Outdoor program length, cost raises concerns

LEWISTOWN – Concerns about the cost and length of the Shaver’s Creek Outdoor School, a four night enrichment program focusing on science for fifth grade students in the district, was the subject of a lengthy discussion during Thursday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting of the Mifflin County School District Board of Directors.

The “outdoor school” is offered to students at different times during the school year and, because of budget cuts in recent years, students wishing to participate must pay $150.

During the public comment period, local resident Allison Fisher read a list of requests she would like to see the board address in the near future concerning the school, including changing the current policy to allow day-trips as opposed to staying overnight at Shaver’s Creek.

“On March 1, I was informed of the policy that would remove my daughter from home for four days and sleep with strangers,” Fisher said.

Fisher also expressed concerns about what the schools in the district are offering if children do not opt to attend the outdoor school.

“I would like the district to ensure that children who do not choose to go are offered an alternative enrichment activity at their school and every parent is made aware of this opportunity in advance of the trip,” she said.

She also requested that a task force be created to address parent involvement in the schools.

“Allow parents to be a part of defining our role and prioritizing our activities,” she said. “This will help parents be truly involved and give us the sense that we are more than token partners with you.”

Fisher also requested the board hold informational sessions for parents beginning in September regarding outdoor school and alternative enrichment opportunities.

Superintendent James Estep said negotiations with Shaver’s Creek to pare down the costs have been somewhat successful but still labeled it “an expensive trip.”

“Our growing concern is the number of students, families and school association fundraising is going down,” Estep said. “We have concerns about costs being borne by home and school associations. Those groups vary from school to school. This trip has become so expensive our concern is if home and school groups fund it, it will deplete their funds.

“Going forward, I say if our intent is to continue to pull away from funding these trips, that’s fine. We may want to start looking at modifying the length of it to maybe two days or an alternate place other than Shaver’s Creek. We need to get the best bang for our buck. When the cost becomes more than families can handle, maybe we should modify it.”

Estep said he will work with the school principals involved to work with students and families and home and school associations to begin the process of looking into other alternatives.

In other business, also during the public comment period, Diann Shearer, president of the Association of Mifflin County Educators, said she wanted to clear up some “misconceptions” circulating around the county with regard to teacher salary increases that were listed at 2.4 percent following passage of the preliminary 2013-14 general operating budget in January.

“That amounts to 2.4 percent of a percentage of teacher’s salaries,” she pointed out, noting that based on experience, the longer a teacher has been employed, the higher percentage of raise was granted. Those at the lower end of the pay scale received less, she noted.

“Some teachers got a $500 raise,” she said. “After paying more in healthcare, taxes, etc. they may actually be making less than before.”

Also on Thursday, Board President Walter Harpster commended Estep and the rest of the administration on sending students home from school this past Monday just before a snowstorm blasted the area.

However, with some recent decisions to either cancel school or conduct two-hour delays on days when predicted snowfall was minimal or didn’t occur at all, board member Kirk Rager said it may be appropriate for Estep to explain the process involved in making the decision to cancel classes or call for an early dismissal.

“If there’s impending weather, myself and the eight other superintendents in the Intermediate Unit engage in a conference call at 4:45 a.m. with the National Weather Service,” Estep said. “In the case of the recent storm that never came to pass, we were pressed by the weather service to talk the night before. They were sure we were going to get clobbered and we got nothing. Unfortunately, I don’t have a degree in meteorology.”

Other agenda items up for consideration at the board’s March 28 business meeting include:

Approval of the following plans for Mifflin County High School graduation pending no more school cancellations: 6 p.m. June 7 at Mitchell Field; Rain date: 11 a.m. or 6 p.m. June 8 at Mitchell Field; or 6 p.m. June 8 in the high school gymnasium.

Approval of the following winter coaches for 2013-14: Aaron Gingrich, head boys basketball; Kevin Kodish. head girls basketball; J. Kirby Martin, head wrestling; Scott Gantz, head winter track; Collette Bender, head winter cheerleading; and Connie Welch, swimming.

The deletion of Travis Mazzoni from the custodian substitute list.

Acceptance of the resignation of Tracy Bastress, custodian at Mifflin County Middle School, effective March 6, due to other employment.

Approval of Clair Diven as a bus driver for Fisher Brothers Inc.

The addition of Jason Logan, mentally and physically handicapped certification, to the substitute teacher list.

The hiring of Jason Logan as a learning support teacher at Mifflin County Middle School.

A recommendation to accept the request for proposal for the firm of Young, Oakes and Brown of Altoona to perform audit services for the district. Reporting for Chief Financial Officer Sean Daubert, who was at an out-of-town conference, Estep said the district received seven RFP’s for the auditing work.

The following additions to the substitute teachers list: Jennifer Royer, all subject areas; and Casey Drake, all subject areas.

Approval of the recall of Allison D’Ambrosia from furlough status to the position of science/biology teacher effective the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.

A recommendation that the volunteer resignation of Allison D’Ambrosia be accepted to the declination of a job offer (recall) effective March 19.

Acceptance of the retirement of Joanne Williams, language arts teacher at Strodes Mills Elementary School, effective at the end of the current school year.

The addition of Lesa Moist to the substitute paraprofessional list.

Approval of Holly Yeager as a volunteer track coach for the 2013 season.

Approval of Mandy Hall as a volunteer junior high field hockey coach for the 2013 spring season.

Approval of the Tuscarora Intermediate Unit 11 general operating budget for 2013-14 in the amount of $3,410,912.

Approval and the response and resolution to the state audit regarding transportation.