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A community Web site for the Octorara Area School District is now available for you at To register, visit, click on My Community on the top left, and register to be notified or contribute some "buzz."

You will also have the opportunity to comment on community news and issues and send in news of community events. News items formerly posted to this site as a community service now apear just there.

Welcome and participate!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Octorara adds new staff

The Octorara Area School Board tweaked the district personnel roster Aug. 15 in anticipation of the new school year.

Although there is no new contract with the district’s teachers union, the board signed two memorandums of understanding with its teachers union, and is approving regular salary step increases for teachers.

One memorandum outlines a flex schedule for high school counselors and instructional support team members, whose services are needed during the summer, and gives them equal time off during the school year. The other memorandum allows for shift changes for secondary and elementary staff who are covering program needs outside of their routine assignments.

The school board hired: Katherine Smith as a junior/senior high school math teacher at a $46,914 salary; Michelle Maser, Tammy Anthony and Joan Miller as a Title 1 reading assistants; and a group of as-needed substitute teachers and substitute support staff.

Resignations were accepted from: alternative education assistant Cori Brittingham; computer technicial Terrance Cusick; and classroom assistants Judy Miller and Wanda Fisher.

Two teachers, Erika Lunch and Sally Welk, were granted unpaid family medical leave from the spring of 2012 through the end of the school year in June, 2012.

The board also approved a contract with Signal 88 Security for traffic security along Highland Road during peak bus times mornings and afternoons Monday through Friday. Signal 88 will be paid $34.88 per hour, at a cost not to exceed $20,000 during the school year. The company is a venture for Peter Mango, a retired police officer and former school board member.

Superintendent Tom Newcome said the contracted rate is lower than those of local police departments and was one of his cost-saving recommendations to the board.

Newcome also reported a group of parents contacted him about running a soccer program with seventh and eighth grade boys and girls. He said the community members plan to help fund the team and offer one combined team for boys, and one combined team for girls.

Finally, Newcome said music teachers recently ran a very successful two-week summer band camp for students in grades 5-8 which culminated in a well-attended concert.

Michalowski to oversee Octorara special education

Kathryn Michalowski will be stepping in to oversee the needs of 429 special education students in the Octorara Area School District on Sept. 1.

Look for a smooth transition and a continued commitment to service, according to Michalowski, an Octorara resident.

“First and foremost, my priority is to maintain the excellent level of service that Mr. DiObilda has given to students, families and the community over the past 38 years,” Michalowski said of Richard DiObilda, her retiring co-worker.

“As an educator, I am interested in ensuring that our students, parents and educational community understand the special education process and how it can best support student learning.”

A former teacher and district administrator, Michalowski began working for the Octorara district in 2004. She said she was so impressed with the district she moved herself and her two children to Octorara. Her children, a son and a daughter, are sophomores at Octorara Area Junior/Senior High School.

“My daughter is quite involved in sports, is interested in foreign affairs, and would like to serve her country,” said Michalowski. “My son loves to read and has his sights set on physics or astrophysics.”

Michalowski has a varied educational background. She earned her bachelor’s degree in German and secondary education and music from Towson State University. She also holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Florida. Michalowski completed post-graduate studies in English literature, and German and Scandinavian language and literature at the University of Munich.

She has principal and superintendent certifications, and has completed doctoral level course work in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Districts weigh sports, costs

The Octorara Area School District is not the only district struggling with how to fund sports. A three-part series in the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era highlights this issue among Lancaster County Schools.

To read this go to and read "Districts weigh sports,costs" from July 26; "Pay-to-play gaining momentum" from July 27; and "Are high school sports still relevant?" from July 28.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Emergency tax for Octorara region?

Municipalities throughout Lancaster County are struggling with how to fund emergency services. The Sunday News story, “Sounding the Alarm,” highlights local issues surrounding fire company mergers and proposed fire taxes.

In the Octorara region, the Christiana Ambulance Association has also sounded a financial warning bell.

Representatives from the Christiana Ambulance Association, which handled more than 1,000 calls in southeastern Lancaster County last year, are asking that local municipalities consider imposing a tax to fund the emergency medical service.

Hank Oleyniczak, Jack Mariano and Herb Hogg told Sadsbury Township supervisors July 5 rising costs, sinking donations, and a lack of volunteer EMT drivers are leading the board to think the association could run out of money in four or five years.

“We’d like to still be here to serve,” said Hogg. “If we close there will be an ambulance, but I have no idea where it’s coming from. We cover a huge area. Less people are supporting the ambulance all the time, which isn’t entirely fair.“

The association has 20 full and part-time paid employees, and a loyal core of six active volunteers which keep an ambulance available 24 hours, seven days a week. The association’s ambulance was the first on the scene at the Nickel Mine school shooting and maintains a visible presence along the busy Route 41 corridor.

Not having more volunteers is a budget buster, according to Oleyniczak.

“The EMT course is 200 hours,“ said Oleyniczak. “It’s hard to get a volunteer to put in 200 hours of training and work for free.”

Mariano said the service, along with other organizations, has lost volunteers and he would like to encourage young people to volunteer and use the service as a stepping stone to a good job.

“The me generation has come of age and isn’t interested in helping out the community,” agreed Supervisor Eugene Lammey.

Oleyniczak said the association receives no government funding and local state representatives said none would be forthcoming. The association receives money for ambulance runs, and from membership donations. However, memberships have dropped from 1,408 in 2008 to the current figure of 1,235.

According to Hogg, the association placed a new ambulance in use three weeks ago since the old one had 180,000 miles, and the community supported this with $42,000 in donations during last year‘s ambulance drive. The association has a building which it owns free and clear at 55 Pine Creek Drive, and shares space with the Lancaster EMS.

“Our ambulance association has up to now held its own, and we have a very strong board” Hogg said.

Mariano also told supervisors the association appreciates the help it receives from the township road crew in keeping its driveway plowed during snow storms.

Supervisors made no commitment about imposing an EMS tax.

“This gives us some time to look at it and come up with some help,” said Lammey.

School employees made $9 million in cuts

Octorara Area School District administrators and support staff made $81,000 in concessions to help trim the school district’s 2011-12 budget, according to a story in the July 25 Intelligencer Journal/New Era. Read it at:

The story compares salary cost-cutting measures made throughout Lancaster County School Districts. County-wide, school employees cut expenses by $9 million.

In Octorara, the cuts (beyond the $81,000 figure) also included eliminating the jobs of the evening custodial staff. This contract went to ServiceMaster. The athletic director director was also furloughed, but has begun a job as an independent athletic trainer and may earn up to $30,000 annually in services performed for district athletic teams.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Octorara won't test 'Clean and Green'

The Octorara Area School District will not be testing the constitutionality of Act 319, better known as “Clean and Green,” according to Superintendent Thomas Newcome.

Newcome told the school board July 11 he received a legal opinion from Clarence Kegel of Kegel, Kelin, Almy and Grimm LLP, which seemingly upholds the state’s authority to give tax preference to farms.

School board members urged Newcome to get a legal opinion about the possibility of challenging the act’s constitutionality following a recent public comment from Thomas Seth of Sadsbury Township, who said his research indicated school boards should be reimbursed if some properties receive a tax break.

According to Octorara administrators, the district “loses” $5.4 million annually in revenue to properties enrolled in Act 319, which receive a tax break for their role in agriculture. But instead of returning the revenue lost to open space to the school district, the state requires that the school board balance its budget by either raising taxes, closing programs, or passing the burden on to other property owners in the school district.

Legislation such as House Bill 339 which could require the state to reimburse school districts for Clean and Green revenue, have received very little state-wide interest, according to state Rep. Bryan Cutler and state Rep. John Lawrence, who have addressed the school board on the issue during the past year.

Other Lancaster and Chester County school districts are also impacted by Clean and Green, including Pequea Valley, Solanco, Lampeter-Strasburg, Elanco, and Coatesville.

A suit to force the issue appeared to be a glimmer of hope during a year of uncomfortable budget cuts which included teacher furloughs, combining schools into a junior-senior high school, cutting the athletic director’s position, and outsourcing the evening custodial work.

Kegel believes Pennsylvania's constitution provides the legislature with the authority to give tax preference to farms, and does not require state reimbursement for the loss of revenue. Kegel cites Section 2(b)(i) in his opinion.

He also noted that Section 2(b)(ii) of the constitution does authorize the legislature to give tax preference based on age, disability or poverty. Under this clause, the state must reimburse local school districts for this tax loss. This has been done through the Senior Citizens Rebate and Assistance Act, which the state funds by lottery revenues.

“Mr. Seth was close, but he was looking at the wrong part of the statute as the constitution is written,” Newcome said.

Octorara board, Lions offer relief

Just weeks after signing a $45.8 million budget into action, Octorara Area School District board members and administrators on July 11 penned their names and good wishes into squares of a quilt which will soon be placed in a home in Joplin, Mo.

“A community that’s struggling in many ways here still wants to reach out,” said board President Lisa Bowman of the handmade quilt, a symbol of caring which traveled to Joplin on last week with the Christiana Lions Club.

Jim Groff of Christiana, president of the club, and Shawna Johnson, school board member and Lion, told board members the club is sponsoring a relief trip to Joplin, which was devastated by a 6-mile tornado on May 22.

According to FEMA, $14 million in government assistance is in place to rebuild the community, which lost more than 120 people, and more than 20 volunteer community organizations and agencies are there doing relief work.

Groff said he wwould bring the quilt, which was donated by the newly opened Quilt Ledger shop in Christiana, and a trailer with two skid loads of survivor kits and food from the Chester County Food Bank.

Lions volunteers began to put their plans into action less than a week ago. One call led to another, with Christiana’s historic quilt shop donating a pastel work of beauty, warmth and art, and the food bank contributing practical sustenance.

The Lions said they have raised about $4,000 to contribute to community needs. Citizens, like the board members and administrators, have also been paying $5 each to sign quilt squares. In Joplin Groff was to join the Lancaster Lions volunteers.

“There are a lot of things happening behind the scenes,“ Groff said. “It’s about us people making it happen.“

Groff, a stone mason, is no stranger to cross-country adventures. He has in past decades organized fund-raising trips of the Christiana Clampetts in classic jalopies.

In another slight change of pace from months of budget crunching, Superintendent Tom Newcome asked the school board to consider a new Octorara tradition, a fall harvest or apple festival which would include rides, food and other attractions.

“The idea would be to create a tradition on campus and a revenue stream,” said Newcome.

“I hope we can have an apple festival, make some money, and divide it up with programs that have been hit very hard here,” said board member Bob Hume.

The superintendent received favorable comments from other board members and is proceeding with plans for the fall event.

Newcome also reported a YMCA group known as Stride donated an azalea and plaque which have been placed at the district office in memory of Cpl. Brandon Hardy, an Octorara graduate who was killed in 2006 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The sixth annual motorcycle ride honoring Hardy was held July 16.