Northwestern Press

Thursday, May 28, 2020

School board discusses furloughs, staffing

Thursday, May 21, 2020 by SARIT LASCHINSKY Special to The Press in Local News

During the board president’s report portion of the virtual May 13 Northwestern Lehigh School Board meeting, Willard Dellicker acknowledged the meeting would be difficult as the district would be furloughing some teaching and support staff due to decreased enrollments and duty reorganizations.

He also noted the district’s proposed 2020-2021 budget, which reflects anticipated reductions in revenues brought on by COVID-19, would require a tax increase to maintain existing programs.

“While knowing our neighbors are losing their jobs and seeing reductions in their income, we are burdened with uncontrollable costs for charter and cyber schools that we are required to pay,” Dellicker said.

He also thanked administrators for their “objective scrutiny” of programs, personnel and expenses, and for making the difficult recommendations to reduce costs.

Under personnel actions, Director of Human Resources Luann Matika reported that due to reconfiguration of duties, six positions were being eliminated including four technology support partners and the middle school’s guidance secretary.

The district also furloughed a temporary teacher at Northwestern Elementary, Erifili Draklellis, but offered recall rights if an appropriate position becomes available.

Matika said Draklellis had accepted a long-term substitute position at Weisenberg Elementary for the 2020-21 school year to fill in for two sabbatical positions and had been added to the substitute teacher list.

The board approved the memorandum of agreement for the furlough and Draklellis’ recall rights, as well as a memorandum of understanding to add a computer coordinator position for the high school to the current collective bargaining agreement, with a stipend for the next two contract years.

The board also recognized the retirement of Pamela Henderson after 15 years of distinguished service as an English teacher in the high school.

Henderson said it was the right time to retire in order to be closer with her family, especially in the current uncertain times, and she acknowledged her colleagues and students as Northwestern Lehigh for their time together.

“I just want to say thank you to everybody for the opportunity to be part of another family,” she said. “Family is the most important thing to me in the world, and I feel really blessed that I have my own personal family and another family at Northwestern.”

During a staffing presentation, Superintendent Jennifer Holman said the district had been trying to get a handle on revenues and expenses since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

She said in terms of variances from March until May, there was around $1.2 million in revenues impacting the district’s decisions.

Holman noted one of the primary budget goals is to maintain programs and opportunities for students, and that administrators planned to preserve as many opportunities as possible.

Holman also said the district was looking at class sizes to try and stay within existing guidelines, and would continue considering the composite picture of classes and students’ support needs.

Regarding updated enrollment histories, Holman said over a nine-year period the district has seen a decrease of 17 percent in elementary class sizes and enrollment, and a 10-percent decrease for the middle school.

She said the administration would closely monitor first- and second-grade class sizes for enrollments or removals, as well as changes across all schools.

In the 2020-21 professional staffing recommendations, Holman said one elementary teacher would be moved to fill a special education position at Northwestern Elementary.

One 40-percent speech position will be added to complement the existing two full-time speech therapists.

Additionally, due to two special education retirements, one elementary teacher will fill the middle school education position, and another will fill the same position at Northwestern Elementary.

One middle school English teacher will also move to the high school to fill an open position due to Henderson’s retirement.

Under other staffing changes, Holman noted the furlough of the technology support partners, as well as the addition of one technology support technician position.

For instruction needs changes, she said an increase to instructional assistance was necessary to support student needs, and four library instructional assistants would be reassigned to provide student support.

Lastly, Holman noted a reduction in district police department hours, the removal of the middle school guidance secretary position, reductions in overtime expenditures, fuel oil usage and price per gallon, and a change from MacBooks to Chromebooks for incoming ninth graders.

In other business, the board approved the revised 2019-2020 school calendar, noting the current school year will end June 2.

Also approved was a change order to the high school track project to add additional track surfacing for $3,926.

Under district finances, the board approved the 2020-21 final budget, which Business Administrator Leslie Frisbie said will be submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Education and will be available for public display.

The final budget adoption is expected to take place in June.

The proposal lists total revenues of $43,783,358 and total expenditures at $47,506,306.

The budget includes a 3.65-percent millage increase for real estate taxes up to a rate of 17.2195 mills, which will raise around $1 million in taxes.

Also, $1,928,771 in fund balance usage is included to fund the estimated shortfall.

Board members also adopted a parameters resolution regarding the refinancing of the general obligation bond into a bank loan.

Frisbie said the rate was locked in at 0.98 and the estimated savings target was around $128,000, well above original estimates.

Furthermore, the board approved a three-year contract agreement with King, Spry, Herman, Freund and Faul, LLC to provide solicitor and legal services, and also renewed the Pennsylvania School Boards Association membership for $14,555.87 for the 2020-21 year.

Under the foundation report, director of curriculum and instruction reported the foundation is running a virtual Tiger Run and Fun Walk May 23 and is asking for donations from participants.

Information and registration can be found at the foundation website, NWLEF.org.

Board members also received ballots for the election of members for the Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit board of directors.

During courtesy of the floor Angela Rimm, a fifth-grade teacher at Weisenberg Elementary, spoke about the technology support personnel changes, starting with the acknowledgment of the positive impact made by technology partner Diane Searcy at Weisenberg.

“Diane has been our partner in fixing the logistical tech issues at Weisenberg. There’s no problem she hasn’t been able to fix,” Rimm said.

She also gave a teacher’s perspective on the district’s restructuring of technology resources, saying technology resource requirements at Weisenberg are different due to the school’s distant location, and that logistical problems are numerous and have a high potential of impacting student learning if problems are not quickly addressed.

She said having a technology partner on staff is helpful in addressing problems and sparking innovation, and she requested the board consider Weisenberg’s needs when restructuring technology human resources.

Dellicker thanked Rimm for her comments and said board members would keep the school’s needs and location in mind.

Lastly, Stitzel noted Pennsylvania had been approved for federal CARES Act money and around $140,000 is allocated to the district.

She said the administrative team would be working to put together a grant application to apply for funding.

The next scheduled meeting will be a workshop at 7 p.m. June 3.