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Transpo, foundation costs cause debate

At the Human Resources Committee meeting May 13, Chief Human Resources Officer Russell Giordano presented information on the Workforce Board Lehigh Valley Internship Program, a proposal from TransPar Group to provide a full-time consultant at a cost of approximately $15,000 per month to advise on matters related to student transportation, and a proposal to convert the executive director position at the Foundation for the Bethlehem Area School District (currently held by Julie Bailey) from part-time to full-time, half of which would be funded by the district.

The latter two items generated a great deal of discussion, with board member Thomas Thomasik asking what return on investment BASD expects from approximately $575,000 in payments to TransPar over the next three years. Superintendent Dr. Joseph Roy said a full-time employee would cost BASD $375,000 over that same timeframe, and opined that the additional $5,500 per month would bring the expertise of consultants who have experience with the Routefinder Pro bus scheduling software. Additional details on the TransPar proposal are on the BASD board website (https://go.BoardDocs.com/PA/Beth/Board.nsf/Public), under the “Meetings” tab.

Discussion on converting the foundation executive director position to a full-time school district position centered on the ongoing costs of benefits, including health insurance and retirement. Thomasik expressed hesitation about adding an employee with benefit liabilities who is not an educator, and suggested that the board consider contributing a higher dollar amount to the executive director, but as a consultant instead of an FTE. Board member Dr. Dean Donaher asked whether it was a best practice to have the Executive Director of a 501(c)(3) charitable entity be an employee of another organization (BASD); Roy responded that the board of the Foundation had already endorsed the proposal, and commented that the board sees its responsibility as primarily a fiduciary one in managing the foundation’s financial assets.

Board member Dr. Karen Beck Pooley presented a resolution in favor of cyber charter school reform. Currently, private cyber charter schools receive roughly $12,000 for every regular education BASD student they enroll, although BASD’s own cyber-learning program costs roughly half that amount.

Roy, who spoke in Harrisburg recently about charter school reform, remarked that another area in need of legislative change is charter school funding for special education. Currently, BASD pays more than $25,000 per student per year to charter schools enrolling special education students, regardless of the actual cost to deliver services to these students. Roy added that charter schools’ own disclosures to the Pa. Department of Education reveal that they spend, on average, $8,500 per special education student. He suggested that legislative reform should include applying the statewide special education formula developed by a bipartisan funding commission to the charter schools, as it has already been applied to the state’s 500 school districts.

These items on the regular board meeting agenda for May 20, along with agreements with DeSales University and Gwynedd Mercy University for student nurse and student teacher placements, the election of Colonial IU 20 board members, the appointment of three BASD board members as voting delegates to the PA School Boards Association, and memoranda of understanding with Crime Victims Council and Star Wellness Center for services to be provided to district students.

At the Finance Committee meeting, CFO Stacey Gober presented items scheduled for a vote at the May 20 board meeting, including the reappointment of Dawn Young as board treasurer, the amendment of its beverage vending contract with Coca-Cola to remove the donation of sporting equipment in order to comply with federal regulations, an agreement with the USDA to provide summer food service to district children, school food rates and child care rates for the 2019-20 academic year, updates to the district’s agreement with Colonial Intermediate Unit 20, an agreement with vendor A Total Approach to deliver special education services, a one-year renewal of the existing telecom contract with NORSTAR. The Finance Committee also recommends that the board approve a stop-loss insurance program to limit the district’s liability in catastrophic medical claims; details of this program were provided.

Press photo by theresa o'brienBoard member Thomas Thomasik comments on the TransPar consulting proposal.