February 6, 2016
By a tie 4-4 vote, the Avon Grove School Board board did not approve the implementation of Full-Day Kindergarten (FDK) at their last board meeting on January 28. This effectively cancels FDK for the 2016/17 school year. Almost all the directors expressed strong support for FDK, but those voting against it wanted more information from the administration before they could approve it.
The voting process was clumsy and stalled for a while because there were several confusing and different motions on the agenda for FDK. The first motion approved FDK, but did not set a timetable for its implementation. Two other motions established implementation in either 2016/17 or 2017/18. A third motion approved money to begin work on modular classrooms. These motions were so confusing that it was not entirely clear what a 'yes' vote implied.
Ultimately, all of these motions were withdrawn and a simple motion was made to implement FDK in 2016/17. That motion did not pass because it resulted in a tie vote. (4 directors approved. 4 directors disapproved. 1 director was absent.)
In previous meetings Superintendent Marchese had stated that January 28 was the latest date that the board could approve FDK and expect to launch it successfully for 2016/17. However, it is likely that the board members who unsuccessfully voted in favor of FDK will challenge this deadline and still attempt to launch FDK as soon as possible.
How They Voted
Bonnie Wolff, Brian Gaerity, and Herman Engel - voted yes
All expressed strong unwavering support for implementing FDK. Both Brian and Bonnie read detailed statements in favor of FDK. Herman expressed frustration at the 'stalling' tactics, which he felt would effectively kill FDK in Avon Grove. None of these directors would allow the lack of understanding of how it would be funded and how it would impact other priorities sway them against FDK. They were all clearly frustrated by the outcome.
Charlie Beatty (re-elected 2015)- voted no
Charlie went into a detailed presentation citing various studies that question the long-term academic value of FDK. He also discussed the dramatic impact current spending levels will have on available reserve funds and taxes. He pointed out that even if the board merely increases tax rates each year at the same ~3% planned for next year, this will build up to a 20% cumulative increase in 6 years and just keep pace with recent annual growth.
Patrick Walker - voted no
Pat stated that he wants to better understand FDK and the impact on the community before it is implemented. He strongly supports FDK, but was clearly frustrated by not being given information from the administration despite multiple requests over a period of weeks. He said he was worried that a 'yes' vote would end the board's role and allow the administration to proceed without any board control.
Edward Farina - voted yes
Ed expressed concern that he still had questions that had not been adequately answered. He appeared to make his decision at the last moment, because he paused dramatically before voting 'yes'.
Jeff Billig (elected 2015) - voted no
Jeff had reservations about moving forward with so many unanswered questions. His primary objection was that the implementation of FDK was going to be done at the expense of addressing maintenance issues at the existing facilities. He specifically cited roof leaks and poor heating in parts of the high school and took a very strong position on these points. His concerns seem to be supported by the fact that while the first look budget for 2016/17 includes a tax increase and new programs such as FDK, the capital/maintenance budget for the year was cut dramatically. He stated clearly that he is in favor of FDK.
Pattie Lyons - voted no
Pattie made almost no comments and asked no questions during the meeting, so the reasons for her vote are unclear.
Tracy Lisi (elected 2015) was absent and did not vote.
We have been told Tracy was on a business trip and so could not attend the meeting. We do not know how she might have voted if she had been present.
Board is Accountable to the Community
This vote was a statement by the board that they would not be pushed to approve a plan they are accountable for without fully understanding it. The Administration and Board Leaders Gaerity and Wolff have been unwilling or unable to provide the analysis other members have requested. Given the build up to this vote and the pressure generated, it took a lot of courage to vote 'no' (really 'not yet').
We want to thank those community members who took the time to reach out to the board and express an opinion, or even ask questions. If you contacted your board members, you can take comfort in knowing that you helped influence this decision. Without the support of the community, this program would have probably been approved quietly some time ago. Until the community spoke up, the board likely did not feel the weight of their responsibility to all the people that they represent. In all likelihood board members have been hearing feedback from a small but vocal community subset that is in favor of FDK at any cost and disappointed by the vote. Please take an extra moment to thank the board members who stood up for you and encourage them to continue doing so. (See contact information here)
We believe that FDK may be possible in the future, but it should be prioritized appropriately based on our limited resources. With rapidly rising costs for existing expenses, and the higher priority of addressing neglected maintenance/upgrades for the facilities currently in use, careful spending decisions are required that balance the goals and costs of any new program. The impact of adding additional costs must be considered. For example: The capital budget for 2016/17 was cut from nearly $10 million to $1.9 million to accommodate FDK and other new expenses and stay within the anticipated revenue which includes a 3.17% tax increase.