Assorted School Updates and Silliness

As another school year reaches its stride, it is becoming populated by all manner of disagreements about issues both important and trivial, handled in ways both sublime and ridiculous.

Safety vs. the School Day

This past Monday, Quaker Valley Middle School was used as a landing zone for a patient at Heritage Valley Sewickley that needed air transport. This was the first use of the Middle School LZ since August 8, and the first in a long time during school hours.

The presence of emergency vehicles and the aircraft was apparently enough to generate some concern on the part of certain community members. After what was probably a number of phone calls to the school and district offices, QV’s Communications Director Tina Vojtko sent an e-mail list notification:

Emergency response vehicles including a helicopter are currently on-site due to a non-school emergency in the nearby area.

Students and staff continue to be hard at work in their classrooms.

It’s nice to see the process put into place in April continue to function well with all stakeholders, including those responsible for communicating with citizens.

South Williamsport vs. Monty Python

In 1977, the Quaker Valley Band traveled to South Williamsport (Pa.) High School to do a joint concert band appearance. The band director there at the time was a QV alumnus. I remember the majorettes from both schools dancing the Charleston onstage while the combined bands played a nice, jazzy arrangement, along with an overture that legendary QV band director Walter Iacobucci had composed especially for the occasion.

Apparently South Williamsport still has a robust performing arts tradition, which stirred a bit of controversy over the summer when the school principal vetoed the drama director’s choice of Spamalot for the annual spring musical, after actually paying for the rights to stage the production.

The dispute simmered over the summer months, fueled by the release of emails obtained via a Right-To-Know request, which seemed to indicate that the reversal of the approval to stage the production was due to “homosexual themes”.

As the school year was getting underway, the disagreement between the drama director, the principal, and the school board was brought to a head with the director’s dismissal by the board, and the subsequent resignation of her husband from the school board as a result.

Combined with the obvious civil liberties issue, the gay rights implications have focused much unwelcome media attention on a town whose only usual exposure to the spotlight is the annual Little League World Series. When heavies such as the New York Times weigh in, you know there’s a need for effective crisis and communication management.

With what is sounding like a standoff between a small school district and a mix of students, instructors, activists, and the commercial theater establishment, let’s hope no one entity starts looking like the Ministry of Silly Walks, or the Upper Class Twit of the Year.

West Mifflin vs. The State and Duquesne

The Post-Gazette reported last week about the West Mifflin School Board retaining legal counsel to explore the feasibility of suing both the Pa. Department of Education and the Duquesne City School District. High School age students from Duquesne attend West Mifflin and East Allegheny High Schools, and the state pays those districts tuition for those students.

The state’s payments are less than what West Mifflin estimates their cost per pupil is, and they want the difference.

Based on the amounts quoted in the story, West Mifflin is being shorted just under $1.1 Million per year, or just over 2 percent of the total district budget.

Depending upon the billable hours charged by Mr. Levin and his firm to do the research, and the additional hours and court costs required to conduct a lawsuit and any subsequent appeals of the outcome, this may or may not be a financially advantageous proposition for the taxpayers in West Mifflin. The lawyers may end up being the only ones making money from this.

Regardless of who is right or wrong, or whether or not the district has a case, perhaps it is an accounting firm or financial advisor who should be doing the research as to whether or not the end justifies the means in taking this to court.

Also regardless of any outcome, it’s apparent that Duquesne needs an exit strategy, just like Sto-Rox.

Sto-Rox vs. Propel – Round 2

In what sounds like the beginnings of a 12-round brouhaha (complete with Michael Buffer and his signature, trademarked introduction), the P-G reported yesterday on the state Charter Appeals Board denying Sto-Rox’s request for a stay of Propel Charter School’s plans to build a school that could eventually house 800 students in grades K-12.

Sto-Rox Solicitor Ira Weiss, whose firm is so prolific in its representation of school districts that he could fairly be called the Michael Buffer of school solicitors, is readying an appeal to Commonwealth Court to stop what he and his clients perceive is a “death blow” to the school district. No doubt Mr. Weiss’ meter is running as well.

A fair question for Sto-Rox voters – how much is enough? When do you say “No mas“, or negotiate a truce?

Maybe it’s just an eerie coincidence, but they face Quaker Valley on the gridiron tonight.

Easton vs. the ACLU

The above question is probably something that the Easton Area School District should have considered before appealing a court decision against them involving the placement of restrictions on bracelets in support of breast cancer. This is more commonly known as the I Heart Boobies case.

Easton appealed lower court decisions in favor of the students all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the district’s appeal. Easton is now on the hook for ACLU attorney fees to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars, money that local media is lamenting and the ACLU is defending.

The district, while also stating the payments are unfortunate, also brought up the excellent point that the costs associated with taking an intractable dispute into the courts are unreasonable, and often preclude someone with limited resources from seeking an equitable resolution.

Rather than making rich lawyers richer, perhaps we should be focused more on playing nice, and knowing when compromise makes more sense.

Moon Area School District vs…Moon Township

Thursday’s Tribune-Review contained a curious story about the Moon Area School District’s efforts to disengage themselves from the Moon Transportation Authority, which leverages shared property tax revenue to help finance transportation infrastructure to support increased development.

The school district has taken its argument directly to the public in the form of an open letter detailing its differences with both the Transportation Authority (of which 2 members were appointed by the School Board) and Moon Township itself.

It sounds as if the school district wants its money back because it feels it needs it for its first mission – to educate students. This probably has something to do with their stated desire to explore swallowing up Cornell.

The Transportation Authority is a great idea, and has performed a great service to citizens by helping to assure that responsible development is accompanied by traffic management systems and highway improvements capable of handling the impact of that development.

Despite this, perhaps their greatest work has yet to come to fruition – one is the planned redesign of the I-376 Thorn Run interchange, arguably one of the most confusing in the area. The other relates to current and future development planned for University Boulevard, and the capacity of that roadway to handle any expected increase in traffic loads as a result. I covered this at length in a post from last year.

By virtue of the recent expansion of its campus along University Boulevard and the subsequent impact on this area, Moon Area School District needs to continue to support the Transportation Authority’s efforts to improve transportation infrastructure to facilitate greater development, and with it the payoff of an increased tax base.

The $3.5 Million that the school district is insisting be returned amounts to just over 5 percent of its current $68 Million budget. If the school district truly wants to “avoid the unsightly spectacle of litigation between governmental entities” (as they state in their letter), then they’ll forget this foolishness, continue to participate, and make sure that taxpayer funds are spent in some way other than lining the pockets of lawyers and the courts.

Jefferson County School Board vs. American History

No chronicle of recent school craziness would be complete if I didn’t digress back to Colorado, and the interesting attempts by the school board in Jefferson County to establish a “Curriculum Review Committee” to review the Advanced Placement History curriculum along what appear to be blatantly political lines, modeled after similar efforts in Texas.

The protests, which have been well covered by both local and national media, are likely to continue after the school board voted yesterday to modify their attempts at review, but to proceed with the process. That doesn’t seem likely to appease the bulk of those opposed.

The most entertaining aspect of this issue has been the assault on the school board position via Twitter. Some tweets using this hashtag were downright hilarious.

Perhaps the smartest thing I read came from my former hometown newspaper, which stated in an editorial last week:

While we applaud the anti-censorship sentiments behind the protests, we want to remind these impressionable students of another important civics lesson: School board elections matter.

Groups such as the Concerned Taxpayers of Quaker Valley know this, which is one reason why the “establishment” slate of candidates for the last school board election was largely defeated.

While I’m not optimistic for a general return to civility (at least not until after the election), I believe that compromise and common sense will somehow find a way to triumph over all this posturing and expense.

Have a great October. Play nice…

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