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NASD OKs Seemsville land study

A $500,000 study of the long-dormant Seemsville property owned by Northampton Area School District was approved at the Feb. 8 NASD Board of Education meeting.

The master plan for the 92.3-acre property at Route 329 and Seemsville Road in East Allen Township includes a “phased development of the property for an elementary school, administration building, maintenance building and bus parking area.”

The board of education voted 7-2 to approve an agreement for engineering and design services for the possible development of the district property.

The Seemsville plan includes an agreement between NASD and D’Huy Engineering Inc. for professional engineering services for the development of the master plan at a cost not to exceed $540,500.

D’Huy is to draw up and present an initial feasibility study and planning, a sketch plan submission, a conditional use submission and a land development plan to East Allen officials and will assist with obtaining approvals for the phased development of the property.

NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik said the administration would make a presentation at a school board meeting, possibly in March or April, detailing the plan for the Seemsville property.

School directors James Chuss and Chuck Longacre voted against the Seemsville property master plan.

“It’s not advantageous for the school district to be spending more than half a million to get a conditional use permit,” Longacre said. “Our enrollment in the district is level or is in decline. In addition, 30 percent of our students have opted for e-learning.

“We do need to redistrict. We do not need to build new schools,” said Longacre, whose remarks were greeted with applause from the audience.

“We’ve been talking about this since 2011-12 when we did a study,” Kovalchik said. “Franklin, Washington, the administration building, the maintenance building - all of these buildings are more than 100 years old. We’re looking at transportation costs, staffing costs. The northern part of the district is not growing like the southern part.

“This (Seemsville) property has been under consideration for 30 years,” Kovalchik added. “The infrastructure has been rectified to a certain degree.”

“It’s to get the project going in terms of zoning and land development to know whether we can do it,” school board President David Gogel said after the meeting, regarding the master plan.

During an approximate 30-minute public comment portion of the Feb. 8 meeting, several NASD residents urged the school administration to bring students back for full-time, in-person classroom learning.

“It’s frustrating from our perspective,” Doug Vaughn, of Lehigh Township, said. “What is the board going to do so students do not exceed the recommended amount of screen time?

“The school board is afraid of putting students back to school,” Vaughn alleged. “One (fear) is of legal action. The other is the teachers’ union. I myself would sign an indemnification letter from the school district. It’s time to get the kids back in school.”

“We’re not fearful of lawsuits, and we’re not afraid of the teachers’ union,” Kovalchik responded. “There’s two major guidelines: face masks and 6-feet social distancing.”

“It’s much safer for the kids to return to school than to stay at home,” Vaughn said.

“I want to thank you for what you’re doing to battle this God-awful virus,” Mike Meyers, of Lehigh Township, said. “I also want to thank you for making local decisions. I thank you, board members, for being here. The local board is the first level of governance for the children.”

“Wasn’t it 67 percent who wanted their kids to go back to school?” asked Paul Nikisher, of Lehigh Township.

“We’re going to set a deadline for parents to let us know what platform they prefer,” Kovalchik responded.

Kovalchik said the deadline for parents to respond to the NASD administration concerning the preferred education platform for their students is tentatively the end of February.

“We’ll know exactly where our numbers stand. We’ll know how to phase students in. The plan is to go four days per week,” Kovalchik said.

Monday would continue for at-home education and teacher conferences with students and parents.

A four-day in-person classroom instruction format could start in March or April. It is expected it would begin with kindergarten and elementary school students.

“There’s a good chance that we’re going to have to administer PSSA and Keystones,” Kovalchik noted.

Kovalchik said he might post a video chat Feb. 10 to update parents and guardians.

“Parents have to work and then come home to do two to four hours of teaching,” Kristin Soldridge, of Lehigh Township, said. “It’s not fair to parents. It’s not fair to children.

“I don’t think kids should be required to take PSSAs,” Soldridge continued. “If there’s a way to get out of it, parents should be allowed to opt out because students aren’t prepared.”

Soldridge asked if the district will require students to get vaccinated.

“No. It’s not in our plan,” Kovalchik said. “We don’t require it of our staff, and we won’t require it of the students.”

In other business, NASD administration isn’t counting on a windfall of relief in increased funding for school districts proposed in Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2021-22 budget.

Wolf’s proposed budget, unveiled Feb. 4, includes an additional $1.5 billion in basic education funding for school districts, to be based on a “fair-funding formula,” according to a release on the governor’s website.

“There is a significant amount of money and changes that [Wolf] is proposing with respect to education,” Kovalchik said.

According to the governor’s office, proposed funding for NASD would increase 12 percent, or $1,740,293, from $14,302,076 in 2020-21 to $16,042,369 in 2021-22.

“Whether that is going to happen or not, I don’t believe, because it’s very aggressive,” Kovalchik, said, adding, “We will sort through the governor’s proposal.”

Kovalchik said there were no updates regarding the NASD 2021-22 budget.

The school board approved a preliminary 2021-22 budget of $114,852,606, food service fund of $2,502,658 and athletic fund of $257,494 at the Jan. 25 board meeting.

The board of education is scheduled to meet 6:30 p.m. Feb. 22 in the cafeteria of Northampton Area Middle School, 1617 Laubach Ave., Northampton. The meeting is open to the public. COVID-19 protocol, including the wearing of face masks, is required.