- Grove City, Pennsylvania

Local News

April 1, 2014

Better GCASD agendas sought

Directors also delay history book approval

GROVE CITY — A Grove City school director wants to discuss how board members and the public can be better informed about agenda items before meetings - which was a theme at Monday's voting meeting.

Faye Bailey wanted the board to discuss its committee of the whole format at April's workshop meeting held the first Monday of the month at 7 p.m.

"I've been struggling with this for a while," she said, adding that the board doesn't see the agenda until Friday afternoon when people are generally working.

In the past, district officials have said it's not always easy to deliver an early agenda due to last-minute requests that are added. 

However, "When we get it, I don't understand it. You get one word," Bailey said, referring to minimal descriptions of some agenda items.

"It's something the board said it would like more detail on, and that request is not being followed," she said.

The public is also unable to give informed input due to some bare descriptions on the agenda, which resident Carolyn Oppenheimer addressed.

At last week's committee of the whole meeting, Superintendent Dr. Richard Mextorf addressed the issue, saying it was "premature" for the public to get new business the board hasn't seen or discussed itself.

Oppenheimer said that was the board's authority to decide. She thought directors could receive information by mail the Wednesday prior to a meeting; the public, online by Friday "to provide transparency to citizens," she said.

At meetings, the public "can't say anything on our topics because they don't know," Bailey said. "And if I don't know what (the agenda) means, they obviously aren't going to know what it means."

A committee meeting is for the board and public to "dialog ... discuss, dig and work things out," she added. During ad hoc committees in the past, "We allowed community engagement," Bailey said. "If we are a committee of the whole, we have to truly be a committee."

Traditionally, board meetings allow public comments without board members giving input or asking question from the public.

Last year, meetings had allowed more dialog. Mextorf and board President Sue Herman still address some questions from the public; however, dialog was mostly curtailed to return to the traditional format. There had been instances when individuals were hoarding time with combative dialog.

"Sometimes the community has stuff we need to know," Bailey believed. "Often pressure is put on us to not to ask questions from the public ... and there's a lot of questions I have."

Adding more information to the agenda for the public to give more informed input could be a "simple" solution, she said.

"I think some things available to the board aren't always necessarily something we'd want to give (to the public) but we need to decide as a board what we want because it's our decision."

The matter will be on April's workshop agenda, where resident Esther Falcetta also made a request for the board to discuss forming a Citizens Advisory Committee to research and increase board/community engagement.

Bailey expressed concern over nine members of the district's co-ed swim team making it to the PIAA State meet at Bucknell University, where they will travel tomorrow and return Saturday.

"Our swim team is doing wonderful, but male athletes are going without a male coach we have approved," Bailey said. The team has female coaches and Bailey believes a male can supervise the boys in locker and hotel rooms - an issue that has formerly been raised by director Scott Somora, who has a son on the team.

Athletic director Bill Jordan said gender is not discussed in hiring coaches, presumably due to potential discrimination.

"It's not an isolated problem with the swim team but the coaches are able to work around it," he said. "There will be supervision and people in and out of that locker room. I don't see a problem."

Falcetta asked why she couldn't find written "administrative rules, regulations and procedures that ... specify the number of chaperones to accompany students for school-related activities and field trips" according to district policy.

"I would like to see a good discuss on that at the work session," she said.

Falcetta chided Herman for making statements in the past that most public schools in the state don't publish their policies online.

She quoted "a recent research project" of more than 400 public schools and 26 intermediate units: The majority published their policies online, while the remaining amount published some of them, she said.

In other business, director Heather Baker made a motion to table approving "American History: Connecting with the Past" by McGraw-Hill, for the high school's advanced placement history class next year.

Principal Rae Lin Howard stated after the meeting that it was on a list of approved history books chosen by teacher Bruce Irvine. Students can sign up for advanced placement classes to receive college credit - but an approved book is required for an advanced class to be taught, she added.

After hearing from residents on Friday, Baker looked at the textbook and then went online to read reviews - including ones from teachers - finding they "were not very favorable," she said. The children's librarian wanted more time to look at the book; other members of the board agreed and the purchase was tabled.

Oppenheimer and her husband, David Oppenheimer, encouraged the board to look at other options.

Students are "very impressionable and believe what they read are from experts who know what they are talking about," he said. "I feel the textbook is poorly written and has areas that do not cite facts."

For example, one paragraph stated that President Ronald Reagan "was 'isolated' from his administrators ... and had 'shocking, ignorant awareness of his policies,'" he said.

That could also be seen as Reagan's ability to be "a good delegator ... who didn't micro-manage," Oppenheimer noted.

His wife found "eight areas put in the textbook that were misleading and inaccurate," she said. "It gave one side of the issue but not the other."

Its "scanty description of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks" disturbed her most, she said. However, after the meeting she realized that more information was found in the textbook on that issue but hadn't been listed in the index under "Sept. 11."

On controversial social topics, the textbook "had a serious liberal bent," Mrs. Oppenheimer added, and made people of faith look bad.

"It wouldn't be the purpose of this board to politicize and have any type of propaganda as opposed to a well-written academic book," her husband said.

Published March 12, 2014, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.

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