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Originally billed as a committee meeting focused on the new budget due before the end of June, the meeting in the Elementary School library on April 14 was actually a workshop whose minimalist agenda belied the depth of the discussions, discussions that had little if anything to do with the budget. Many board members attended the unofficial session, together with the superintendent, three principals, the transportation and activities director, joined by two bus contractors and a couple of interested citizens. The two-and-a-half hour meeting was ably directed by Board President Harold Empett, who managed to let everyone have a say and get all ideas out on the table.
The first hour concentrated on “single-tier busing.” For the past 12 years or so, Blue Ridge buses have operated on a “two-tier” system, one that brings students to school in 2 groups, separating the high-schoolers from the younger riders. Transportation Director Jim Corse had been asked to generate a set of route schedules from his computerized mapping system that would implement a “pure” single-tier system. He was asked to fill the buses, and to ensure that no student would ride more than an hour in either direction. This turned out to be more difficult than might be expected, given the sprawling rural nature of the Blue Ridge School District.
This isn’t the first time Blue Ridge has considered single-tier busing. Most neighboring school districts operate on a single-tier system, some with modifications. Past reviews of the Blue Ridge system ultimately resulted in continuing the 2-tier system because there didn’t seem to be any good reason to switch. Such was the case this time, too.
Mr. Empett, however, cautioned the meeting that, with enrollment gradually - but steadily - declining, the issue would remain on the table. No matter what the Board finally decides this time, the financial incentive remains that the state reimburses transportation expenses based at least in part on loading of the buses. As enrollment falls, bus loads will become lighter, and pressure to move to single-tier will increase. There might be a windfall of some $200,000 in the first year, according to Business Manager Loren Small, but nothing after that. And, if single-tier doesn’t work out, it could cost at least that much to go back.
Mr. Corse said that the bus contractors must see the available routes as early as possible so that they can plan on equipment purchases. The single-tier routes he created would cut total miles by about 400 per day. He said that 75 miles per bus per day is the minimum required to make the business financially feasible for a contractor. (One possibility might be to modify the single-tier schedules as some districts do, to add an extra “loop” to the end of a run to fill a bus closer to town.) Some of the new routes would be substantially less than the minimum, perhaps leading some contractors to get out of the business altogether. That would leave the district with a hole in the schedule that might need to be filled quickly.
The general consensus was that the cost difference to the district would be nil. So the issue rides on many other considerations, and everyone had something to say about the pros and cons of the proposal.
For one thing, single-tier busing at Blue Ridge would bring students to school a little later in the morning. According to Matthew Nebzydoski, Principal in the Middle School, the older students operate on a different clock and may benefit from the later start.
The later start, however, would squeeze the schedule from both ends. Currently as many as 600 students take advantage of the free breakfast at the school. Would it be possible to serve all of these meals in the short time between arrival and the start of classes each day? The later start would also tend to push the last period of the school day into after-school activities time. The lunch schedule would also probably lead to longer times between breakfast and lunch for some students.
Perhaps the most important concern was the mixing of age ranges on the buses, which would probably transport kindergarten students together with high-schoolers, leading to an increase in discipline problems. One of the contractors said that, because many of the younger students are too small to be seen over the seat-tops, there have been instances of thefts by older riders from their backpacks that couldn’t be observed by the driver. Mr. Small said that mixing ages like that might require the installation of cameras on the buses, or the hiring of monitors. The contractors noted that drivers can’t be expected to drive and closely monitor behavior, particularly on rural winter roads. In fact, Alan Hall said that the major impetus behind the two-tier system a dozen years ago was to prevent just this sort of mixing.
Another hour was devoted to a detailed report by Superintendent Chris Dyer and his principals on what could be done with money that might become available as part of the federal economic “stimulus” program. Mr. Dyer was careful to warn that his plan was based on figures that are anything but engraved in stone. While the amount could be well over half a million dollars, it could also be substantially less.
There are also restrictions on how the money can be spent. Most important, it cannot be used to support on-going operations, or to fill gaps in operating budgets. The money would have to be used for equipment, materials and salaries for new programs. Moreover, the money can be spread over only the next two years. It is important for all to understand that programs begun with stimulus money would become the responsibility of local taxpayers after that. And most of the questions about the plan focused on what the on-going costs might become.
The plan was divided into three major sections. Mr. Dyer said that the figures for Title I (support for education for the disadvantaged) and for IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or special education) were likely to be the most reliable. The plan includes a “Literacy Coach” and additional summer-school support under Title I. Under IDEA, Mr. Dyer and his principals would like to implement a new-fangled science methodology called FOSS (Full Option Science System), a product of Delta Education of Nashua, New Hampshire that would be used in grades K through 8.
According to Mr. Nebzydoski, FOSS would likely replace the need for expensive textbooks in science for the lower grades. FOSS emphasizes hands-on experimentation, an “experiential” approach to teaching science. Mr. Nebzydoski said that FOSS would require additional training for teachers, and would take several years to implement fully.
The Blue Ridge District is also considering bringing the “emotional support” service back to Blue Ridge. Students requiring this special attention under their Individual Education Plans (IEPs) now have to be transported elsewhere. By hiring to bring the program in-house, the district might expect to save nearly $40,000 per year, and might even attract (paying) students from other districts without their own emotional support programs.
The plan would also purchase software that would help to develop those IEPs, which are extremely time-consuming to create. And, said Mr. Dyer, “IEPs aren’t going to get any easier.” Mr. Dyer is already committed to finding a way to cut the number of Blue Ridge students who are designated as having “special needs.”
The third, and biggest, part of the plan targets funds for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF), part of the stimulus package that, according to the federal Department of Education, “will help stabilize state and local government budgets in order to minimize and avoid reductions in education and other essential public services.” Mr. Dyer hopes to apply funds from this part to maintaining and enhancing technological facilities at Blue Ridge. Specifically, he would like to hire a “K-12 Technology Integrator,” a coach who would assist faculty to get the most out of available hardware and software in the classroom. This position would amount to an additional high-school math teacher.
Part of the SFSF plan might also involve the expansion of the VLINC program, a distance-learning initiative out of the Instructional Unit. Mr. Dyer said that he is preparing a letter that would be sent to families who are now home-schooling or using so-called “cyber-charter” schools, inviting them to have a discussion about what Blue Ridge could offer. Bringing something like VLINC in-house would involve substantial start-up and on-going costs, but could help to attract some of those costly “cyber charter” students. It might be almost like operating a cyber-charter school from within the Blue Ridge district. Mr. Hall said that one or more school districts in the commonwealth are already seeing considerable financial advantage from offering such programs. Mr. Dyer is committed to maintaining and expanding Blue Ridge leadership in technology.
It is in large part the cost of those cyber-charter students that threaten to force the Blue Ridge board to consider a tax-rate increase to cover the budget for next year. Students in these programs are unknown to the district until the business office receives a bill from the charter school operator. Mr. Small said that the number of such students has ballooned recently, putting the budget in jeopardy by as much as $300,000.
After nearly two-and-a-half hours already, the meeting wasn’t in a mood to dig deep into the draft budget Mr. Small had prepared. Mr. Dyer said that Mr. Corse and the school principals would be presenting their budget requests at the next full board meeting on April 20. The materials Mr. Small distributed he said represented the “leanest” budget he could come up with, and he said that the Board would have to discuss “how to fill the gap.”
Mr. Small’s draft calls for spending almost $17.5 million, a bit more than 4% higher than last year. The problem is that he expects revenue of only about $16.3 million, higher than last year, but not enough. The difference would eat up the available “fund balance” (accumulated surplus from prior years) of about $1.2 million, and still leave a “substantial gap.”
One of the problems is that local revenue (property taxes) is estimated to be some $200,000 lower next year and state subsidies aren’t expected to rise enough to compensate. In January, the Blue Ridge Board passed a resolution that requires the district to hold any tax increase to an “indexed” value, which this year is about 6.1%. Last month Mr. Small said the budget might require as much as a 2.4 mill increase in local revenue (property taxes).
Nevertheless, there was time to pore over a map. It seems that some of the track and field facilities – and a small part of the running track – are actually on private property. This is not news; the original maps of the campus clearly show the property line.
That hasn’t been a problem until now, as that private property has found itself in an estate that may sell the land to a developer who is building houses down the hill from the campus.
The school district has been given right of first refusal on some of the land. In order to clarify the campus borders and ensure the district’s access to its athletic facilities, the Board may be asked to purchase 10-15 acres of the available property.
As it happens, this isn’t an unusual circumstance. Part of the outfield of the Little League field in Great Bend Borough is on private property, as is part of the field in Hallstead.
If you’re into figures – and taxes – consider attending the next few meetings of the Blue Ridge School Board. For example, where will the money come from to buy 10 acres of land?
The Susquehanna Community School District board heard several reports relevant to the expected federal stimulus funds at their April 15 meeting.
Title I funds are expected, approximately $255,000, which will be used for summer- and after-school programs. The district staff is in the process of having the district's state designation changed from “Targeted Assistance” to “School Wide Title I,” which will allow for more flexibility in spending the funding. The district designation is based upon residents' overall income level, which is greater than 40% below the poverty line.
Other funding for building renovation will be used for repair of a part of the high school roof, converting a classroom into a computer room, and replacing aging doors.
The district's business manager will be attending a conference on the stimulus funding, which will provide more definitive information about what can and cannot be done with it.
Just prior to the meeting, the state had certified that additional property fund tax reduction from gambling revenues would be forthcoming again this year. Eligible property owners will see an estimated $300 reduction in property taxes, although that amount could increase between now and when the funds are released, depending on the final state revenue figures.
PSSA testing in reading and math have been completed, with testing in science coming shortly.
Members of the O'Neil family had traveled to the district from a number of locations, including England, to interview candidates for this year's Claire Williams O'Neil Scholarship. The district will be issuing a press release about this year's winner, Aaron Soden.
Through the efforts of librarian Jeannye Glidden, well known children's illustrator John Manders made four presentations to the elementary students.
Fifteen students were newly inducted in to the National Junior Honor Society.
The elementary library has received a $34,895 LSTA grant, which will be used to purchase a laptop cart for the library.
Elementary students will be participating in a “nutrition week,” where they will learn about healthy food choices and the benefits of exercise.
Good news for the budget for the coming year; after last year's instability in fuel prices, the budget allocation for the year's fuel costs is about $112,000 less than this year, due to a lower bid firm price. The district bids through a NEIU consortium with other schools, which enables a lower price to be obtained than bidding individually.
May 5 was approved as Teacher Recognition Day.
Four-year contracts were approved for the non-instructional staff and the management team, and Superintendent Bronson Stone was reappointed to an additional five-year term, effective through July 31, 2014.
The board approved advertisement of a request for proposals or qualifications for a facility improvement and energy conservation services program; the state encourages performance contracting to plan projects to reduce energy consumption and make the facility more energy efficient.
A modified summer work schedule was approved, allowing employees to work four longer days during the week, with Fridays off, which will also benefit the district in that less energy will be used.
Leaves for the first and second quarters of the 2009-10 school year were approved for Tammy Stone and Karen Downton.
Two substitutes for the 2008-09 school year were approved, Peggy Bennett and Nicole Crawford.
Intents to retire at the end of the school year were accepted from a nurse, three elementary teachers and a technology coach. The board also approved intents to retire from Charlie Wormuth, Junior High Softball Coach and Joseph Dooley (elementary Title I).
And, in addition to the usual requests for activities and fundraisers, the board approved a request for the Susquehanna Fire Dept. to hold a recruitment day at the campus on May 18.
The next meeting will be on Wednesday, May 20, 7 p.m. in the administration offices in the elementary building.
At a board meeting April 13, Forest City Regional High School teacher Robert Smith provided a demonstration of technology that he regularly implements in his classroom. Smith explained Activstudio software, through which he can create maps and photos with movable labels and captions. Smith stated that the software is easy to use and helps students retain information. Another program Smith regularly uses is Moodle, an online class management tool. At present, five FCR teachers regularly use Moodle in their classrooms. Through Moodle, students may access material and assignments at home, and laptops are available during the school day, as well.
On April 1, three faculty members attended a V-Link conference at the Intermediate Unit. Three students currently are completing V-Link courses at FCR, and the school is re-evaluating its program to determine whether it should be continued or possibly expanded.
The board passed a proposed 2009-2010 budget of $12,348,301.
On Thursday, April 23, a transition fair will be held in the high school gym from 1-3 p.m. Juniors and seniors are invited to visit with representatives form organizations such as colleges, the military and social agencies.
Similarly, a special education forum will be held on Wednesday, May 6 at 6 p.m. in the high school cafeteria. Donna Potis, special education supervisor, and high school special education teachers will discuss post-graduation options with students and parents.
Potis announced that during school on May 6, Dr. Wes Grebski and his Penn State Hazleton engineering students will show a solar paneled car they built.
The board opened extra-curricular positions for the 2009-2010 school year and noted that all coaches must now be CPR and first-aid certified.
Students recognized for participation in a website development competition included Edward Cerar, Chris Ogozaly and Benjamin Paul. Megan Jones was praised for making State Band. (Jones also made State Orchestra, but was required to choose between the two.) This is the second time Jones has received State Honors.
Finally, parents wishing to register children for Pre-K and kindergarten are asked to call the FCR office for an appointment. Pre-K registration will occur on Thursday, April 23, with kindergarten registration the following day. The state standard now requires that kindergarten students be five by September 1 to be enrolled for the 2009-2010 school year.
The April 13 school board meeting opened with a literary flavor. Mr. Adams presented to the board first place winners in the 13th annual Write and Illustrate Your Own Picture Book Contest, sponsored by the Susquehanna County Library and Historical Society. All three were in the same second grade classroom, and Mr. Adams acknowledged Mr. Dave Wood, their instructor. He stated that Mr. Wood went above and beyond to be a resource for the kids, and that it was no coincidence that the three winners were in his room. The students, who prevailed out of a field of 37 entries, included: Kyle McGranaghan, who wrote My Dog Jackie; Odessa Gaster, who wrote My Dog Liberty; and Maxwell Brewer, who wrote Mrs. Toad and Mr. Toad. In addition to these, there was one student who received an honorable mention in the contest. His name is Jacob Lutz, who wrote Eat Your Chicken and is in Mrs. Johnson's homeroom. All of the present student winners went through the standard handshake and certificate ritual.
Mrs. Phillippa Follert, recently named the Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year, was also present at the meeting. She was the recipient of many compliments, having been a member of the Montrose School staff for years. It was stated that she demonstrated for the students how important it was to honor, cherish, and serve the community. She also received a certificate, and a round of handshakes.
The retirement of Ms. Eileen Baessler and Kahleen Swaha was announced at the meeting. Both were publicly thanked for their service to the district through the years.
Various matters were discussed during the administrators' reports. The FBLA, at the secondary school, had five students attend the state competition in Hershey. Eight of the students were eligible, 7 attended to compete in the fields of business or technology, and the team did very well, with most of the students finishing in the top third of their competitors. Freshman Christopher Jordan finished second in the state, and is now invited to attend the national conference in Anaheim, California. The board approved sending Christopher and his advisor to the event.
On a less positive note, a problem with locker room theft was mentioned. The administration has been reinforcing with the students the necessity for locks on gym lockers, and taking some measures itself. Students are now redirected to another bathroom, if they request to go during physical education classes, etc. Locks have been bought for students who couldn't afford them, with the understanding that they be returned at the end of the year. A few of the thieves have been caught. It was said that theft has been on the rise over the past four or five weeks, and that other schools have been having the same problem.
The district's special education department was scheduled to go through PDE cyclical monitoring, it was announced. Representatives were to come to the district, observe classes, interview staff, call parents, etc.
At the elementary level, things were to become quite busy. Students Against Drunk Driving at the secondary school was scheduled to visit both elementary schools, with a presentation for sixth graders to include a goggle simulation. Secondary students were also slated to perform trainings for grades k-6 on internet safety, the third in a series.
For the second year in a row, the archery program recently competed in the state tournament in Harrisburg, taking 25 elementary and 9 Jr. high students. The elementary team took first place overall, and 10 received individual medals. All first place students qualified to go to the national tournament.
The elementary play also received some attention, being termed fantastic and phenomenal. One person said that this rivals anything other children’s theater groups do. Those who created the scenery, and the students watching the play, were also recognized.
Extensive discussion was held regarding proposed dress code alterations. The discipline committee met and worked to condense the existing guidelines, and to address areas which they felt were not adequately treated. Mr. Canaveri said that he would like to see school uniforms, but knowing that has not passed in the past, he desired to create a more professional, academic environment. Items which might be addressed included fleece pants, holes in pants, off the shoulder shirts, and footwear. There have been accidents in the hallway with students stubbing their toes and bleeding, so flip flops and athletic sandals may be addressed. He also stated that he would like to look at the neckline requirements for shirts. Mr. Host, an educator at the school, spoke up regarding the difficulties staff face when they report a student for dress code violations only to have the violation fixed by the time the student gets to the office. He wished to see staff have the ability to write referrals based on the students clothing as it is in the classroom. The matter will continue to be discussed and addressed. Once decisions have been made, changes would likely be sent home with the report cards.
Kaye E. and Frank Holtsmaster to Kaye E. and Frank Holtsmaster, in Ararat Township for one dollar.
Nigel Dilley (Estate) to Jennifer Elizabeth Dilley, in Forest City for one dollar.
Linda Smith to Robert James and Karen Anna Harmer, in Lenox Township for $200,000.00.
Anthony P., Jr. and Linda Litwin to Deer Lick Creek Ventures LP, in Rush Township for one dollar.
Vivian T. and Williams S. Quinn to William S. Quinn, in Rush Township for one dollar.
Carol (AKA) Carol Ann Lopatofsky to Frantz J. and Megan E. Lincoln, in Auburn Township for $56,000.00.
Robert D., Mary L. and James M. Curley to Robert D. and Mary Curley, in Middletown Township for one dollar.
Robert D. and Mary L. Curley to William F., Laura C., Benjamin J. and Amy M. Curley, in Middletown Township for one dollar.
Robert D., Mary L. and James M. Curley to Robert D. and Mary L. Curley, in Middletown Township for one dollar.
Robert D. and Mary L. Curley to William F., Laura C., Benjamin J. and Amy M. Curley, in Middletown Township for one dollar.
Eric J. Glemser to National Residential Nominee Services, Inc., in Auburn Township for $233,000.00.
William J. and Rochelle A. Falzone to William J. and Rochelle A. Falzone, in Auburn Township for one dollar.
US Bank (By Atty) to Daniel F., Jr. and Linda N. Janda, in Montrose for $40,000.00.
Pascal Enterprises LLC to Charles A., Jr. and Elizabeth Leo, in Herrick Township for $117,500.00.
Anna (AKA) Ann M. Hall to Darlene Marie Conrad, in New Milford Township for one dollar.
Mark E. and Patricia A. Smith to Kenneth L., Carol M. and Kenneth Franklin Rauch, in Bridgewater Township for one dollar.
Kenneth L., Carol M. and Kenneth Franklin Rauch to Mark E. and Patricia A. Smith, in Bridgewater Township for one dollar.
Irene (AKA) Elizabeth Irene Carey to John Ira and Tonya Lea Mason, in Springville Township for one dollar.
Kenneth J. Hodge to Kenneth J. and Megan Hodge, in Auburn Township for one dollar.
Adam M. and Julie E. (By POA) Diaz to Nadine Lucas and Eddie J. Gorel, in Brooklyn Township for $135,000.00.
Nadine, Theresa A. and Allen D. Lucas to Kerry S. and Wanda L. Yankowy, in Forest City for $145,000.00.
Caroline G. Dolaway vs. Timothy S. Dolaway, both of Hallstead, married 1979.
The Susquehanna County Domestic Relations Section has bench warrants for the following individuals as of 10:41 a.m. on April 17, 2009.
David P. Atherholt, Jr., Erika L. Back, David S. Blaisure, Joseph Bonavita, Michael P. Bradley, Jr., David M. Brant, Kenneth G. Burgess, Jason J Carroll, Tony R. Clark, Mark T. Conklin, James J. Corridoni, Jeffrey A. Craig, Mary Dallasta, Paul H. Donovan, Deborah L. Drish, Jonathan Fathi, Kristoffer B. Fazzi, David J. Fischer, Thomas Fisher, Nesbitt W. Fitch, Jr., Ryan M. Forder, Kelly Fox, Dominick M. Franklin, David Haines, Jr., Suzanne R. Hansen, William N Hendrickson, Ann Hightower, Timothy M Holmes, Carl M. Kelder, Kevin D Klein, Erik E. Krisovitch, Rebecca S Kutney, James R. Lee, Charlie J. Legere, Carlos L. Leiser, Howard J. Linder, Christopher Locke, Joseph Malloy Jr, Tanika Marazzani, Patricia J. Marrero, Jason Marshall, Zada A McDonald, Joseph G Mershon, Joseph C. Moore, Anthony Neri, Benjamin Newell, Tanya M. Novak, Todd M O'Hara, Harriet Pabst, Donald Palmer, Gary Perico, Amy S. Pompey, Jonathan R Powers, James E. Purse, Jeffrey A. Ransom, Duane Spencer, Amy M. Squier, Earl H. Thompson, Jr., Christopher Trayes, Anthony M. Vaow, Keith W. Vroman, Steven G. Warner, Joseph Watkins, Glynn Wildoner, III, Jamie L. Williams, Kitty L. Williams, Roderic R Williams, Karl D. Zantowsky.
Please contact the Domestic Relations Section at 570-278-4600 ext. 170 with any information on the location of these individuals.
Spring roadwork bids were opened April 14 at a Clifford Township meeting, with submissions from McAndrew Excavating and Barhite Construction. Due to incomplete paperwork from the former, Barhite Construction was contracted for the roadwork.
John Regan, chairman, announced the purchase of approximately fourteen 4 x 4 recycling bins from R. Losinno & Co. Regan explained that the idea is to use the bins for storage and to help the township “change its recycling program.”
Regan suggested the possibility of arranging a regular, in-town, door-to-door garbage collection with Franceski Refuse. He stated that the township could receive a commission of 30-50 cents per bag collected. The money earned could be used to make the recycling program self-supportive.
A date will be set for a township clean-up day. However, the supervisors emphasized that no tires will be accepted this year, due to the difficulty of getting rid of them.
Secretary Renee Reynolds announced the April 22 deadline for a playground grant application. The grant involves no matching funds, and if received, the grant will be used to fund a walking trail outside the Township Building.
Following complaints of smoke odor in the Township Building, “no smoking” signs will be posted.
Also concerning the Township Building, a Hold Harmless Agreement has been generated for public use of the building. According to the agreement, groups must provide $100 collateral and proof of insurance.
A community member requested copies of minutes from previous meetings. Under the “Right to Know” Law, individuals may view and copy minutes, but the supervisors agreed that such copies must be paid for by the individual.
In order to help stem expenses to the township, individuals seeking a variance request will now be required to pay $750.
Trent Turner, fire chief, requested that individuals wait until after a rain to burn brush. According to Turner, a county-wide “no burn ban” experiment this year has “failed miserably [because] people do not use enough common sense when burning brush.”
Sandy Wilmot of the historical society thanked Ed Kozlowski Trucking for providing temporary use of a trailer box for storage and Adams Cable Service for a donation to pave the parking area at the Hoover School.
Supervisor Randolph LaCroix announced that he will not be running for re-election. At the request of the Clifford Community Alliance, a “Meet the Candidates” social will be held on May 5 from 7-9 p.m. at the Township Building. Community members will be able to meet James Locker, Jay Lynch and Barry Searle, the individuals running for LaCroix’s seat. Present supervisors are invited to attend.
Hallstead Boro Council has long been planning to purchase a new truck. At their April 16 meeting a motion carried to proceed, by posting specs on the state's CoStars purchasing program website. Trade-in of the old truck will be included, but if necessary, it can be put out to bid if its trade-in is not included in the best price for a new one.
In other business, tax collector Peggy Woosman requested that the boro sponsor her attendance at a two-day seminar to be held in Montrose, cost $160. A motion carried to approve. Mrs. Woosman also asked about exoneration forms for the per capita tax for folks over the age of 65; as the school district is no longer collecting the tax, they do not have the forms. Exoneration forms are available at the boro office.
The boro will be making the customary $200 donation to the Blue Ridge Recreation Summer Adventures program for area children.
Representatives from council and the school met to discuss the school's use of the athletic field; the school will continue maintenance of the infield, as they have been.
And, a motion carried to approve purchase of a power tool set for the boro garage, cost $196.
The next meeting will be on Thursday, May 21, 7 p.m. in the boro building.
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