EAST PENN SCHOOL DISTRICT
The East Penn Board of School Directors held its first virtual meeting via Zoom April 27. The March 23 board meeting was canceled for health and safety concerns regarding COVID-19.
The directors voted unanimously to suspend board policy that requires a majority of all members must be physically present when a board member attends through electronic communications, due to emergency conditions.
District Business Administrator Robert Saul provided a 2020-2021 proposed final budget update based on reductions in revenue brought on by the pandemic.
Saul said he reviewed how district budgets were affected by the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and projected there would be approximately a $6 million shortfall in revenue for budgeted expenditures.
Saul said there is “much to be seen” with any state or federal coronavirus stimulus funding for public education. A 1.5 percent tax increase may be needed to help make up the funding gap. To avoid or minimize a tax hike, Saul suggested money from the capital fund balance could possibly be used to help offset the shortfall.
With massive job losses triggered by COVID-19, board members asked Saul to find additional ways to avert increasing taxes.
School Superintendent Kristen Campbell said her administration will continue to rework the numbers as more information on state and federal funding becomes available, as well as identifying where cuts in expenditures could be made without compromising the education of East Penn students. Revisions to the budget were promised to be available by the May meeting.
The board reluctantly approved the 2020-2021 proposed final budget including the senior citizens real estate tax rebate program with a vote of 8-1 with the understanding it was a “work in progress.” To meet state-mandated timelines for district budget approvals, the district must approve and adopt the final budget by the June 8 meeting. Director Alisa Bowman voted “no,” explaining she was uneasy voting on “a question mark.”
In other business, there were two requests to address the board by audience members who registered online. Unfortunately, they were unable to communicate their comments.
A moment of silence was held for Kaia DeCesare, 13, an East Penn School District student in residential placement who recently died.
Campbell announced the Emmaus High School turf field project will begin May 5. Despite the financial obstacles created by COVID-19, she said the district signed a contract with Skepton Construction for installation of the already ordered materials. The district is also obligated to Lehigh Valley Health Network as project sponsor to begin work. Campbell said the contractor would adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Pennsylvania Department of Health safety guidelines.
The district’s continuity of learning plan is working well according to the superintendent, with 90 percent of the students completing online educational activities. Campbell described how the “Grab and Go” lunch program has provided meals for East Penn students on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at Lincoln and Alburtis elementary schools as well as Lower Macungie Middle School.
The board all voted to adopt a resolution suspending the established requirements and establishing new requirements for graduation from Emmaus High School for the 2019-2020 school year due to the closure of all schools for the remainder of the current school term.
The directors unanimously agreed to the yearly renewal of a five-year contract approved April 2018 for The Nutrition Group, Food Service Management Company and Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit #21 for special education services for the 2020-2021 school year. They also approved a renegotiated agreement with STA of Pennsylvania Inc. which saved the district around $1 million.
A resolution calling for charter school funding reform was passed and is to be submitted to the state general assembly.
In personnel matters, the board approved the retirements of EHS biology teacher Debra Barthold, Willow Lane Elementary School second grade teacher Cheryl Borysowski, fourth grade teacher Nancy Cleff, Wescosville Elementary School English as a Second Language teacher Janice Clymer, ESL teacher Linda Williams for Macungie and Shoemaker elementary schools and school nurse Ann Johnson who worked at Jefferson and Lincoln elementary schools.
The directors also approved EHS English teacher Susan Arnold, Willow Lane Elementary School first grade teacher Carole Banko, Eyer Middle School reading seminar teacher Denise Brosky, EHS social studies teacher Sally Hanzlik, Wescosville Elementary School second grade teacher Cynthia Kemp and LMMS sixth grade teacher Susan Noack for the early retirement incentive program.
All retirements are effective in June.
Campbell and school board President Ken Bacher praised Arnold who had been with the district for 39 years and had served as president of the East Penn Education Association.
The directors held a first reading of board policy updates with Assistant Superintendent Douglas Povilaitis regarding board attendance at meetings via electronic communications. Student attendance, suspension and expulsion were also discussed.
School board director Jeffrey Jankowski reported the state legislature’s Act 13 of 2020 waived the 180 instructional day mandate for the current school year and standardized testing requirements among other things due to COVID-19. There is also a bill that freezes school tax increases being considered by the state house.
Jankowski offered some hope with the news that Congress is expected to pass an additional CARES Act which may provide more emergency funding to public education when they reconvene in May.
Bacher announced there was no executive session before the public meeting. He mentioned there were executive sessions held March 23 and April 13 where they discussed “negotiation, litigation and personnel issues.”
The next virtual meeting is scheduled April 27. The public can access documents through BoardDocs and register to attend the Zoom session via a link on the district website.