Campaign Priority #6 – Drive Efficiency

UCFSD has an annual budget of over $100 million, and budget increases are limited by Pennsylvania law (Act 1). Therefore, we must be operationally efficient and spend every dollar wisely. By improving our productivity in administration and support functions, we will have more funds available to invest in high-quality instruction and modern facilities.

Apps like PowerSchool and Canvas have already increased classroom efficiency, and we should be constantly on the lookout for new technologies to improve productivity and energy efficiency.

We also must be wise when it comes to new investments. This means saying “no” to nice-to-have projects and carefully scrutinizing new programs.

In today’s economic environment, we must prioritize academics, leverage technology to save money and carefully evaluate new programs. As your representative on the school board, you can count on me to ensure that our schools are running in the most effective and efficient way possible.

Read more here.

Campaign Priority #5 – Provide Safe Schools

Ensuring the safety and security of students and staff is one of my top priorities. To achieve safe schools, effective measures need to be in place including access control, emergency response planning, regular threat assessments, staff training, crisis communications, and cooperative engagement with law enforcement. Technology threats should also be assessed, and cyber defenses regularly updated.

I have experience leading Corporate Security and Cyber Defense at global corporations, and know what it takes to upgrade our posture to where it needs to be for a public school. I also believe we can do it while respecting student privacy and without changing the look and feel of our buildings.

Providing safe schools is a foundational element of world class schools.  It is important to continuously evaluate and improve our safety measures to keep pace with evolving threats, and I am committed to ensuring we have the right level of protections in place.

Read more here.

Campaign Priority #4 – Strengthen Achievement

As a school board director, I am committed to ensuring every student in the district has access to a high-quality education that prepares them for success beyond Unionville. To strengthen achievement, we must help each student grow academically, create a culture of high expectations and validate student progress through external assessments. And we need to hold our principals and administrators accountable to exceed state standards for academic growth and achievement.

Offering high quality extracurricular programs is important too. But at the heart of our mission is educating students and preparing them for life after Unionville. By strengthening student growth and achievement, we create a brighter future for our children and help them achieve their full academic potential.

Read more here.

Campaign Priority #3 – Invest in Technology & Facilities

In order to do their best, our students and teachers need well-maintained facilities and up-to-date digital technology in the classroom.

As a board member I support modernization of our buildings and athletic fields. I also have championed the districts prior technology investments in Canvas, Chromebooks, and a faster wireless network. And energy-efficient upgrades that save taxpayers money should also be prioritized. All of these are smart investments in our students and community.

Read more here.

Proposed UCF Investment in Solar Energy

At tonight’s Unionville Chadds Ford School District board meeting, the administration will be presenting a proposal to “go solar”. You can review the feasibility assessment here.

While I am very much in favor of investments that reduce the district’s operating costs, the administration’s assessment doesn’t yet give us a robust view of costs, benefits, and risks. Problems with the proposal include:

  • The proposal does not address the strategic rationale for investing in solar energy production when our mission and purpose is education
  • The feasibility assessment does not analyze the project’s environmental impact, the legal and regulatory context, or the impact to neighboring properties, all of which are risks to the project’s value
  • The financial analysis relies on unsourced assumptions that are optimistic, omits material expense categories, ignores the time value of money, and does not assess the range of potential financial outcomes through scenario analysis

To provide a more complete financial picture, I developed my own financial projections, based on credible and sourced assumptions, including all likely costs. And then I developed multiple scenarios, both optimistic and pessimistic. Depending on the assumptions used, this project could be a great benefit to the district or a terrible use of funds. I will be discussing this model during the school board meeting tonight.

The bottom line for me:

  1.  The district’s feasibility assessment should include a 360 degree assessment of the legal and regulatory environment, risks, environmental footprint, and impact on neighbors
  2. The district should correct its significant financial omissions, by including cost of insurance, maintenance costs, decommissioning and disposal costs, and should discount cash flows when assessing the total benefit of the project
  3. The district should do a sensitivity analysis on key assumptions, like the future price of electricity and the value of SRECs, so we can understand the range of probable outcomes

Once this information is provided, the board and the community will be properly equipped to make a sound investment decision.

Below is my cost model, for those who are interested in exploring the details. Links to data sources are also provided in the spreadsheet:

Campaign 2023 Priority #2 – Support Families

When it comes to a child’s education, no one is more invested than their parents. And that’s why we must create a strong partnership between our schools and families.

Partnership starts with clear and open communication about what our children are learning and how they are being assessed. Families should also have a say in shaping our academically rigorous curriculum. And we need a team attitude with teachers and parents working together to address challenges as they arise.

By involving families, being open and transparent, and supporting parent-teacher communication, we will create a more effective learning environment that reflects the best values of our community.

Read more here.

Chat GPT

As a school board director, it is important to keep up with the latest developments in education technology and how they can impact our students and schools. One such development is the use of artificial intelligence, specifically the language model Chat GPT. While there are certainly many potential benefits to using Chat GPT in K-12 education, there are also some challenges that we must consider.

On the positive side, Chat GPT has the potential to provide students with an unprecedented level of personalized learning. By using natural language processing, Chat GPT can respond to students’ questions and help guide them through complex topics in a way that is tailored to their individual needs and abilities. This can lead to more engaging and effective learning experiences for students.

Additionally, Chat GPT can help educators by providing a wealth of information and resources at their fingertips. By leveraging the vast knowledge base stored in the model, teachers can quickly find answers to their questions, locate teaching materials, and get inspiration for lessons. This can help them save time and focus more on their students.

However, there are also some risks and challenges associated with using Chat GPT in K-12 education. For one, there is a real concern that relying too heavily on AI technology could lead to a reduction in the importance of human interaction and the development of critical thinking skills. If students are always relying on Chat GPT to answer their questions, they may not learn how to think critically and solve problems on their own.

One of the most pressing concerns is the risk of students using the technology to cheat on their essays and other written assignments. Given the high level of sophistication of Chat GPT, it would be very difficult for teachers and educators to detect when a student has used the technology to complete an assignment. This could have serious implications for academic integrity and the credibility of our educational system as a whole.

Another potential challenge is the potential for Chat GPT to perpetuate biases and inaccuracies. Like any model, Chat GPT is only as good as the data it was trained on, and there is a risk that the biases and inaccuracies present in that data will be reflected in the model’s responses. This could lead to students receiving misinformation, which could harm their education and impact their future.

In conclusion, Chat GPT has the potential to be a valuable tool in K-12 education, but it must be used carefully and with a full understanding of both its benefits and its challenges. By being aware of these risks and opportunities, we can work together to leverage the benefits of this technology while minimizing its risks and ensuring that our students receive the best education possible.

Note: this blog post was written in 15 seconds by Chat GPT, responding to the prompt “Write a blog post for a school board director, at 12th grade reading level. Evaluate the pros and cons of Chat GPT in K-12 education.”

Campaign 2023 Priority #1 – Empowering Teachers

As a school board member, I understand the critical role that teachers play in student success in Unionville Chadds Ford School District. The best teachers significantly boost student learning, and it’s essential that we provide them with the resources and support they need to do their best work. This includes professional development , involving teachers in decision-making, fostering a positive and collaborative work environment, and providing top quartile pay and benefits.

As a candidate for school board, I am committed to empowering our teachers so that they can thrive and help our students succeed.

Read more here

I am running for School Board in 2023!

I am excited to announce my candidacy for the Unionville Chadds Ford school board, representing Pocopson, Birmingham, and Newlin Townships. As a parent, long-time resident, and an experienced school board member, I believe that I have the dedication, experience and good judgment necessary to serve our students and families in this role.

I understand the importance of academic excellence and believe that every child deserves access to a high-quality education that prepares them for success in college, career, and life. As a member of the school board, I will work to ensure that all students have access to the resources and support they need to reach their full potential, including high-quality teachers, a sound curriculum and secure facilities that are well-equipped.

I also understand the importance of building strong partnerships between schools, families, and the community. Parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, and schools need to effectively partner with families to deliver it. I will ensure that parents have visibility into our curriculum and input into key decisions. I will make sure that communication channels are open, so parents always know what is happening in the school and how they can help.

Furthermore, as a taxpayer myself, I understand the importance of being fiscally responsible. I will work to ensure that our schools are run in an efficient manner and that our taxpayers’ dollars are being used effectively. This means being mindful of expenses, looking for cost-saving measures, limiting tax increases and being transparent about how funds are being used.

I have been actively involved in our schools since 2009 when my oldest child started first grade. And I have served on the UCF School board for six years, from 2014-2019 and again from June 2022 until now. Through this involvement, I have come to understand the complex issues facing our schools, the diverse needs of our students, and the dedicated administrators, teachers, and support staff who support, challenge, and inspire our students each day.

I believe that my experience, passion, and dedication make me an excellent candidate for the school board. I would be honored to have your support as I work to make our schools the best they can be for our children.

Together, we can ensure that our students receive a world-class education, and that we do so in partnership with our parents, educators and tax payers.

Check out my priorities for UCF schools here.

Let’s hop on the electric bus … in 2025

Last month the UCF board discussed a proposal to lease two electric buses. In the last two weeks, I have developed a clearer point of view on how the district should move forward with electric buses, following conversations with the vendor, further information provided by the administration, and listening to comments from our residents. Here are my observations.

  • Electric buses have several desirable features, including no tailpipe emissions and quiet operation
  • Presently, electric buses are 3x the purchase price vs. diesel. After state and federal grants, tax credits, and the tax shield of accelerated depreciation, electric buses have a net purchase price about 1.5x that of a diesel bus.
  • Electric buses have significantly lower operating costs, due to the energy advantage of electric powertrains and the fewer moving parts that can break or wear out.
  • Economics of electric buses are improving year over year, as scale and technical improvements lead to lower production costs, due largely to the significant cost decline in Li-Ion battery costs (see chart).

Right now, the total cost of ownership after grants and tax credits still favor diesel by ~15% vs electric.

Based on the districts financial analysis of the proposal, electric buses acquired today will cost us $50,000 more per bus on a total cost of ownership (TCO) basis over the 12 year period. This equates to 14% higher costs. And note that this cost disadvantage of electric is after receiving $175,000 in grants and tax incentives. If we factored in the cost of the incentives, which are borne collectively by all taxpayers, then the TCO is an extra $225,000+ per bus, or 71% more than the TCO of a diesel bus.

The TCO advantage of diesel is likely to narrow and eventually flip in favor of electric, as it has with passenger cars. When utilities like PECO develop V2G programs, that will further enhance electric bus net costs, with the side benefit of stabilizing the grid. The best estimates are that TCO tips in favor of electric around 2025.

Now or later?

Despite the current cost disadvantage of electric, some argue that we should move ahead now anyway. I have heard three reasonable arguments for this.

  • First, the district will learn about electric buses, which will position us to be ready to further expand the electric bus fleet in the future. This is a low-risk trial.
  • Second, drivers will like the new buses, which will help resolve current challenges with driver recruitment and retention.
  • Third, deploying electric buses moves toward our sustainability vision, and is the right thing to do from an environmental perspective.

These are valid points, but are arguments for moving to electric buses at some time. Instead, the critical question is whether to start the conversion to electric now, or wait until the economics improve.

When it comes to learning about electric buses, it is true that there is no substitute for experience. And until we dip our toe into the water, we won’t have first hand experience. But if we wait until 2025, industry experience will continue to accumulate in the interim at a rapid rate. Our potential vendor, Highland Electric, currently has ~150 buses in their fleet. By 2023, they will have ~400. Won’t the vendor know more (and be able to help us more rapidly learn) if we become a customer in 2025, when their fleet is 4x or 5x its current size? In addition, as other early adopter school districts deploy electric buses, best practices will be more readily available to us in 2025 than they are now. In fact the longer we wait, the more knowledge will be accumulated and the easier it will be adopt electric buses. “Fast follower” is often a better strategy than “leading edge”.

With respect to attracting and retaining bus drivers, reports from other districts indicate that bus drivers prefer to drive electric buses when given a choice. This is probably true, as electric buses are quieter, cleaner, and have the ‘cool’ factor. It is difficult to say what impact that might have on recruitment and retention, but I accept that there is likely a benefit there. But is that benefit worth the extra ownership cost of the vehicle? If our goal is the retain and attract drivers, I am confident that increasing wages is a simpler and more effective strategy than spending an extra $50,000 for an electric bus. If we need to retain drivers, let’s spend on driver wages, rather than paying it to a third-party leasing company.

Finally, the environmental accounting of electric buses might be less of a major win for sustainability than it appears on the surface. If we look at our 70 square miles of UCF district air, water, and land, electric is superior to diesel, as the diesel buses pollute our air and the noise disturbs our tranquility. But if we think less parochially, electric vehicles have many negative environmental externalities. The mining and refining of battery metals like lithium, zinc, and cobalt are very dirty operations, are carbon intensive, and often occur in nations with more lenient environmental regulations, resulting in significant long term environmental damage. And while electric motors are emission-free, the Pennsylvania electricity that goes into the bus, is about ~50% sourced from fossil fuels and ~30% from nuclear (which some environmentalists consider non-green). If you add up all of the environmental impacts, electric vehicles are not as clean as they first seem. And if we wait a couple years to start our fleet electrification, each bus will require fewer batteries, the metals in the batteries will be more sustainably sourced, and our electricity in Pennsylvania will be greener in origin. Once again, waiting would bring incremental benefits.

Wait for 2025

Electric buses are a promising development, and I am in favor of adopting them. And Dr. Akki is right to champion the cause and to drive us in that direction. However, I believe we should start the conversion to electric when the total cost of ownership tips in favor of our tax payers. This is likely to be in 2025.

By waiting, we will avoid spending an additional $250,000 of taxpayer money over the next 3 years on electric buses. We will also reduce our risk of adoption, by allowing best practices and learnings to accumulate and filter out from early adopters. Finally, we can use the interim period to develop a stronger fleet conversion strategy that is less reliant on third parties, retains more of the benefits for the District, and gets us to an all-electric fleet sooner.