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WEST GOSHEN — It’s one thing for residents and districts to quietly mumble about new bills being passed by the state, but West Chester Area School District is taking a stand to be more proactive with the legislative process by forming a special committee made up of residents, parents, board members, teachers and administrators.
They’ve dubbed it the Legislative Action Committee.
“The whole goal is to try and analyze the legislation that’s out there to see if we can avoid some future costs,” said West Chester Superintendent Jim Scanlon. “It came out of our strategic plan. It’s part of our financial strategy that we would form this legislative action committee that would take some action to get to our legislators to say, ‘Hey, this stuff that you’re about ready to pass — here are the good things, here are the bad things and here’s what we think the cost is going to be. There has to be another way. Don’t give us another mandate without funding.’ That’s how this thing was born.”
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The committee has met once a month since January and have had a solid attendance of 30 to 50 people at each one.
“Anytime we do some major movement here, we have a lot of people,” Scanlon said. “When we had our budget reductions, we had 362 parents and community members come out to find $8 million in reductions and not hurt the kids.
“When we get to the point where the board has to pass a controversial issue, there is not a lot of people out there screaming and yelling because we did all the screaming and yelling with our community to find a good solution. This is just another way. It’s a way to take it to a bigger level and change legislation. We ask our community to help and they’re great. They show up and they give us some great ideas.”
Even people from outside the district — and even the county — have come out to the committee meetings.
“I’m actually from Delaware County and I have come to all three,” said Lisa Esler, who is actually on the Penn-Delco school board. “I’m the legislative person out there so I find it interesting and I can always learn more through all these meetings about different bills and different ways Harrisburg handles them.”
Each meeting focuses on different topics and bills.
The first one in January handled the Keystone exams, while February’s had a special guest in Sen. Andy Dinniman.
“We’ve been working on the Keystone exams, which we’re spending $600,000 on per year, and that’s just the beginning; it’s going to be more as we get closer to 2017,” Scanlon said. “We’re trying to get that graduation requirement changed to be optional and not a mandate.”
At the March 26 meeting, held at the Spellman Administration Building, the focus was on House Bill 156, dealing with cyber bullying and harassment; House Bill 210, regarding reimbursements for school district construction; and the Omnibus Education Bill, with encompasses a multitude of legislation, such as charter school reconciliation, cyber charter school funding and accountability plans for Basic Education Funding.
Anyone unable to attend one or all of the meetings can stay caught up on the district’s website created specifically for the committee.
“We’re trying to vet this stuff and make talking points,” Scanlon said. “We have a whole website set up for anyone to go to and find our where your legislators are and who is on what committee. We can actually pinpoint and target letter writing and tell some stories to those legislators.”
During the meetings, time is set aside for those in attendance to break off into groups and discuss the proposed bills, including the positive and negative impacts it can have on the West Chester district, and to formulate questions they may have.
“It’s nice to see that there are people involved,” Esler said. “So often, as a school board director, I find that people don’t come to school board meetings and they don’t really express their opinions or they don’t understand the process with what’s going on. To see a group of people who have different qualities — it’s nice to know they can participate in a way and everybody has something different to add and a different idea maybe someone else didn’t think of. It’s really encouraging.”
This kind of meeting and discussion, Esler said, is exactly what is needed to start a push for change.
“Sometimes, it just takes a few to get the ball rolling,” she said. “They share it with other people and I think it’s important that whoever is here and they’re active and sharing it on their Facebook or writing letters to the editor or talking to their legislators, they give other people encouragement that it’s not so overwhelming that they can’t get involved at some point.”
The idea behind this may not be new, but West Chester is just one of very few — if any — districts who have actually turned the thought of action into a reality.
“I don’t know of any (district) that has formally done it,” Scanlon said. “I know there are a lot that will pass resolutions and send stuff out to their community, but I don’t know that there is anybody who is really rolling up their sleeves to look at legislation and try to explain the legislative process to the parents. We’re trying to educate our community and the more educated they are with this, I think we can have a positive impact for students.”