Boards agree on CTC settlement

LEWISTOWN – Mifflin and Juniata County School Districts have finally settled their differences regarding ownership of the Mifflin-Juniata Career and Technology Center.

Following on the heels of the Juniata County School Board’s decision on Tuesday to agree to an amended settlement, the Mifflin County School Board unanimously approved the same settlement 24 hours later during a special meeting.

Voting in favor of the amended settlement were Walter Harpster, James Hurlburt Jr., Beth Laughlin Travis Parkes, Kirk Rager, Kristen Sharp, Mary Lou Sigler and Annemarie Swineford. Board member Dr. Ruth Armstrong was not in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting.

The two sides had originally agreed to a settlement last month, however, changes were made which necessitated additional negotiations and voting meetings to get the job done.

In essence, according to Mifflin County School District Superintendent James Estep, Mifflin County will take control of the operations of the facility at the end of the current agreement, which ends June 30.

“Mifflin County will set the budget and make the decisions about programs,” Estep explained following the vote. “In return, we will provide seats in our programs for Juniata County students. Essentially, Juniata County students will pay tuition.”

According to the agreement, “Mifflin County and Juniata County agree that through the end of 2017-18 school year, Juniata County shall have the right to send its students to the center for their career and technical education; and further that Juniata County shall pay tuition on an annual basis to Mifflin County at a rate equal to the actual per pupil cost incurred by Mifflin County for its students who attend the center.”

Estep said that as per the agreement, JCSD will reimburse MCSD for funds identified in the reconciliation of the center’s finances for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years. He estimated that total amount to be “in the neighborhood of $300,000.”

Several members of the MCSD board that serve on the Joint Operating Committee of the CTC made it clear that negotiating budgets with their counterparts from Juniata County weren’t always easy.

In fact, Kirk Rager, a member of the Mifflin County board who was part of an eight-person negotiating team that hammered out the initial agreement last month, stated prior to the vote.

“They changed what we agreed to as a group. We will vote for this because this is the kind of stuff we’ve been dealing with for a number of years,” Rager said.

Other provisions listed in the agreement include, in part:

MCSD agrees to assume all long-term and short-term debt of the CTC as of July 1.

MCSD agrees to pay JCSD a lump sum payment of $26,081, which represents Juniata County’s portion of the assets of the center.

As of July 1, MCSD shall own all of JCSD’s interest in the center and MCSD shall be solely liable for all of the current and future financial obligations of the center.

MCSD and JCSD agree that JCSD’s students shall be offered the opportunity to fill up to 28 percent of the students who participate in each program offered at the CTC. If a greater percentage of JCSD students seek to enroll in any program, they will be permitted to enroll if space is available in the program.

If MCSD decides to eliminate a program or if JCSD decides to initiate a career and technical program in its district or an alternate program, each shall provide the other with one year’s notice. Both parties acknowledge the above will not occur in the 2013-14 school year.

The initial agreement is for a period of five years. Thereafter, the agreement may be extended annually for an additional one-year term. Both counties must provide the other party with at least one year’s advanced written notice if the party is going to seek modification of the terms of the agreement.

The parties acknowledge and agree that it is in the best interests of their respective students that the center continue to operate and provide career and technical education programs under the terms and conditions of the agreement. Each party shall fully and completely cooperate with the other party’s efforts to implement this agreement and obtain all necessary approvals from the State Board of Education, Department of Education, and/or Intermediate Unit if any such approvals are required to implement the agreement.

The parties acknowledge and agree that by entering into this agreement, each party does hereby waive, release and surrender any rights, claims or causes of action the party may have against the other and further that this agreement shall settle and discontinue the litigation between the parties which is pending in the Court of Common Pleas of Mifflin County.

During a public comment period following the vote, area resident Richard Smeltz said he had heard of representatives from MCSD attending a meeting at the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology in Centre County about possibly closing the CTC and sending Mifflin County students there if the settlement with Juniata County fell apart.

Estep acknowledged that he was at a meeting there to discuss worst-case scenarios.

“When that program became aware that there were issues here, superintendents reached out to us and said if we run into problems they would be willing to accept Mifflin County students if things went really awful,” Estep said. “It was a safety net, our ace in the hole.”

Harpster, the board president, said to Smeltz, “When dealing with the complex issues we do, we need to look at all the possibilities. I’m happy that we have an agreement. This should make the rest of the process easier.”