Keep up with back-to-school news

It’s non-stop back-to-school madness these days.

Patrick Williams takes a first day photo of his daughter Evie, age 8, outside Wallace Elementary School. The new bus circle is used for a bus transfer to Lincolnway Elementary School. The first day of school at Wallace Elementary School in West Manchester Township Wednesday. (Photo by Paul Kuehnel)

Patrick Williams takes a first day photo of his daughter Evie, age 8, outside Wallace Elementary School. The new bus circle is used for a bus transfer to Lincolnway Elementary School. The first day of school at Wallace Elementary School in West Manchester Township Wednesday. (Photo by Paul Kuehnel)

Keep up with all of our stories here! More to come in the next few days.

When does school start, and what’s new in districts?

New and improved Wallace Elementary School opens

Teen computer programmers find coding opportunities in school and out

Getting kids back into school routines (Suggestion: start now even if the kids haven’t!)

Ready for kindergarten? Here are 8 tips for parents

Back-to-school shopping: What are families spending?

Going to college? Check out these helpful apps

Opening of York City’s Hannah Penn delayed by mold; air quality OK, district says

5 things to know about local colleges starting the semester

Restored garden was a focus at Goode K-8 Back-to-School night

William Penn Senior High School opens with a focus on freshmen

More stories are coming, so check back for more in the next few days.

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Moody’s: Financial stresses cause districts, including York City, to see bond rating downgrades

A report from a credit rating agency outlines troubles faced by school districts around Pennsylvania, noting that York City is among those to have its bond rating downgraded in recent months.

Here’s a look at what’s happened.

‘Unlikely to recovery soon': A July report from Moody’s says a small group of “troubled” Pennsylvania schools are dealing with severe financial stress and are unlikely to recovery soon.

The reasons? A “fiscal cocktail” of rising pension obligations, delayed construction reimbursement from the state, charter school pressures and a failure to raise property taxes, the report says. It notes that four school districts in the state are now “speculative grade,” which means there is a substantial amount of credit risk, according to a Moody’s spokesperson.

The report also notes that Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget would be favorable to districts, but that growing pension and charter costs are competing with debt for state funding.

York City downgraded: The report notes that in June, York City School District’s credit rating was downgraded from Baa2 negative to Baa3 negative.

The report for that downgrade lists what we already know about the district as reasons: it has high debt burden, a stagnant tax base, high poverty levels and low wealth. The report does note that the district’s condition has improved in recent years, but says one-time revenues helped achieve positive operating results in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

York City’s rating is still investment grade, according to Moody’s.  It could be improved if it continues balanced operations and increases reserves and cash on hand, if its tax base improves, its debt decreases or tax collections improve, Moody’s says.

See that report below.

Auditor general weighs in:  Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said the report shows the need for reform of Pennsylvania’s education system.

“This is troubling news for school districts and for residents because when bond ratings are downgraded it drives up the costs when schools need to borrow money or repair or upgrade their facilities,” he said in a news release. “Simply increasing funding is not enough. We need to stem the hemorrhaging of school district finances and look for long-term, systemic changes.”



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Back-to-school shopping: What are you spending?

Last year, Adam Coomes, left, of Stewartstown, shopped with his mom Kristin Coomes and his brother, Kyle Coomes at Target in Springettsbury Township. (File photo)

Last year, Adam Coomes, left, of Stewartstown, shopped with his mom Kristin Coomes and his brother, Kyle Coomes at Target in Springettsbury Township. (File photo)

In most districts around York County, students will head back to school in less than a month. Have you started your shopping?

Check out what the annual survey from the National Retail Federation has to say about the annual rite of back-to-school shopping.

$630.36

That’s the average amount a K-12 family spends on electronics, apparel and other school supplies. It’s nearly $39 less than a family expected to spend last year.

Here’s how it breaks down:

$217.82 – clothing and accessories

$117.56 – shoes

$97.74 – school supplies

$197.24 – electronics or computer-related equipment Continue reading “Back-to-school shopping: What are you spending?” »

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Report: Senate votes on rewrite of No Child Left Behind

From the Associated Press:

“The Senate has voted to roll back significant parts of the much-criticized No Child Left Behind education law.

The overhaul was approved by a 81-17 vote Thursday and now sets the stage for what could be contentious negotiations with the House over the federal government’s influence over education policy.

A week ago, the House passed its own update of the 2002 law that President George W. Bush pushed.

The Senate bill would leave in place the law’s annual testing schedule. But senators voted to give states and districts more control over whether and how to use tests to assess the performance of schools, teachers and students.

It’s a more moderate approach than the House bill.

The chambers will have to negotiate and approve a compromise.”

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Leadership York program helps foster diversity in schools

More than two dozen York County educators were part of the Leadership for Diverse Schools Class of 2015.

Leadership for Diverse Schools is a program run by Leadership York that helps those working in schools learn to interact more effectively with diverse populations of students, parents and colleagues, a news release says.

The program, a partnership with the York Jewish Community Center, fosters understanding, acceptance and tolerance so educators can lead the way in building culturally proficient communities in their districts, the release says.

Did educators from your district participate? Check out the photo below to find out.

Read about a past Leadership for Diverse Schools class here.

The Leadership for Diverse Schools class of 2015: Emily Frey, Holly Rishel, and Lorna Brenneman, Central York School District; Heather Lyons, Karin Rimer, Catherine Roberto, Kristen Cooper, and Sherry Hetrick, Dallastown Area School District; Randall Seely, Eastern York School District; Anne Clark, Lincoln Charter School; Amy Nohe and Stacey Sidle, Northeastern School District; Evangeline Unti and Shelly Thomas, Northern York County School District; Diane Velez, Red Lion Area School District; George Fitch, Jr., Edwin Hernandez, and Jessica Reyes, School District of the City of York; Joyce Marburger and Joel Logan, South Eastern School District; Jon Zimmerman, South Western School District; Maurene Leary and Kelly Bortner, Spring Grove Area School District; and Krista Wolfenberger, Jennifer Andrews, Amy Kendrick, Alicia Kowitz, and Dana Kitting, York Suburban School District. (Submitted photo)

The Leadership for Diverse Schools class of 2015: Emily Frey, Holly Rishel, and Lorna Brenneman, Central York School District; Heather Lyons, Karin Rimer, Catherine Roberto, Kristen Cooper, and Sherry Hetrick, Dallastown Area School District; Randall Seely, Eastern York School District; Anne Clark, Lincoln Charter School; Amy Nohe and Stacey Sidle, Northeastern School District; Evangeline Unti and Shelly Thomas, Northern York County School District; Diane Velez, Red Lion Area School District; George Fitch, Jr., Edwin Hernandez, and Jessica Reyes, School District of the City of York; Joyce Marburger and Joel Logan, South Eastern School District; Jon Zimmerman, South Western School District; Maurene Leary and Kelly Bortner, Spring Grove Area School District; and Krista Wolfenberger, Jennifer Andrews, Amy Kendrick, Alicia Kowitz, and Dana Kitting, York Suburban School District. (Submitted photo)

 

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York City School District’s community action committee takes shape

Carol Saylor, chief recovery officer for the York City School District, said about 50 people have been tapped for the community action committee she and York Mayor Kim Bracey are to lead.

Here’s a look at who’s on the list. Keep in mind that the committee is less formal than a typical committee that meets regularly.

Annette Anderson

Elodia Barajas, a parent liaison in the school district

Kim Bracey, York mayor

Sara Bradley

Michael Breeland, school board member

Jeanne Buckingham

Warren Bulette, leads the York County Taxpayers Council

Carla Christopher

Jane Conover, York County Community Foundation Continue reading “York City School District’s community action committee takes shape” »

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School construction reimbursement part of budget battle

Districts around York County are among those awaiting reimbursement from the state for construction costs. Just how those costs should be covered by the state is one of the many issues associated with the state budget.

Dillsburg Elementary is undergoing renovations. (File photo)

Dillsburg Elementary is undergoing renovations. (File photo)

Here’s a look at what’s being considered.

What’s PlanCon? 

It’s the system by which the state reimburses school districts for some school construction costs.

What’s wrong with it? 

By all accounts, it’s an antiquated (think large binders and microfilm), paperwork-heavy, multi-step process that’s a pain to navigate.  And in recent years, a number of districts have become stuck at steps G and H – right before money actually starts flowing. There was a moratorium on new applications, money stopped flowing for those applications already in, and many districts are still waiting for funds they expected to receive.

What’s happening now? Continue reading “School construction reimbursement part of budget battle” »

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She helped a garden grow at Windsor Manor Elementary

A garden at Windsor Manor Elementary will be removed this month, according to Melanie Markowski. She's helped students tend it for 15 years.

A garden at Windsor Manor Elementary will be removed this month, according to Melanie Markowski. She’s helped students tend it for 15 years. (Submitted)

For 15 years, Melanie Markowski has helped the Junior Garden at Windsor Manor Elementary School blossom. But all good things, it seems, eventually come to an end.

Markowski, of Windsor, said the garden will be removed in July because of renovations the Red Lion Area School District plans to make. She started the garden with a grant and since has advised the Junior Garden Club at Windsor Manor and Mazie Gable elementary schools.

Students have been tending the garden for 15 years, and Markowski estimates that thousands of children have toured it during that time. The 1,200 square feet of beds include are gardens certified as a Monarch Waystation and a National Wildlife Schoolyard Habitat Site, she said.

Markowski – a volunteer – reached out because she wanted to thank those who have helped with the effort during that time.

Here’s what Markowski wrote:

Students have worked in a garden at Windsor Manor Elementary School for years.

Students have worked in a garden at Windsor Manor Elementary School for years. (Submitted)

“For the past fifteen years the elementary students of Windsor Manor and Mazie Gable have created a garden oasis for wildlife at the Windsor Manor Elementary.  Due to renovations by the school district the gardens will be removed in July and permanently closed.  I would like to reach out to the many students who have both contributed to, and toured the gardens, to say thank you for your efforts on behalf of wildlife and to beautify your community.

Though the Junior Garden program at Windsor Manor has ended, students and other gardeners are encouraged to continuing to garden at your own homes and with your families; and plant flowers and trees to attract wildlife like butterflies, bees, birds, small mammals and amphibians to your homes.

Melanie Markowski started a garden at Windsor Manor Elementary School 15 years ago. (Submitted)

Melanie Markowski started a garden at Windsor Manor Elementary School 15 years ago. (Submitted)

Students as Windsor Manor Junior Garden Club members and in general people who garden, learn the basics of gardening, such as tool safety, planting, trimming, composting, mulching, and weeding as well as enhance their abilities to work in a group, work together on tasks, make decisions, problem solve, and accept their different ways of doing a task all while reaching common end goals.  Gardeners enjoy mild exercise and  learn patience waiting for the garden to develop.  Discovering nature and learning to care more about the environment are bonuses.”

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York City schools see principal changes

Melanie Still - who was assistant principal at Hannah Penn K-8 School in this photo - has been named principal at Ferguson K-8 School in York.

Melanie Still – who was assistant principal at Hannah Penn K-8 School in this photo – has been named principal at Ferguson K-8 School in York. (File photo)

Principals in York City are shuffling around for the 2015-16 school year.

A large school board agenda Wednesday night contained a lot of personnel related items, including the rearranging of some principals in the district.

Here’s a look at the new lineup:

Devers K-8 School: Denise Blackwell (previously at Ferguson)

Jackson K-8 School: Philip Livelsberger (previously at Hannah Penn K-8 School)

Hannah Penn K-8 School: Brandon Hufnagel (most recently assistant principal at William Penn)

Ferguson K-8 School: Melanie Still (previously assistant principal at Hannah Penn)

Davis K-8 School: Mindy Sweitzer (most recently at Devers K-8 School, previously led Cornerstone)

Brandon Carter was named principal at William Penn – a role he was already filling in an “acting” capacity. It appears that Randy James, at Goode K-8 School, and Danielle Brown, at McKinley K-8 School, are staying put.

Lulu Thomas, who was principal at Davis, has moved to the administration building as director of pupil personnel services.

Asked about the changes, Supt. Eric Holmes said the district takes a look at each administrator’s strengths and tries to match them with the various schools. He added that last year, there were about 11 administrators in “acting” roles around the district, so some appointments were officially filling positions.

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Superintendents get letter on spending Wolf’s proposed education increase

A letter to Pennsylvania superintendents from acting education Secretary Pedro Rivera describes how the state wants school districts to use proposed additional funds in classrooms.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget would increase basic education funding by $400 million, the letter says, and Wolf’s proposal includes two accountability measures for using it.

All districts will be required to use “a portion of their basic education funding increase that exceeds the inflation-based index” for evidence based programs such as: early childhood education programs like pre-kindergarten, summer learning programs, additional instructional time, smaller early elementary classes, hybrid learning options, and more.

Wolf also wants to see the effectiveness of the additional investments, the letter says, so districts will choose benchmarks for that purpose. Those could include looking at the percentage of additional students able to read on grade level by the end of third grade, progress in closing the achievement gap, improvements in high school graduation and dropout rates and more.

The letter says they should submit plans mid-May.

Read the full letter below.

Update: Senate Republicans issued a news release late today saying it is premature to mandate districts submit plans for the proposed funding.

“This latest political stunt by the Wolf Administration completely disregards the need for the legislative process,” Sen. Joe Scarnati said in the release.  “Governor Wolf and his Administration are placing a significant burden on our school officials by mandating that they complete these reports for funding, which has not been vetted by the Legislature.”

Read that news release here.

Letter to Superintendents by Governor Tom Wolf

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