Your Vote Is Vital to the Future of Avon Grove Schools!

Brian Gaerity and Patrick Walker want to keep Avon Grove’s schools strong and resident taxes low. We want Avon Grove to be the highest performing, most cost-effective district in the state. We want our students to achieve unprecedented levels of success while in school and continue that success well after they graduate. We believe that high-performing schools are fundamental to a strong community.

We are parents with extensive business and legal experience. We know our district well and what the key issues are. We bring a reasoned, balanced, non-partisan approach to decision-making, and will work hard to ensure that Avon Grove remains in the top 50 of Pennsylvania school districts in terms of student achievement and the lowest 25% in terms of taxes. Click on any of the menus above for more information about us, the election and the school district.

This election is especially significant. Our current board is fractured and unfocused; some members are following narrow political agendas that contribute nothing to education quality. The district has cut programs, staff and support to levels that significantly risk further gains in student achievement.  The condition of some of our school buildings is “deplorable,” to quote from the new superintendent. If we want to protect Avon Grove’s schools, students and communities, then we need to elect board members that will fight for high-quality, cost-effective education. 

Please go to the polls on Tuesday, November 5 and cast your ballot for Brian Gaerity and Patrick Walker. We will work hard to improve the Avon Grove School District, and ensure every child receives the best education possible. And we will do so in a way that is fiscally responsible, ethical and in the best interests of the entire community.

Thank you for your support!

9 thoughts on “Your Vote Is Vital to the Future of Avon Grove Schools!

  1. Jim McNicholas

    Do your children attend public schools in the District?
    How do you propose to accomplish your goals?
    How do you plan to address the following;
    No significant industrial or commercial tax base in the district.
    Homeowners who received property tax adjustments when market crashed, now are receiving the benefit of a increase in value from the bottom of the market.
    Activity fees have been put in place and activity funding has decreased.
    District teachers are at the low end of the pay spectrum when compared to other Districts in the Chest-Mont.

    Reply
    1. agvote Post author

      Jim,

      Thanks for your comments.

      Here are our answers:

      Do your children attend public schools in the District?
      Yes, we both have children that attend the public schools. Brian has one at AGIS and one at AGHS. Patrick has 4 children that attend PLE(2), AGIS and AGCS.

      How do you propose to accomplish your goals?
      First, our goal is to maintain a strong school system, now and into the future. We want to keep student achievement high as well as to support extra-curricular activities that help to engage the students in the school system and academics. We think that being open-minded, professional and well-prepared goes a long way toward achieving results. Both of us have many years of experience in a variety of organizations — for-profit and non-profit — and have been very involved in our children’s educations. We believe that cooperation is better than contention, and that data trumps opinion. Brian served on the board two years ago and has served on many district committees. We know how the system works.

      How do you plan to address the following;
      No significant industrial or commercial tax base in the district.

      No doubt local property owners carry the biggest load when it comes to school taxes. The split is about 63.5% local, 35% state and 1.5% federal. The relative percentages have shifted a bit over time but for the most part this is the way it’s been for 10 years and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. There is always talk in Harrisburg about changing funding formulas to relieve local property owners, but potential solutions are complex and politically challenging. So what can we do locally? One, work more closely with the townships and boroughs to develop a regional growth model that encourages more business development while maintaining our rural character. Another thing is to make sure our schools continue to produce strong results, so that the area will attract new residents and drive new spending with local businesses. If our schools are successful, our area will be successful. It’s as simple as that.

      Homeowners who received property tax adjustments when market crashed, now are receiving the benefit of a increase in value from the bottom of the market.
      Not sure how much the local real estate market has recovered. Values in Franklin and London Britain townships don’t seem to have increased much since the bottom. If and when there is a real estate recovery, housing turnover will increase but any higher prices will not necessarily be reflected in the tax assessment value; assessments remain in place until the homeowner is granted a new assessment (by request) or the county performs a comprehensive property revaluation (hat tip to Dick Whipple for setting the record straight for us). At any rate, there’s really nothing that the school board can do on this front. We would suggest contacting your state legislators – either John Lawrence or Chris Ross, depending on where you live in the district; and Dominic Pileggi.

      Activity fees have been put in place and activity funding has decreased.
      All areas of discretionary spending have been reduced over the last three years. Without the activity fees, more sports and activities would have been cut. We’d like to see a more strategic approach to extracurricular funding, to ensure the programs are adequately and predictably funded. Community and business support will be essential, but the district needs to lead the way.

      District teachers are at the low end of the pay spectrum when compared to other Districts in the Chest-Mont.
      Not sure this is the case. Teacher salaries were adjusted several years ago to stem turnover; salaries were targeted to the mid-range of the county. As far as we know, that is still true. In negotiations with the teachers’ union, salaries don’t seem to be the biggest issue.

      Thanks again for your questions. Hope you’ll support us on May 21.

      Brian Gaerity
      Patrick Walker

      Reply
  2. Matthew Procopio

    Hello Brian
    My question concerns the schools districts readiness plan for school based tragedies such a gun violence committed by individuals who are not well adjusted. Where can I get a copy of the this plan. I am a pro gun advocate and believe our schools should be prepared in a proactive way. I am a believer in getting rid of the gun free zoning for our schools. In my opinion my kids lives deserve the most we can do. I realize this is a sensitive issue in society right now and a big concern for parents. I would just like to know that the district is taking every precaution in a proactive way. I also would like more than a “yes we are ” in an email. I think a town hall meeting on this subject should be organized by the district so all district parents can have a conversation on this subject with our local officials and police force. I believe in the short term this will be a big help in the event tragedy strikes.

    Thank you for your time
    Matthew J. Procopio
    matthew_procopio@comcast.net

    Reply
    1. agvote Post author

      Matthew,

      In light of recent events, we understand that school district personnel have had discussions with local and state authorities regarding what additional measures the district can take and what measures these authorities are prepared to take in the event of gun violence. We recommend you direct your request for a copy of the readiness plan to Superintendent Massaro. We support updating the readiness plan to specifically address the possibility of gun violence visited upon the school district by any individual.

      Regarding the other issues you touched upon, I agree this is an important issue and parents should have a say. Personally, I’ve spoken with security experts and their advice is to focus on two things: building access and behavioral observation. The experts I have spoken to specifically don’t recommend armed personnel, mostly due to the substantially higher risks of accidental discharge, loss of gun security and diminished vigilance by staff. I’m a gun owner but haven’t seen any evidence that armed personnel at schools is the best way to prevent violence. I’m all for a town hall meeting to get parents more involved.

      Thanks for your questions.
      -Brian

      Reply
  3. Russell McKinnon

    Some Questions.
    1. Will adding “fair share” mandatory deductions to the new teacher’s contract make education better or worse at Avon Grove?
    2. Will adding optional deductions from teacher’s pay for political action contributions make education better or worse?
    3. If the school board members realize they made a bad decision, is it a sign of weakness to admit it?
    4. Do you have any concerns about federal government involvement in education?
    5. Do you have any concerns about Common Core State Standards being mandated by executive order at the state level?
    6. Is the school district required to pay “prevailing wage” on contract work? If so, would “right to work” legislation help the education of our children?
    7. Power is steadily being stripped from the individual. I believe we have many excellent teachers and administrators at Avon Grove. Should anything be done to allow them more freedom to do their jobs?

    Thank You,

    Russell McKinnon

    Reply
    1. agvote Post author

      Russell,

      Thanks for your questions. Here’s our response:

      The district recently approved a collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union (AGEA) that 1) saves the district at least $500,000 over the two years of the contract; 2) improves the tuition reimbursement program; 3) changes health care benefits in ways that will save the district more money over time. In exchange, the district allowed the collection of fair share fees from non-union teachers and voluntary deductions for the union’s political action committee. Taken as a whole – which is the only way a contract can be taken – it’s a good deal for the district. The majority of teachers and school board members supported it. To the extent that the new contract will continue to allow us to hire, develop and retain great teachers, time will tell. Given Avon Grove’s stellar track record of student achievement per dollar, we’d argue that the district is doing something right.

      Public eduction is primarily a state and local responsibility, but is a national concern. The federal government has a legitimate role to play. Mostly, it ensures that all students are given equal access to public education. We are thankful for the role the federal government has played over time in desegregating schools, creating athletic programs for girls, and ensuring that students with disabilities can get a quality education. To the extent that the federal government encourages and supports equal access, high academic standards and international competitiveness, we think their role can be positive.

      The state determines academic standards for students, and the state adopted the Common Core standards. Brian has read all the Common Core standards and believes they will help increase the skills, knowledge and competencies of our students. Standards don’t determine how teachers teach; teachers are free to use whatever texts and methods they feel are best. I encourage you to read PDE’s fact sheet on Common Core. You can also get more information at the Avon Grove Parents blog.

      Good teachers have a big “toolbox” of approaches so that they can address individual student needs. Good schools have teachers who share best practices and are continuously building their skills. We see this every day at Avon Grove, in both teachers and administrators. Brian serves on the Curriculum Committee and has witnessed teachers and administrators evaluate current approaches, brainstorm and analyze new ideas and work cooperatively to implement the most promising ones. We strongly support any improvements and extensions of this approach. Teachers are and will always be bound by broad policies of conduct and procedure set by the administration and by the requirements of the topics they teach. They will always be required to provide their students the basic elements of their topic to allow, for example, the student to pass standardized testing. How they go about teaching and how they structure and implement their lesson plans are, or should be, free from excessive oversight.

      The school board just passed a resolution calling for the elimination of prevailing wage; we support that resolution. We also support the principle of “right to work”, because we believe in competitive labor markets and that compensation should be based on performance. By the way, Pennsylvania is implementing a new performance evaluation system for teachers that includes student achievement as a component of performance. It will interesting to see how the new system works.

      Finally, it is never a sign of weakness to take responsibility for a bad decision. School board members are no exception.

      -Brian and Patrick

      Reply
  4. Megan N.

    How will our kindergartners master the common core state standards with the current half day program? Do you believe they will be fully prepared for the first grade with only a half day schedule?

    Reply
    1. agvote Post author

      Great question. The current half-day Kindergarten program strives to ensure all students are on grade level as they enter first grade. We know that some students, perhaps 10-15%, do not complete Kindergarten on grade level. With the new, more rigorous PA Common Core standards (or whatever the state decides to call them), that percentage may increase. Two possible solutions: 1) target at-risk students and provide a full-day program for them; or 2) offer full-day Kindergarten for everyone. We believe that Avon Grove should offer, at a minimum, solution #1. This approach was piloted a couple of years ago with excellent results. The research is sound as well: the earlier we can intervene, the better the chances are for these students to stay on grade level. It’s also more cost-effective than waiting to intervene later. While we support full-day Kindergarten for all, the problem is that Penn London Elementary simply doesn’t have the space for that many Kindergarten students. It would require additions and/or reconfiguration, the cost of which is unknown. But it’s an option definitely worth exploring.

      Reply
  5. agvote Post author

    A resident emailed Patrick this question:
    “Could you please share yours and Brian’s opinion and position on charter schools and their funding within the public school system.”

    Our answer:
    The issue of charter schools is complicated. In recent years, charter schools were championed as a way to provide alternative educational choices for parents in struggling school districts. Charter schools are privately run, but publically funded. Charter schools draw their funding from the public school system. Some charter schools have provided a service or met a need not available through the local school district. Some have not. It is not clear that all charter schools are a sufficient educational alternative to justify the cost of public funds. Inherently, the existence of a charter school alternative is inefficient. The finite pool of public funds supports two infrastructures (e.g. building, teachers, …) leaving less per child for the both. This situation with cyber charter schools, which have less infrastructure, is further complicated because they receive the same amount of public funding per child.

    That being said, I do support the Avon Grove Charter School (AGCS). Three of our four children attended AGCS with great success. AGCS offers full day Kindergarten and excellent special educational services. Despite its name, it is a Chester County based charter school. Children from across the county attend AGCS, defraying the cost across many school districts.

    Brian also supports the AGCS. When Brian served on the Board of the Avon Grove School District he voted to renew the AGCS’s charter. Regarding charter school reform, future funding should be a function of each school’s (charter or public) respective responsibilities (e.g., academic programs, administration, transportation, special education, sports, band, clubs, etc.). Also, all charter schools should be held to the same level of accountability and transparency as public schools.

    Reply

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