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EXETER TWP., Pa. – The Exeter School Board's community open forum, held Monday night at the Reiffton School, was a study of contrasts.

The first part of the program, attended by about 25 parents, teachers and school board members, was a presentation by Superintendent Robert Phillips, titled "Portrait of a Graduate." It looked at an alternative to the traditional comprehensive plan, suitable to prepare students for the economy of the future.

The second part of the program, "Budget Process," was presented by David Hemberger, the board's president, and Anne Guydish, business manager. It outlined the process that the district planned to follow to create the 2020-21 budget in light of current grim financial realities.

The common theme of both presentations was that implementation would require collaboration between Exeter stakeholders – administration, teachers, parents, students, taxpayers and business owners. In the case of the "Portrait" program, implementation would take several years, with regular checkpoints along the way to make changes, if necessary. The budget process, however, should be completed by the end of February.

Phillips said he was introduced to "Portrait of a Graduate" at a recent school superintendents conference. There, he learned the Ephrata, Boiling Springs and Northern York school districts have used the process for six years and were pleased with its outcome. He said Exeter will be the first school district in Berks County to implement the process.

Phillips summarized the program as having four steps. First, examine how the world has changed and examine the implications for students; second, discuss the competencies students need to thrive today and tomorrow; third, identify and contextualize the competencies that should be part of a shared, local vision for Exeter's portrait; and fourth, discuss how to make the locally developed, globally positioned portrait a reality for every student.

The country is moving toward a service economy, Phillips said, where 80% of jobs have a service component. Also, 20% to 30% of the working-age population engages in contract/project work. While technology continues to grow in importance, so does the need for better communication. Technical skills matter, but even more so when combined with empathy, compassion and care.

Phillips plans to promote "Portrait of a Graduate" by speaking not only to all the district's schools but also to local business and civic organizations.

Budget process

"Wake up the legislature," was Hemberger's plea to the audience when he addressed the budget process. He said Pennsylvania ranks 47th among state contributions to local school funding. In the area of special education, the state's share of funding has fallen from 36% to 25% in the last decade.

In Exeter Township, the state share of basic education spending is 23%, with local taxes making up 75% to 80%. Hemberger said that using the state's funding formula, Exeter Township schools are underfunded by $9.6 million.

Guydish reviewed the process by which Exeter will prepare next year's budget. It will be separated into six segments: elementary program review; secondary program and student activity review; special education direct instruction program review and instructional support services; other administrative services review; athletic program review; and existing operating support services review.

Internal stakeholder budget review meetings will take place prior to community meetings. The tentative schedule of community meetings runs from November 21 to February 20. They will be held at the Reiffton School. Final information will be posted on the district's website.