Name: Richard J. Abramson
Length of time living in Newtown Township: 24 years (since 1987)
What organizations and activities are you involved with locally?
Council Rock School Board Director (and past President and Vice-President of the School Board), Council Rock Coalition for Healthy Youth, Council Rock Education Foundation, member of Shir Ami Synagogue, Bucks County Bar Association, volunteer to do pro bono cases through the Bucks County Bar Association and the Legal Aid Society for Southeastern Pennsylvania, formerly served on the Newtown Grant Masters Homeowners Board of Directors and as Vice-President, Council Rock North Orchestra Parents Association, Council Rock North Choir Parents Association.
Why do you want to serve on the Council Rock School Board?
I ran for the Council Rock School Board in 1999 when I had two children in Newtown Elementary School and one in preschool. In that election (and the two following it), I won with overwhelming votes from Republicans and Democrats. I initially ran because I believe in giving back to the community I am fortunate to live in and because I was concerned with the following issues and concerns: the continuous improvement of the educational program, the size of the elementary school classes (I served on the Elementary School Class Size Committee chartered by the School Board before the 1999 election), the growing need for a second high school, redistricting, the effect charter school legislation would have on public education and what I perceived as low morale in the Council Rock community with regard to education in 1999.
Although remarkable accomplishments have taken place in the past 12 years, there is still work to be done and challenges to be met. We are now facing difficult economic times, which impact the budget, the quality of education of our children, our property values and morale. In the next term, contracts with staff will be negotiated, budgets will be adopted, aging buildings will need to be renovated, new standards will have to be complied with and technology will need to be integrated into the curriculum. I have navigated these issues successfully in the past and I am running for the Council Rock School Board in 2011 for these reasons and with the same passion and caring for the children in Council Rock and for your property values that I had in 1999.
This is not a political position and I have no political agenda. I have always remained independent in my decision making. I will continue to analyze, weigh and balance the issues and factors, while always considering the needs of the students, staff and community. This must be done without regard to politics; this is what I have done and will continue to do. I believe the morale in the Council Rock School District is better now than at any time I lived in Newtown Township and I remain committed to remaining a cohesive influence and to preventing the discord and animosity we hear and read about in some other school districts.
The most recent budget that was passed had a zero percent tax increase. However, that didn't come without significant cuts to staffing and programs. Do you agree with all the cuts made to the 2011-2012 budget? If not, why and which ones do you oppose?
The zero percent tax increase was best for the Council Rock community in these difficult economic times. However, although I agreed with the goal of a budget with no tax increase, the decision to vote on the budget with these cuts was painful. I would not have agreed to the elimination of the ninth grade sports program, the five o’clock buses, the Reading Recovery program, or some staff cuts in better economic times. The cuts were necessary to achieve a zero percent tax increase. In balancing continued educational excellence with the needs of the community, I voted for no tax increase, which encompassed those cuts, confident in the ability of the administration and staff that our educational program would not be compromised.
The budget process is lengthy, stressful and complicated. After many meetings, presentations and deliberations, and considering the input from the community, administrators and my fellow board directors and weighing all the factors, I voted for the 2011-2012 budget with no tax increase. I hope that next year Council Rock will see increased state funding and additional revenue generated by transfer taxes and the earned income tax that will allow us to put ninth grade sports, five o’clock buses, Reading Recovery and some staff back into the budget.
What is your view on the elimination of the ninth grade sports program and what do you think should be done to keep freshmen engaged athletically?
I am saddened that the ninth grade sports program was eliminated, however it was one piece, an extracurricular piece that, with other cuts, allowed your school board to approve the 2011-2012 budget with no tax increase. The elimination of the ninth grade sports program in the budget is not something I would have wanted in better economic times. However, in analyzing and studying the budget, it was an item that does not directly affect the curricular or educational program, although it does serve a purpose in our school community. The ninth grade sports program cannot be viewed in isolation.
In addition to the difficult economic times affecting so many in our Council Rock community, we had to consider that some surrounding school districts also cut their ninth grade sports programs, which would affect our ninth grade athletes competing with those other schools. To mitigate this, junior varsity teams have been expanded and there are fortunately community sports organizations in and surrounding Council Rock that provide opportunities for our ninth graders to be on teams and compete.
It must be remembered that ninth graders can still seek to compete in all sports. Not all sports had a ninth grade team and some ninth grade athletes were instead part of the junior varsity or varsity teams prior to this cut. Expanding the junior varsity rosters this year resulted in greater opportunities for ninth grade athletes on those teams. The cooperation and abilities of community organizations and programs should give freshman the chance to participate on their teams.
I have analyzed the district record of the ninth grade school sports participation in fall 2011 (91 at Council Rock High School North and 102 at Council Rock High School South) in comparison to fall 2010 (123 at Council Rock High School North and 137 at Council Rock High School South). In analyzing these figures, it must be considered that the freshman class in each school is smaller this school year in comparison to last school year (451 students versus 510 at North and 494 students versus 543 at South) and that from year to year, sports participation varies. Ninth graders also have opportunities for participation in sports outside the school sports program. But even considering a constant from last year to this year, it would show that a majority of those students have found a home on the JV or varsity teams. I realize that these numbers include students who made a team but are not seeing much playing time.
In the 2012-13 school year, I will advocate for the reinstatement of the ninth grade sports program provided we see increased revenues to support this program.
Council Rock has consistently received top marks for the quality of education it provides to its students. But there is always room for improvement. What is one thing you think would improve education in the district and how would you go about implementing it?
I am proud to have served on the Council Rock School Board for the past 12 years as CR received such high marks. Recently our Council Rock High School North was ranked in the top 500 public high schools in America, fifth in Pennsylvania and the top public high school in Bucks County in Newsweek magazine’s 2011 ranking. This ranking would put Council Rock High School North in the top 5 percent of public high schools nationally.
I was already instrumental in the Council Rock School District’s adoption of the Council Rock Elementary Class Size Committee’s recommendation. Before being elected to the School Board, I volunteered my time and skills for that committee, which included reading many studies and deliberating in many meetings. The Elementary Class Size Committee’s recommendation and its adoption by the School Board lowered the class size caps in the elementary schools and I believe in hindsight it improved the educational program in the Council Rock School District. I believe that the elementary school years are crucial for the learning process, developing lifelong learners, and the continuous improvement of the educational program.
With that said, I believe that a system of in-depth tracking and monitoring not only of each student’s academic achievements and standardized test scores but any changes noted in behavior and motivation would improve education and help students who may be at risk or who could “fall through the cracks.” There are many internal and external factors that may account for a particular student’s change in grades, test scores, behavior or motivation. Teachers may by observation or by other means believe there is a change in a student’s learning or ability to learn or behavior.
Implementing such a system of objective and subjective monitoring will involve the use of our technology in tracking progress and the collaboration of each student’s past and current teachers when a current teacher observes a change in grades or conduct or behavior during the year. Parents would be consulted and a plan would be formulated for the particular student with the goal of fostering a feeling that the student is in a positive school environment meeting the educational needs of the student. Despite whatever is going on in his/her life, the student must feel and believe that the teachers and school district are committed to his/her education and success.
What other issues would you like to see come to the forefront if you are elected to the board?
Council Rock is doing a fine job in keeping the community informed. However, there are numerous issues that the public may not fully comprehend such as weighted grade point average (GPA), Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) contributions, the budget process, adequate yearly progress (AYP) and how some subgroups such as some special education students may not be able to perform at grade levels.
I would suggest regular community forums, as the School Board and Administration held earlier this year with regard to the budget and weighted GPA, in which these issues would be discussed and questions answered. Other issues I would like to see discussed is early learning (including full-day kindergarten), the effect of school hours on learning and standardized test scores and the transition of students from one grade to another. Issues that have been discussed and I would like to see continuing discussions on include enrollment projections, building renovations, homework assignments, the rigor of the academic courses and integration of technology into the curriculum.