Crammed School Board Agenda Includes Passage of Budget
By Rick Hiduk
In the middle of a regular monthly meeting that began on a peculiar note and included an unexplained and impromptu “executive session,” the Elk Lake School Board unanimously approved a $17,470,124 budget for the 2011-12 school year, an amount that was unchanged from earlier discussions and approximately $1 million less than last year.
The June 23 meeting, which was held in the high school library and computer center, was more or less preempted by a non-agenda item that was essentially a sales pitch by an architectural firm to help the school district create a 10-year development plan that would incorporate projected shifts in enrollment, land use, condition of current facilities, and curriculum requirements.
The meeting was brought to order in the library by school district superintendent William Bush before the board members were ushered into the adjacent computer room for a Powerpoint presentation by Hayes Large Architects (HLA), a Pittsburgh-based firm. Bush invited the public and the media to join the board members.
After providing a historical overview of the firm, which was founded in 1922 and began to focus on large-scale projects with school districts across Pennsylvania by the mid-1920s, HLA representatives Brad Furey, Matt Lutrell, and Dwight Knouse took turns showing those in attendance a series of computer generated images that showed how the company integrates the aforementioned educational components into a “living” plan that allows for more efficient long-term expansion.
“There is evidence that (the) Elk Lake (school district) is growing. What will the impact of Marcellus shale drilling be? There’s no way of knowing, but it is something that we should prepare for,” said Furey.
Bush credited Furey for behind-the-scenes guidance with the expansion of the district’s Susquehanna County Career and Technology Center (CTC), a contracted project that is being spearheaded by John Kropcho and Associates of Towanda. Bush echoed Furey’s concerns about a possible boom in enrollment in the district as the gas industry continues to redefine itself in the area.
“We need to be aware that this could impact the school district,” Bush said to members of the board and participating residents, noting that nearby Wyalusing Area School District (WASD) was taken off guard by an influx of more than 60 students, about half of which arrived with individual educational programs (IEPs) that required WASD to hire additional staff to meet state mandates. It is important for the board to consider potential changes and possible assistance from companies such as HLA, so that there are “no surprises if there is sudden growth.”
As the meeting moved back to the library, a wary public participant questioned board president Chuck Place about the presentation, asking if the school district was highly considering contracting their services, whether or not the district had paid for the presentation she had just seen, and if Kropcho and Associates was still at the helm of the CTC expansion project. “We’re not duplicating services, are we? She asked.
Place assured her that the HLA demonstration was an en gratis presentation and offered merely as an example of services that the district might consider in the event of rapid growth. He said that previous conversations with HLA have “put us board members at ease. We need to consider as a board (a relationship with) long-term architects.”
The regular meeting resumed with correspondence shared by secretary Kim Hollister. In addition to thank you letters, which included a note from Area Agency on Aging volunteer coordinator Kelly Allen expressing gratitude for time spent during the previous school year between Elk Lake students and agency clients, the school board received a petition signed by supporters of a move to name a new pavilion next to the school’s softball field after athletic director Tony Blaisure. A number of written resignations were read aloud. Some, Place explained, were final resignations of personnel who had served the district well but were pursuing other interests, while some were resigning current posts in advance of applying for other posts within the district.
Items brought up under the “personnel” category of the agenda prompted public and private discussions on a number of topics. At board member Eric Emmerich’s suggestion, the board members left the meeting for an executive session when Bush began a push through a conversation about 2011-12 professional interview committees, the outcome of which was not publicly disclosed. In other personnel-related news, the board approved the positions and salaries of Sandra Carr as business office secretary and Tom Kotch as chemistry/middle-level math instructor, respectively.
After a brief discussion and quick passage of CTC expansion project payments, Bush moved on to the building/grounds/transportation segment of the agenda, which caused a stir among members of the public who were following along and prompted board vice president Arden Tewksbury to ask Bush, “Aren’t we forgetting something?”
“Oh, the budget,” Bush said with a laugh, although nobody seemed quite sure if he was joking.
Backing up to the budget portion of the agenda, Tewksbury moved to approve the $17-million-plus proposal and all related budget items, which was seconded by board member Harold Bender.
As the attention of the meeting moved ahead to transportation and building issues, Bush asked the board to make the motion to advertise and accept bids for a parking lot and access road paving project and resurfacing of the elementary school gym floor, both of which need to be completed before the start of the new school year. Another matter of concern that was already addressed, board members learned, was the seepage of excessive spring rainwater into the fuel tanks at the elementary school. The job of pumping the water out of the tanks, which were deemed to be structurally sound, will cost about $46,800 and was expected to begin as early as June 27.
The public and school board members exchanged concerns over an announcement that responsibilities for special education transition coordinator Mary Jo Bayer would be decreased in the coming school year due to a reduction in the funding and grants that supported several programs and activities Bayer directed last year.
Special education director Pamela Staats explained that the district was able to offer Bayer additional hours associated to various programs in the past because of funds that were available for only two years.
Place added that Bayer’s contribution to the curriculum was actually comprised of two different jobs that temporary grants made possible.
“Some of these funds are very specific as to how they can be used,” Staats related.
“She’s done so much for the school. I would hate to lose her,” said an audience member.
“I have not heard anything about losing her,” Bush replied.
Board member Anne Teel asked how much a decrease the cuts would translate to and whether there might be other areas in the special education project where Bayer could be useful, so she would not incur too great a loss in income.
Staats answered that the decrease in Bayer’s hours was projected to be about 25 percent, which wouldn’t necessarily impact every program in which she was previously involved. Although some of the programs in the past involved senior citizens, Staats noted, Bayer’s position has always been focused on school-age students and Bayer was credited for her flexibility and ability to diversify in the past to meet the district’s needs. “She might have to arrange her schedule differently to get more done,” Staats suggested. “We just have to think more smartly about how we’re going to do everything.”
In a segment of the meeting that allowed various administrators to summarize the long school year, elementary school principal Charles Pirone related that the Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser generated $2,350 in donations, junior high school principal Brian Mallery announced that the school’s cross country team would serve as grand marshals for the upcoming Fourth of July parade, and Hollister noted that nearly 98 percent of recently graduated honor students had been involved in extracurricular activities.
For more information about the meeting and projects underway in the Elk Lake School District, interested readers may log on to www.elklakeschool.org.