Public Education Advocacy Efforts in Berks County 
Public Education Advocacy Efforts in Berks County
Approximately two years ago, eighteen Berks County School Districts in collaboration with the Berks County Intermediate Unit developed a Committee on Legislative Action known as COLA.  COLA’s mission is to provide schools with a forum for review, analysis, and information sharing on state and federal legislative issues. The coalition meets four times a year and each district is represented by two School Board members, superintendent and business manager during the meetings. Guest speakers such as Dr. Mark DiRocco the Executive Director of Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and legislator State Senator Judy Schwank and Jay Himes the Executive Director of Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials are invited to present on pertinent topics. The committee’s focus is to stay current on legislative activity. In additional COLA goals include the following:

1. Update and relay legislative information to Board members, administrators and the community 
2. Determine common legislative priorities, positions and platforms
3. Communicate with public officials to make a difference for public education 
4. Act as a ready resource as a point of contact on any important legislative matter
5. Discuss bills and regulations and impact they have on our schools 

The current issues that COLA has identified this year as important objectives are divided into areas of local, state and federal jurisdictions. For example, topics include school safety, security, mental health funding, charter and cyber charter school reform, teacher shortages, special education unfunded mandates and vaping. Other priorities include the impact that retirement contributions have on school district budgets and anticipated changes in the 2019-2020 state budget. 

COLA members have found the meetings to be valuable for various reasons. For instance, Dr. Randy Grove, Superintendent of Conrad Weiser Area School District appreciates that the group is a unique cross-section of people (superintendents, board members and business managers) who impact and influence schools have the opportunity to discuss together legislative and budgetary priorities. Further, Dr. Grove uses the information from the meetings to update his Board and administrators on current legislative topics. He also encourages his administrative team to share the information with building staff and community such as presentations to Parent-Teacher organizations.

Berks County Intermediate Unit Executive Director Dr. Jill Hackman states that, “I look forward to COLA meetings where districts across Berks County can network, build strong relationships and advocate for public education!” Dr. Hackman also states that COLA has been instrumental in establishing partnerships among school districts in additional areas such as the Career Pathway Alliance and new Kutztown University Cohort Partnership, as well as other high quality education programs throughout the county.

COLA has also contributed to creating a focused yearlong advocacy calendar among the eighteen school districts. Districts meet monthly on legislative issues rather than working on these same issues individually to lesser effect. One recently scheduled event was the Berks County Superintendents’ Study Council held at the Capitol in Harrisburg. This provided an opportunity for superintendents to collectively share important topics from our COLA meeting with legislators. Upcoming opportunities to work directly with our legislative representatives include a December Legislative breakfast which will include a panel discussion on key topics defined at the COLA meetings. 

Dr. Cindy Mierzejewski, Superintendent of Schuylkill Valley School District states that she appreciates the information and resources that COLA provides and uses it to contact legislatures on specific topics. In the future she plans to include COLA updates as a topic on her Board meeting agendas. 

The success of COLA has caught the attention of school districts in other counties who seek to collaborate and unify their efforts in advocating for public education. Recently Berks County Intermediate Unit shared their COLA concept of goals and objectives with interested superintendents of Bucks County.   

COLA has truly been an outstanding opportunity for school districts in Berks County to collaborate and speak using one voice to make a difference in public education.  As automobile magnet Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”
Posted by KHARPLE On December 07, 2018 at 12:15 PM