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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Budget Matters: Woodland Hils and Pensions

by Mike Belmonte

When reviewing our Woodland Hills school budget that are not as evident as others, but have a very large impact. One of those items is the pension, which I would like to address today.

As we try to balance the budget, we will have to find an additional $ 1 to 2 million to send to the state to as our contribution to the  Public School Employees Retirement System pension fund, i.e. PSERS.

The extra $1-2 million is in addition to an increased contribution rate mandated by Pennsylvania last year and in previous years. We are in the midst of a mandated increase which the state legislature implemented to help reduce the deficit in the pension. This year, we have to pay 32.57% of our payroll to meet our requirement.

As a side note, estimates of the amount of the PSERS deficit you have probably seen in the news, range from $53-60 billion. Pennsylvania is not the only state in this predicament.

How did we get here? There are several reasons. In the early 2000’s Governor Ridge increased the multiplier, which is the number that multiplies the employees last three year’s salary average. In other words, what needed to be put in, was increased.

Teachers have been meeting their requirement and contributing 7.5%-10% (depending on  classification) along the way, but the state and districts have not. Another dynamic that is factored into pension projections is the discount rate. In the public domain this is another way of saying “return on investment.” Unfortunately, over the years this has been projected beyond what actually has been realized. Exacerbating these overreaching “return” forecasts were two major historical events. In chronological order, there was the 9/11 tragedy. Then, at the end of 2007 through the middle of 2009, our country suffered its worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
The retirement program is a defined benefit. This means our teachers and state employees are owed a
specified amount. The state has turned to the 500 local districts to help reduce the deficit so this obligation can be met.

In closing there is another factor that ties in here, but is a discussion for another day. That is the unfair distribution of funding that occurs when Harrisburg figures out which district gets how much. When it isn’t equitable, that puts additional pressures on a district’s budget.

Thank you for taking the time to review this. Pension costs are large and real, and sometimes not at the fore like salaries, benefits and physical plant costs, to name a few. Finding $1-2 million in our budget is difficult, but we are making that effort.

Mike Belmonte is the Vice President of the Woodland Hills School Board and the Vice Chair of the Board Committee on Finance.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Autism Awareness Month: Autism Advocacy

by Jamie Glasser

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 68 children in the United States has been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. A recent survey suggests the rate may be as high as 1 in 45 children.* No matter the rate, it is clear that ASD has become and will continue to be an important point of conversation in Woodland Hills schools, as it is around the nation.

The leading autism advocacy group may be Autism Speaks, which has brought awareness to ASD through its years of work on behalf of those who are on the autism spectrum. These individuals have a wide range of abilities and needs, and it is essential that we recognize them as the individuals that they are.

Students with ASD are eligible for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law that requires schools to work with parents, caregivers and other stakeholders along with school personnel, to meet the needs of students. These plans take in to account the needs of students and the ways in which the school can ensure that a student receives the education that is their right in an environment that meets their needs and allows them to engage with the school community and typical peers. This means that students must be educated in an environment that is the least restrictive setting that can meet their needs.

During the IEP process, as student has many advocates. The most important of these is a parent or guardian who knows the student's needs and abilities best. It is essential that the student's family is engaged in the IEP process. School representatives could include teachers, administrators, social workers, psychologists, nurses and others who might know the needs of the student. The process will produce a plan that is a legally binding agreement for the school to provide services to the student.

Autism is a growing segment of IEPs in our district and around the nation. Because this is the case, we have an obligation to learn more about ASD and the need for specialized plans and processes. Advocacy is a important part of this process. Autism Speaks promotes autism awareness throughout the year, but particularly in April.

Information about Autism Speaks can be found at the organization's website, Among the initiatives for the organization are the implementation of the federal Achieving a Better Life Experience Act at the state level and state insurance reform. I'm happy to report that Pennsylvania has enacted legislation to ensure that these issues are addressed in our Commonwealth, but that doesn't mean that there isn't work to be done.

To learn more, or to get involved, contact Autism Speaks. at And to learn more about identifying autism, review the CDC information at

Jamie Glasser is a member of the Woodland Hills School Board, and the Eastern Area Special Schools Board. She sits on the Woodland Hills Board Committee on Special Education.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

WH Intermediate Learns about Vanuatu

by Marty Sharp

Seth and Nicole Stokes serve as missionaries to Vanuatu, and they visited the Woodland Hills Intermediate School in March to talk about their life in the island nation. They live among the indigenous people of that country teaching  them literacy, health, spiritual truths, science, and providing medical help. Seth is from Pittsburgh and his mother, Sara Michalski, is a teacher for the Woodland Hills School District. Nicole was born and raised in South America, until her family relocated to New Jersey. They travel across the United States speaking in churches and schools to educate people about the needs of this developing country. Seth and Nicole are scheduled to return to Vanuatu next month.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Autism Awareness Month: April in Woodland Hills

by Jamie Glasser

Woodland Hills School District is proud to have a strong system of services for students who have special education needs, including students with Autism. When a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder is identified or comes to Woodland Hills School District, we have a broad panoply of services available to ensure that the child receives the education that is his or her right. In Woodland Hills, "All Means All".

Whether a student requires an educational environment that is smaller and more supportive, offered in our full-time autistic support classrooms, or can engage in the larger school environment with support, WHSD can meet that need, and does, for students throughout the district at all grade levels.

During Autism Awareness Month this April, classrooms and students throughout the District are celebrating with special lessons and projects. At Wilkins Elementary, Mrs. Rutkai's Autistic Support class made snack cups with special meaning.
One of the snack cups made by Mrs. Rutkai's class
The tag on the treat cup reads, "Every piece of candy is different. Every puzzle piece is different. Every child is unique and different." The cups are a great reminder of the way that all children learn, and our obligation to meet all students where they are so that we can raise them up.

Autism Awareness activities will continue throughout April.

Thank you to all in WHSD who work to ensure that the needs of special education students are met, and thank to parents and families who entrust us with the education of your children.

Jamie Glasser is a member of the Woodland Hills School Board.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Biography in a Box

By Rachel Scholze

Fifth grade students at WHI chose a famous African-American to study back in February. They had to research and write summaries in the areas of childhood, accomplishments, influence, interesting facts, etc.  Students then created a "Biography in a Box," using pizza boxes.  

Friday, April 14, 2017

EdCamp 2.0

by Lauren Weisser

The entire staff of the Woodland Hills School District participated in our second annual Ed. Camp style in-service on February 17th. This type of professional learning is meant to promote the desire for people to share and learn from their colleagues in an open environment. Each of our staff members has knowledge or strengths that should be shared with others.

See a video on the day here:

Building on the momentum started last year, we were able to offer more sessions with a greater variety of topics for our 2017 Ed. Camp. Our own staff facilitated over forty different sessions. Each staff member registered for an individual schedule of four sessions. Some of the sessions focused on interventions for student such as Trauma Informed Care, Restorative Justice, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, and cultural sensitivity. Other sessions were content area focused, offering strategies for reading, math, and STEAM instruction. Special education, technology, wellness, and sessions for new teachers and retirees rounded out the choices for the day.

Teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, central office staff and school board members spent the day learning from each other and reflecting on best classroom practices for our students. We ended the day with a “World Cafe” reflection where staff shared their experiences and learning with each other.

The day was an overwhelming success with engaged staff, confident presenters, and an opportunity to learn with their colleagues. We are already looking forward to the third annual Woodland Hills Ed. Camp in 2018!

Lauren Weisser is a 6th Grade Teacher at Woodland Hills Intermediate.

OSMO is at Edgewood Primary

By Ashley Luczak

OSMO the award-winning interactive IPad System is on loan in the Edgewood Primary Library this month. The system was borrowed through the Lending Library at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in the Waterfront. Students will be using the interactive technology during their weekly library visits. Each game is hands-on and offers a Makerspace component to the normal technology. The three interactive games being offered are:

Students learn spatial relations and geometry with Tangrams

Tangrams: which teaches spatial relational skills and geometry -a point of focus on the third grade Math PSSA test.

Words: which reinforces spelling and critical thinking skills.

Numbers: which focuses on counting, addition, and multiplication.

Technology is embedded in student learning

In addition to the weekly library class teachers are encouraged to sign out the OSMO units in the school library for additional learning times. As the Library Media Specialist I see every student in the school. I know each student’s strengths and weaknesses. By offering OSMO in the library as part of my coding and technology unit I have seen students shine! Some students who struggle with the everyday paper and pencil activities really come to life with these interactive games. Tangrams and coding are especially unique for students. It’s a whole different way of thinking. Some student’s brains are wired to think like that and this gives them an opportunity to highlight their strengths and be a star. The best part of OSMO is that it is all-inclusive, any student at any age or ability level can enjoy this and be an active participant. Every student can succeed and be challenged. At the end of the day that’s my goal to know that every child “got it”. OSMO meets that challenge.