Juniata County School Board discusses security, staffing concerns

MIFFLINTOWN – Security and district infrastructure were the main topics of a workshop meeting held Tuesday evening by the Juniata County School District board.

With business manager Richard Meily set to present the preliminary 2014-2015 budget during Thursday’s voting meeting, the board and administration discussed areas of focus for the upcoming school year.

Administrators from each school in the district voiced concerns about district-wide safety. They said communication within buildings is difficult. At this time, most school office staff have the ability to call individual classrooms. However, classrooms cannot call back to the office, and some buildings lack even those office-to-classroom intercom systems.

The board discussed potential ways to fix the problem, including the incorporation of current phone systems into the process.

Administrators also expressed concern for the increasing needs of students coupled by decreasing staff. Across the district, principals said there are teachers balancing too many responsibilities in an effort to fill in for positions that have been cut.

At East Juniata High School, they said, there is one full-time guidance counselor shared with Juniata High School. In the past, there were two full-time guidance counselors at each school.

Administrators also said school libraries are suffering after full-time librarians were cut from the budget, and co-teaching has tied up specialized instructors in other subjects.

Aging buildings, class sizes and learning space in relation to the number of students were also cited as areas of needed improvement within the district.

Director Glenda Leister named better communication and meeting students’ needs as some of her main concerns as the upcoming budget is discussed.

“I don’t want to see anything cut, especially student-related,” she said.

As the board considered its approach for the new school year, Musselman warned that there is room for some flexibility in the budget, but that it will be difficult to address everything at once.

“If our revenue doesn’t cover our expenses, that’s a dangerous position to be in,” he said.

Also during the workshop meeting, representatives from Public Financial Management presented possible scenarios for funding upcoming renovations to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at EJHS, JHS and Tuscarora Junior High School.

Jamie Doyle, independent management adviser, said many school districts are choosing conservative spending since rates are low and the future is uncertain. But some school board directors reasoned that if the money is available, it should be used.

Before the meeting closed, Musselman asked the board to consider twice-monthly meetings. Meetings are currently held monthly in the Juniata County School District.

Director Amy Wagner spoke in favor of the suggestion, noting higher community involvement and awareness in counties that hold meetings twice each month.

Director Ray Page said he felt more frequent meetings were unnecessary, as many agenda items are typically personnel issues that cannot be discussed in a public forum. He said he would not attend meetings twice monthly.

No further discussion ensued, and Musselman said the district would continue holding meetings once per month.

A preliminary budget is set to be presented during the board meeting scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. Thursday in the gymnasium at Fermanagh-Mifflintown Elementary School.