t have money for music, art, and gym teachers.
The stated goal of Common Core is to “decrease the education gap amongst students within standardized testing”. We presume this means that we want to boost the scores of the lower students to get closer to the higher students. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell from my research, the actual result will be even more focus on lower performing students to the detriment of higher performing students through the continued lowering of standards and the dumbing down of curriculum. The end result will be negative for education across the board. If you thought PSSAs were a burden, just wait…
This thinly veiled attempt to nationalize our educational system represents a threat to our personal privacy, a threat to our ability to stay involved in our children’s education, a threat to our right to control our own local curriculum, a threat to teachers’ ability to maximize lesson plans and perform their jobs well, and most importantly a threat to our educational system and the futures of our children.
Any financial carrots offered to implement this program will come with a very large and bitter poison pill. In my opinion, this farce must be stopped at all costs.

Dr. Ziad W. Munson

 1. What is your stance on support for charter, private and parochial schools and how they might interact with the current public schools?

There are important differences between “brick and mortar” schools in these categories and so-called “cyber” schools. Pennsylvania must reform its charter school law so that cyber schools managed by for-profit companies operating outside the state, are no longer able to siphon public money away from local taxpayers in the school district. The formula for giving tax money to all charter schools needs to more accurately reflect the actual expense of educating the students they enroll. And we need charter school reform that returns more authority to local communities over charter schools funded with local tax dollars.

2. Last fall a parent expressed concern about the use of The Electric Cool-Aid Acid Test and Prep as part of the curriculum. How would you have addressed this issue at the time and what, if any, changes would you make in the future?

I am a strong proponent of the First Amendment and am committed to the principle that our children learn best when exposed to many points of view, including those with which we may disagree. I am generally opposed to efforts to censor, ban, or reduce the availability of books in libraries. As a parent myself, I believe it is a parent’s responsibility to screen the materials their children read, not that of librarians or district bureaucrats.
That being said, our district has an established policy in place for handling parental concerns about library material. I would refer parents to that policy. It is the role of the school board to set such a policy and ensure it is carried out effectively. I do not believe it is the role of the school board to individually judge each and every item in school libraries.

3. How do you perceive East Penn can accommodate anticipated population growth, especially in Lower Macungie, without overburdening the tax payers in the rest of the school district?

East Penn taxpayers suffer from a lack of credible and meaningful regional planning in our community. The district needs to advocate for such planning, and work closely with planning officials to ensure that new growth does not come at the expense of existing residents. In particular, we must insist on smart growth policies that insure a new tax base that meets or exceeds the total, long-term public costs of new growth. These costs include not only school costs, but also costs of fire coverage, police protection, and needed improvements to transportation and recreation infrastructure.

4. If elected, how do you propose to reduce or control spending in the district?

I would first propose to reduce spending by eliminating waste and inefficiency, both of which always exist in any large bureaucracy. But let’s be honest: addressing such problems is important but will result in only small savings relative to the size of the entire budget.
To tackle bigger problems, I would use three basic principles in controlling spending. First, I would take a long-term approach to budgeting. Cutting $1,000 to fix a leaky roof from the budget today is short-sighted if it means we will have to pay $100,000 to repair the damage caused by the leak in a few years. Second, any cost-cutting proposals need to be specific. Calling for budget cuts in general makes good political theater, but it takes both significant knowledge and real leadership to propose the concrete programs, personnel, or facilities that should be cut. And third, I would take a balanced approach to spending issues that weighs the needs of our community for excellent schools with the needs for fiscal responsibility in using our limited resources.

5. Since you will be involved with the next round of contract negotiations, what would you like to see happen?

Everyone in our community benefits from contract negotiations that build on the goodwill that currently exists within the district. Teachers are professionals, and I would hope to see a contract that reflects this fact. Professionalism requires a contract that provides flexibility to innovate and meet the demands of a changed economy. And professionalism is reflected in a contract that allows for employees to benefit during good economic times, but calls for shared sacrifice in more difficult ones.

6. Are you familiar with Common Core and is East Penn using this data collection system? What aspects do you like/dislike?

I have heard of Common Core standards, but do yet know enough about them to form an educated opinion about the specifics. I can say, however, that I am unequivocally opposed to standardized testing as the sole basis for judging either student learning or teaching effectiveness. Although standardized tests sound reasonable in theory, in practice they have reduced the overall quality of education in our schools by narrowing the range of subjects taught in school, replacing critical thinking with rote memorization, wasting increasing amounts of time teaching the test itself, and spreading the erroneous idea that all important learning can be reduced to a numeric score.

 

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