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HomeMain News ( January 23, 2019 )

Blue Ridge Board Begins Bargaining

By Ted Brewster

The current Blue Ridge teachers' contract runs out at the end of this fiscal year, on June 30. The School Board entered into "early bird" talks late last year in an effort to forestall formal bargaining, but those discussions seem to have come to naught. At the very end of the Board's meeting on January 14th, President Chris Lewis announced that formal negotiations would open the following Monday. While it is unclear yet what the major issues are, one can always assume that they include salary, and the teachers' contributions to their health care plan.

The meeting actually opened with a collection of awards and recognitions. Neither of the principals attended the meeting, so Margot Parsons, Special Education Director, introduced first Lauren Ross and Riley Phillips, math enthusiasts as Mrs. Decker's Citizens of the Month for November; and Michael Rosa, a budding scientist, along with reader and cheerleader Olivia Folk (who could not be present), for December.

Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Security, Matthew Nebzydoski next introduced outstanding seniors for November and December. Karly Gudykunst hopes to attend Keuka College to study occupational therapy, and Brandon Gelatt hopes to study business in college next year. Robert Reynolds and Mackenzie Lewis could not attend to accept their recognition.

President Lewis then read a resolution recognizing the achievements of Sam Cosmello and Adam Roe as members of the Susquehanna Sabers football team and for being chosen as Lackawanna Football Conference Division IV all-stars.

Mr. Nebzydoski stepped out again to summarize the progress of students and alumni in the advanced placement programs offered at Blue Ridge. Some 11 courses are now available, and 19 students this year ranked as AP scholars by scoring 3 or better on more than one AP exam. Four of them scored at the highest level as AP Scholars with Distinction, scoring 3 or higher on 5 or more exams. Mr. Nebz said that several Blue Ridge AP scholars had been able to graduate college early, in as little as 2 years in one case. One of those recognized this evening was Daniel Tierney, who is completing his application for the US Naval Academy.

Among the other routine personnel actions on the agenda, the Board hired Dana Naylor as a long-term substitute teacher in middle school mathematics. A graduate of Marywood University, Ms. Naylor said that she was happy to get back into education after being at home with 4 children for 5 years.

Other items on the agenda included:

  • Renewing the agreement with Sweet, Stevens, Katz & Williams LLP as the district's solicitors through the 2019-2020 school year. Their fees range from $125 per hour to as high as $195 per hour.

  • Approving another payment to D & M Construction for continuing work on the big dig behind the Elementary School. The amount was not available.

  • Accepting a contract with Joe's Disposal Service for garbage collection and recycling services through December 2021 at a rate of $960 per month for garbage, and $80 per month for recycling.

According to the treasurer's report, as of the end of November 2018, the district holds balances of approximately $15 million across various accounts. The Board approved the payment of bills totaling about $1.6 million.

The Board also approved a resolution declaring its intent not to increase property tax rates for the 2019-2020 fiscal year beyond the "index" determined by the state Department of Education of 3.2%. The measure allows the Board more time to develop a budget. Should they choose to boost tax rates beyond the index, the action would have to go before the voters in the May primary election (unless they can get an emergency exemption). Blue Ridge has been very reluctant to increase tax rates at all in recent years.

The Board also approved a very long list of revisions to its policy manual (28 in all), and another 38 for 30-day review. Many of these changes are simple textual modifications to bring policy in line with legislation and regulation. Some highlights of the policy updates up for review include:

  • The policy covering asthma inhalers and the use of epinephrine injectors has been considerably expanded with detail.

  • The policies covering tobacco use have been extended to include any and all nicotine delivery products.

  • The policy on student fundraising has been augmented with a set of "Guidelines" accompanied by forms related to fundraising activities.

  • The policies covering hazing and bullying have been greatly expanded, with more detail.

  • The policy covering purchases subject to the bid process has been expanded with more detail on types of purchase arrangements and contracts.

  • The policy on use of district facilities allows the use of nicotine products by adults trying to quit.  In addition, a new section briefly covers events that might attract "protests" and the security to be provided therefor.

  • A new policy covers the use of automated external defibrillators.

  • A broad new policy entitled "Maintaining Professional Adult/Student Boundaries" tries to define those boundaries and what behaviors are and are not permissible including using electronic communications (email, "social media," etc.). The policy provides exceptions that are subject to interpretation by administrators, and outlines reporting requirements.

  • A new policy entitled "Breach of Computerized Personal Information" attempts to define the district's responsibility with respect to digital information about individuals.

  • The policy covering public attendance at school events defines ticket prices for categories of attendees.

  • The policy heretofore entitled Community Relations has been renamed to Community Engagement and rewritten to try to define areas of collaboration available to the district and its constituent communities.

  • The policy on non-school organizations and groups will prohibit advertising or promoting non-school organizations or groups "during instructional time."

  • A placeholder policy covering fundraising has been replaced with a new policy covering "Volunteers," and outlines application and vetting procedures, together with a detailed application form.

Many of the Board's policies now include reporting requirements levied on the Superintendent (or his designee).

Mr. Nebzydoski reported on the new "Safe to Say Anything" program sponsored by the Sandyhook Foundation through the state. A new app makes it possible for anyone to report anything awry in the schools anonymously, at any time. Mr. Nebz said that his 5-person team had already had occasion to use the system and found that it works well, and very quickly. Monitors in Harrisburg classify reports according to severity and urgency, and can issue a 911 call directly if necessary.  Student representative Megan Sommer told the Board that at an assembly where Mr. Nebz presented the new program, "you could hear a pin drop."

The next meeting of the Blue Ridge School Board is a workshop scheduled for Monday, January 28, 2019 beginning at 7:00pm in the cafeteria in the Elementary School. Winter workshops often come with soup attached.

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Oakland Borough Adopts Tax Ordinance

By Lillian Senko

Oakland Borough Council could not agree on a budget before the December 31st deadline so they froze the budget, keeping the same numbers as 2018 and agreed to review it again at the January Council meeting. Since a new budget was not determined, President Eric Page reported the tax would remain the same, at twenty-four point seven mils, which was unanimously adopted.

Council retired to an Executive Session early in the meeting to discuss personnel issues. When Council returned it was stated Officer Marco Duarte would resign from the Oakland Police Department, effective immediately. Officer Duarte read his resignation letter, in which he stated he was very sorry their values weren't the same.

Mayor Randy Glover reported there were twenty-six calls responded to by Police Officers during the month of December. Worth noting, stated Officer John Creamer, was the confiscated sixty grams of methamphetamine. Officers also responded to criminal trespass, disabled vehicle, domestic dispute, fraud, suspicious person, theft, traffic stops and miscellaneous investigations.

Commissioner Alan Hall was in attendance stating he wanted to get around to all the municipalities to offer the assistance of the County. He said they were very successful with small water and sewer grants; there is money out there that they could help them obtain.

River Bounty, stated Commissioner Hall, had very good news in that they were moving forward with the engineering project to eliminate the dam, which would make the waterway clear for boating. He said after all these years it would be nice to see it opened up.

Commissioner Hall also had information regarding the roads in Susquehanna County. PennDOT reported it would take approximately six years to fix all the ditches located in the county.

Roy Williams, a Councilman from Susquehanna Borough was in attendance to provide an update to Council about their partnership in a study to see if it would be advantageous to combine police services. The study should be available in two to three weeks and at that time they will have another meeting to go over what each Borough would like to have for police coverage to complete the study.

The Susquehanna Emergency Management Agency (EMA) will be having a class on January 30th at 6:30pm in Montrose and Councilman Williams was wondering if they would speak about combining EMA services between townships and boroughs. Alan Hall stated there would be conversations about possibly developing a regional position, since it's harder and harder to obtain and retain qualified volunteers for the position.

A new budget was presented to Council members to review and President Page stated he would like to see it adopted at the meeting. Council members had many questions on the proposed budget and some of the questions involved personnel. Dave Dibble asked to go into executive session to discuss some concerns but several members of Council refused to budge and repeatedly stated the issues could be brought up during the public meeting. Councilwoman Senese stated she didn't feel comfortable discussing personnel in a public forum and Councilman Ron Beavan said the public had a right to know what was being said.

Two top concerns with the new budget were an increase in the Secretary's salary and decease in police coverage. Councilwoman Valarie Senese asked Council members, who wanted to adopt the budget, how could they justify an increase in spending when they didn't have enough money to pay expenses. She also asked how they could justify an increase in a secretary's salary while decreasing a much needed police presence in the area.

A very lengthy discussion followed, during which several Council members stated they have been requesting documentation over the past few months they feel is needed to form a realistic 2019 budget.  Councilwoman Senese questioned how could they make an informative decision if they didn't have documents providing information of funds coming in or going out. Numerous types of documentation were requested from the secretary and at the end of the discussion it was determined the secretary would expedite preparation of all requested documents to give Council members time to review them before next month's budget workshop meeting, which is to be held one hour prior to the regular monthly meeting.

Council members unanimously adopted an Ordinance stating the same individual may hold the office of Secretary and Treasurer simultaneously.

Councilwoman Christine Deakin said she would like Councilman Gary Boughton to be Vice President of the Parks Committee and Councilwoman Senese as the Secretary, since she is doing the grants for the park.

Councilwoman Senese reported the cat lady was not able to come to tonight's meeting but Kindred Spirits received a grant and would like to invest the funds in the Susquehanna area. Utilizing grant funds could possibly lower the cost for each cat to ten dollars. She would like to start fundraising efforts to pay for the capture and release program and she feels a good goal would be one thousand dollars. This will not stop the problem, but the population will dwindle in time and this is a more humane situation to handle the problem. Councilwoman Senese said a representative would attend next month's meeting for a presentation.

Council unanimously approved moving forward to apply to Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) for an Intervention Program. Councilwoman Deakin said it is a nice way to move forward, it will provide good ideas to sustain the borough with long term financial planning.

Commissioner Hall stated information provided in a housing study indicated houses in this area are too old, the tax base is too high, and no one wants to live on a hill. He said millennials want larger homes with open floor plans. The best thing to do is obtain grants to tear down blighted houses, similar to the process of Susquehanna Depot, and rebuild homes with open floor plans.

Councilwoman Senese stated she was contacted by Pennsylvania American Water Company saying they had an interest in purchasing the water company. They have a financial packet available for Council to review to see if it would benefit the Borough. Councilman Dave Dibble stated they should have public opinion on whether or not to sell. Council agreed they should take a look at the offer and Councilwoman Senese will contact the representative to obtain the packet.

Boyden Street has a large hole, approximately two feet by two feet at the end of that road and Councilwoman Senese asked Jeff Wayman if he could look into it. He replied he placed a very large rock over the hole but it has been getting moved. Councilwoman Senese asked him if he would be able to come up with a more permanent solution to the problem. Several minutes of discussion were held on this issue and it was suggested Liquid Fuels money could possibly be used to create a long-term solution to the problem.

The next meeting will be held on February 14th, at 7:00pm, with a budget workshop session starting at 6:00pm.

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Susky To Implement Safe2Say Something

By Lillian Senko

Superintendent Bronson Stone reported at the Susquehanna Community School Board meeting on January 16th the statewide program Safe2Say Something officially began statewide and training students on the program will begin in February. The program is an anonymous reporting of potential threats in schools and the identity of the individual making a report will remain anonymous.

Pennsylvania will be the first state to launch a statewide app hotline for reporting, which was devised by Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit formed following the 2012 shooting. The partnership is formed with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office that will run the hotline program.

Students and teachers across Pennsylvania will be trained on signs to look for from potentially troubled individuals and how to responsibly report them.

The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) Grant came through, stated Superintendent Stone. Purchase of Security Cameras from Triguard Security Systems under the COSTARS purchasing program was approved at a cost of twenty-four thousand, eight hundred thirty-eight dollars by the school board during the meeting that will be paid for by grant funds.

Superintendent Stone stated it was School Board Recognition month and the board works with no paycheck, lots of headaches and he would like to offer them heartfelt thanks for all the leadership and action they provide. School Board Secretary Evelyn Cottrell has provided thirty-three years of service to the school.

High School Principal Brent Soden provided his report to the Board in Academics, informing them twenty specific assignments were selected for students in grades seven to eleven to complete, in order to address the content found in the Career Education and Work standards.

A committee of teachers is reviewing Report Card comments; changes were suggested to allow for feedback to be more specific, and more positive comments to be available, stated Principal Soden.

Eighteen students have enrolled as mentees in the Student Mentor Program, and students are provided a mentor whose strength matched their weakness. Principal Soden thanked the student mentors for giving their time to help the younger students.

Principal Soden congratulated the Varsity Basketball teams for winning the 2018 Denise Reddon/Jill Hoffman tournament, and acknowledged Mason Deakin for scoring point number one thousand of his career during the tournament.

There is a desperate need of organizations to host the students on May 23rd for the annual Pride and Polish community service event. Principal Soden said the students are willing to take on most tasks, including painting, weeding and litter removal. Please contact the school to request the student's help as soon as possible for this event.

DTE Energy funded twenty-four new Chromebook computers for the science students, and Exxon Mobile Education Alliance provided a one thousand dollar grant to help support the math and science programs.

Principal Soden was granted permission to form a pilot eSports Club during the spring of 2019.

Business Manager Gary Kiernan reported the 2019-2020 Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) payment is two point twenty seven million and the 2020-2021 payment will be two point forty-three million dollars. The state reimburses the school fifty percent of the payment, but the school will make the upfront payment.

Kevin Price, Head of Maintenance reported the department took advantage of the days the school was closed for the holidays. All the HVAC filters were changed, the cafeteria floors were cleaned in the high school, all the carpets in the elementary school were cleaned and they are still in the process of disinfecting the locker room but its showing a huge improvement. Mr. Price said they have been converting the lights over to LED, which will save the school money and they will be receiving rebates from First Energy.

School Board President Steven Stanford officiated the Conduct Oath of Office for Chad Haley and Ashlie Yoder, the new School Board members.

The following contracts were approved; three-year contract with Vision Student Information System, Freddy's Refuse Removal LLC, and the 2019-2020 yearbook purchase agreement with Walsworth. Joseph Shell was approved as the Deputy Tax Collector for Susquehanna Borough during the 2018-2019 period.

The Business Office will review and choose the highest rate available to invest up to a million dollars in a fifteen-month certificate of deposit with NBT bank for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

A revision to Policy number two hundred two, Eligibility of Nonresident Students which states: "Non-resident students granted admission to the school district under the premise of parent/legal guardian employment with the school district, may remain enrolled in the school district tuition free until graduation if the employment of his/her parent/legal guardian is ended due to the death of the parent/guardian during the active employment of the parent/legal guardian."

A new "roll-through" refrigerator was approved for purchase at a cost of seven thousand, three hundred forty dollars and seventy-one cents, replacing one that was purchased in 1996.

Carly Doyle was approved as a Volunteer Coach for Odyssey of the Mind. Superintendent Stone said an anonymous donor has donated T-shirts for this program for the past three years and a big thank you goes out for their generosity.

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