Let me try to summarize last night’s 3.5 hour school board meeting in just a couple of paragraphs! As always, be sure to check out the included links that cue up the meeting video to the appropriate spot.
Next Year’s Calendar Approved
The district’s school calendar for next year is now official! August 31st will the the first day of school and– barring more than 3 snow days– June 14th will be the last. Check out the full schedule for yourself here. There is lots not to like about this calendar, as there is every year. Much of this is due to the large number of demands made by parents, teachers, administrators, and state mandates that the calendar must accommodate. If it’s any consolation, I do think the calendar has improved overall in the last several years, if only by baby steps. (Most of the discussion of the calendar took place at a previous meeting.)
The superintendent updated the board and the public on a) the work being done in the district to minimize the risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus (as well as other germs and viruses, for that matter); b) the practical steps families should take at home to do the same; and c) district planning for alternate ways to continue instruction in the event the schools are closed due to a public health emergency. Watch here; the district’s written update from 10 days ago is available here.
Request for Two New Administrators
The board discussed the administration’s request to hire two new administrators next year. Assistant Superintendent Laura Whitman noted that East Penn currently has approximately ten less central administrators than the Parkland School District, making it difficult to both maintain quality programs and implement innovation and improvement.
The first new position would be a Director of Educational Alternatives. The person would be responsible for the wide range of programs the district now offers outside of the traditional classroom, including VESPA (the district’s cyber school program), Learning to Succeed (the district’s remedial program to help students graduate), student suspensions, and mandated student placements at facilities outside the district. They would also be responsible for potential new and expanded programs. The estimated cost of this new position, including salary and benefits, is $175,000 annually. Watch the presentation and discussion of this position here; view the presentation slides here.
The second new position would be an Inclusion Specialist. The person would be responsible for assisting special education teams in integrating special needs students into regular classrooms (currently 18% of East Penn students are entitled to special education). The district currently has three special education supervisors, and Dr. Linda Pekarik, the Director of Special Education, noted that the existing supervisors are neither inclusion experts nor do their heavy caseloads give them enough time to provide the continuous training on inclusion that is needed right now in the district. The estimated cost of this new position, including salary and benefits, is $144,300. Watch the presentation and discussion of this position here; view the presentation slides here.
I’ve spent the past month talking to many different people about special education and ways we can improve our district’s support for both special ed and regular education students. I hope to share what I’ve learned in a future post that will be relevant to decision making about these two positions. But for now let me share that I’m skeptical of these positions. First because it will be difficult to find the resources to pay for them. But more importantly, because it remains unclear– even after hours of presentation and discussion– how they fit into a larger vision for addressing current problems and needs in the district.
Updates to Long Range Budget Plan
Bob Saul, the district’s Business Administrator as well as the Board Treasurer, provided a detailed walkthrough of the long range fiscal planning for the district. This is the single best source of information for understanding district finances. It includes estimates of future revenues and costs, data on tax rates and how they are determined, district debt, the anticipated needs of district schools for maintenance on expensive things like roofs, boilers, etc., as well as tables and graphs showing how different decisions on tax rates and emergency fund balances will impact the district over the next five years. All of this is presented in a format that is far more comprehensive, useful, and easier to digest than the official budget documents available through the state. Watch Mr. Saul’s presentation here; the long range planning document itself is available here.