MIFFLINTOWN - Juniata County School District Superintendent Richard Musselman addressed The Rotary Club of Mifflintown at its weekly meeting Thursday on Tyson Hill.
Musselman has served as the district superintendent since 2011 and has been guiding the district through the fiscal issues being dealt to public schools throughout the state. He said the last year has been dedicated to resolving problems caused by limited fiscal resources.
"You can't do anything until you get your fiscal house in order," he explained.
Sentinel photo by JULIANNE?CAHILL
Juniata County School District Superintendent Richard Musselman speaks to a small crowd Thursday at a meeting of The Rotary Club of Mifflintown.
The rising cost of employees has resulted in furloughs throughout the district and contract changes for current employees.
"Healthcare rates are just climbing and going up tremendously," Musselman said. "Retirement is going up and school districts are picking up more and more of the cost."
To help save money, Musselman said the district voted to outsource food service staff and the information technology department. Current employees were still offered jobs through the new company, but the move allowed the district to take employees off their own programs, he said.
In addition to personnel changes, Juniata County is making strides toward increasing the opportunities provided to students in the district.
"Public schools are nation builders," he said, emphasizing the value of investment into students.
Last year, Juniata County brought back full-time kindergarten, a decision that Musselman said he was unsure about at first. However, after seeing the progess of young students throughout the year, he said he is confident that the change will be positive for the district.
"What those students learn at 5 years old, moving forward, is phenomenal," he said. "...it allows you to move your curriculum along at a much more rapid pace."
Another county-wide concern has been extracurricular activities. Since funding is limited, booster clubs have been independently fundraising to support the continuation of activities in the district.
"They've been able to fund their programs and do a really good job at it," Musselman said.
Looking forward, Musselman is committed to providing better customer service to the students and parents throughout the district.
"There is so much competition out there, public school has to become much, much better," he said.
This begins simply with how families are greeted when they enter a building in the school district or how quickly the office responds to phone calls and communication with parents, he said.
The district will also continue its anti-bullying program. Musselman said his vision is for an environment where children can go to school and learn without the worry of being bullied by peers. Faculty and staff will undergo training to recognize problems among students and learn how to properly deal with it, he said.
Another large initiative in the district is the creation of its own cyber school. Musselman said Juniata County has had access to cyber classes in the past, but students have received instruction from a teacher who could be located anywhere.
"We want Juniata County teachers teaching Juniata County kids," he urged. "We've got to meet those students where their needs are."
The new cyber school will allow students from the district to learn from their own teachers while they're away from school for extended periods of time.
Additionally, Musselman sees a need for opening doors to homeschooled students. As students progress into higher maths and sciences, it often becomes more difficult for parents to help, he said. Musselman looks forward to bringing those students into the school or reaching them online through the new cyber system.
As he spoke of the future, Musselman also addressed new teacher evaluations and improvements to distance learning throughout the district. He explained that with less fiscal support on the federal, state and local levels, public education has to become more efficient and figure out smarter ways to educate students.
"Business as usual ... I don't think we can continue to afford it," Musselman said.