Kurt Haegele is in his second term with the Oxford Area School Board, representing Elk, East Nottingham and West Nottingham townships. He has served as board vice president in the past, but now takes the reins as president, replacing outgoing board member Chauncey Boyd.
Haegele was elected to the post of board president at the Dec. 7 reorganization meeting on a five to four vote over Alison Needles. Jason Brady was the sole nominee for the post of vice-president
While they may have different viewpoints, Haegele believes this is a good school board. "I think we have some really educated talent on this board. I want to engage all board members," he said.
Haegele is a Chester County native, and has lived at his present home in Elk Township since 1992. His daughter and two sons all attended and graduated from the Oxford Area School District. "I saw a need for some type of involvement," he said. "To me it's public service. I'm not there for recognition."
His experience as a parent in the district led Haegele to attend school board meetings and then run for a position on the school board. At that time there were building maintenance issues in the district as well as overcrowding. While he would liked to have been more conservative with the construction of the new high school, Haegele said he is pleased with the state of the campus today, plus the district now owns ground to meet the need for future expansion when it comes.
"Some wise choices have been made where we have room for growth. Now we have to focus on fiscal responsibility," Haegele said. Keeping the budget under control is one of Haegele's goals. "Our challenges are going to be fiscal, finding the funding to support the needs of the district."
Haegele said he appreciates the quality of the staff and administration in the district, yet he cast the lone vote against the new four-year teachers' contract approved in November. "Going into negotiations, I stated that I wouldn't support it unless there was an increase in contribution to health insurance," he said, noting that the average employee contribution to their health insurance is just $700 per year for family coverage.
Currently the district is facing falling revenues, with about $1 million lost this year to lower reassessment of properties, lower income on investments, and a decline in property transfer tax revenues.
In December, the board passed a resolution limiting any property tax rate increase that will go with the new 2010-11 budget to no more than 3.9 percent.
"The 3.9 percent gives a direction so the administration can start working on a budget. The other thing it does is it gives us more time," Haegele said. By staying within the limit set by the state, it allows the board to avoid a voter referendum on tax increases this year, but they may not be able to avoid it for long. When that time comes, Haegele wants the public to be well informed.
Toward that end, Haegele has formed a new public relations committee to try to keep residents informed about what is going on in the school district. "The more knowledge you give the public the better. They may not agree with us, but they at least understand why we're doing what we're doing," he said.
Improving communication between the school board and the community is also one of Haegele's goals. "It became apparent we needed a different direction," he said. "What we've been lacking, in my view, is more community participation and community involvement."
To be able to work more closely with the municipalities in the school district, the board has changed their meeting nights to the first and third Mondays of the month through June, and then the second and third Tuesdays from July through December. It is hoped that the change will reduce the number of conflicts between school board and township meetings, so that supervisors will be able to attend board meetings, and board members will be able to visit township and borough meetings.
"I felt the first step was to draw in the townships," Haegele said. "We need more community participation."
Test scores in the district have generally improved over recent years in Oxford. "There's always room for improvement. I think that's been one of [Superintendent] Dr. Fischer's focuses," Haegele said.
Improving the quality of education, and letting the public know what the district has to offer could have a financial benefit to the district as well by bringing back students who are now enrolled in charter schools.
While new staff might be needed, the cost of additional teachers would be lower than the tuition the district currently pays to the charter schools.
"The education and welfare of the each and every student has to be put first and foremost. After that, the number one job of the board is to set policy. We don't want to micromanage, but at the same time we want to be involved," Haegele said. "I think we have much, much more involvement today by board members than in the past."
Overall, Haegele is optimistic about the direction the school district is taking. "We've made huge strides, now we need to take it to the next level," he said.
At the close of his first meeting as board president, Haegele took time to make a closing comment. He said in part. "...I would first like to say to those individuals who supported me, thank you. For those who did not, I thank your for your service and I hope that I can convey a sense of leadership that will be one of collaboration and inclusion. My view is that the primary function of the Chair is to open and close meetings, while maintaining order. The individual who holds that position is one of nine, and is the equal of those members who are seated. However, I do feel that the Chair has the responsibility to set the demeanor of those meetings in a direction that is inclusive, cooperative and respectful, to not only one another on the Board, but to any individual of the audience who wishes to partake, so long as it is done in the proper manner. It will be my intent to open and secure a more enhanced line of communication not only between all Board Members and the Administration, but to those individuals who foot two-thirds of the financial support to the education of our students, the general public of the OASD."