The East Penn School Board met for almost three hours last night via Zoom videoconferencing. I think four issues from the meeting will be of most interest to the public:
An Expanded Tax Rebate Program
The board asked the administration several months ago to develop a plan for enlarging the district’s tax rebate program for low-income residents. Our current program is available only to homeowners with less than $20,000 in annual household income, and requires they fill out a complicated application. The administration presented a proposal last night to expand the number of eligible residents by 44% by raising the income cutoff to $25,000. The revised program would also simplify the application process, which would increase the estimated participation rate from 49% of those eligible to 64%. The board expressed support for expanding the program, but also raised questions about the feasibility of implementing it given the new budget reality (more on that below). Once again I want to thank fellow board member Dr. Josh Levinson for spearheading this effort. The facts and figures around the tax rebate program are available here; you can watch the board discussion for yourself here.
The New Budget Reality
The school district will not be spared by the grim economic toll of the pandemic. Contrary to some rumors, district costs have NOT decreased significantly since school has been closed- the total savings for the current school year will be about $411,000 (or 0.2% of the budget). At the same time, district income is expected to decline by $6.1 million (or about 4%) next year compared to the estimates of just a month ago– even with a 1.5% tax increase. And the economic impact is likely to last at three years or longer.
The discussion last night focused on the details behind these these numbers alongside the timeline for achieving the required balanced budget by the state-mandated June deadline. The administration will propose the budget cuts necessary to address the expected drop in revenue at our next meeting, on May 11. The revised estimates showing the current state of the budget are available here; watch the discussion here.
Our schools are going to be in a tough spot, not just next year but for the next couple of years. I will do my level best to study the numbers and vote for the best balance between the many competing needs of our community in this unprecedented situation we all find ourselves in.
The Turf Field
Construction on the turf field will begin May 5 as planned. The district’s sponsorship agreement with LVHN as well as the contractual agreements it made prior to the pandemic make it cost prohibitive to delay or cancel the project. At the same time, Governor Wolf has permitted construction to resume statewide, the contractor has developed specific safety protocols for work during the pandemic, and the outdoor nature of the project makes it easier to maintain social distancing during construction. Watch the status update here.
Community Outreach During the Pandemic
Superintendent Campbell shared some of the many ways the East Penn school community is stepping up to meet the challenges of the current health crisis. Some highlights:
- School staff and volunteers are preparing and distributing over 3,000 lunches per week
- The high school Red Cross club has made more than 100 masks for healthcare workers
- One 9th grade student and his mother made over 100 masks for local firefighters
- The high school Interact Club made signs of appreciation that have been placed at the entrance to Lehigh Valley Hospital
- The district’s Angel Network has collected more than $7,500 worth of grocery gift cards to help out community residents in need.
Lehigh County Technical Institute (LCTI), which our district helps operate, has also been doing their part. They’ve donated over 8,000 N95 respirators, 1,700 safety glasses, and 4,000 pairs of nitrile gloves to local hospitals and nursing homes. Watch Mrs. Campbell’s remarks here; board member Paul Champagne’s report on LCTI here.