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2022-2023 budget passes with tax increase

The East Penn School Board met June 13 for a regular board meeting to address the budget for the 2022-2023 school year among other items.

The meeting began with its usual formalities, with the addition of a moment of silence for Jon Kegley, a member of the maintenance staff, who died May 22.

The meeting opened with requests to address the board. The first speaker was Jennifer Ortiz, who talked about the success of the Seven Generations Charter School and how it was critical to her daughter’s speech development. Ortiz urged the board to renew the charter for Seven Generations so it could continue to provide an excellent education to its student body.

After other requests to the board, the meeting moved to the district update provided by Superintendent Dr. Kristen Campbell. She praised members of the district who have exemplified pride for East Penn and its community. She also praised Emmaus High School’s theater department which earned the Freddy award for “Outstanding Chorus.”

Campbell informed the board 43 members of East Penn District would be resigning at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. This is the largest group of resigning members the district has faced in years, resignations coming from custodial, food services and regular education.

The final update provided was the Emmaus High School Class of 2022 had 670 seniors graduate from the PPL Center June 12.

The meeting moved to discussion of the annual budget of the school district; however, board member Alisa Bowman motioned to have the curriculum be addressed first. Several members of the audience were waiting in anticipation of the decision on the renewal of the Seven Generations Charter School. The motion was conducted and seconded, and Seven Generations Charter School’s charter will be renewed until further renewal or termination in September 2027.

Board member William Whitney voiced his approval of the renewal, despite his past experiences with the charter school under a different administration. The renewal was met with applause from many families in the audience.

The next motion was the passing of the 2022-2023 school budget. Board Treasurer Robert Saul said the new budget would be similar to the previous year, except for the additional $2.6 million. This money is devoted to the learning loss costs from the COVID-19 pandemic and an additional $6 million will be set aside over the coming years for similar purposes.

Campbell said 10 new positions would be instated for these learning loss costs. These positions include six in special education support, two in administration for alternative and special education and one each for technical and custodial services. The board will continue to maintain the support network established in the wake of the pandemic provided by the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.

Bowman raised concerns over the new homeowner property tax that would be raised 3 percent to help with the school budget. Bowman did recognize state and federal funds do not provide enough for special education and behavioral problems that arise in the school district. She did agree with the budget plan and wanted to increase the property tax rebate program to help with these concerns, especially for taxpayers on a fixed income.

Personnel changes were approved for the upcoming school year. Campbell took the time to address the contributions of former director of information and instructional technology Lisa Manzo. Manzo was hired for East Penn just 10 days before schools were closed back in 2020. Even with little experience in the school district, Manzo was praised for her contributions to the growth of technology for students during the past two school years. Campbell said Manzo will be sorely missed and her position is currently available.

The board received a donation of $7,500 given by Faith Church to eliminate the student debt of the graduating EHS class, which included any outstanding lunch debt and any property given to students either damaged or missing. Board member Robert Saul said this would not be a pass for the entire student body as the return of borrowed property is more important than the financial compensation. The school board was still very appreciative of Faith Church’s generosity to the East Penn School District.

The board moved on to legislative concerns and the appointment of voting delegates for the November Pennsylvania School Boards Association Delegate Assembly. After a brief discussion, three board members volunteered: Allan Bryd, Michael Fegley and Jeffery Jankowski. The meeting will be a delegation of both in-person and Zoom meeting formats.

Other educational entities included the Lehigh Carbon Community College Dual Enrollment Agreement, which was approved, and the report on Lehigh Career and Technical Institute. The report included the successes of its students from this past school year and the upcoming summer camp offered by LCTI to begin June 20.

The board adjourned with no further objections.

The next regular board meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. June 27 in the board room of the administration building, 800 Pine St., Emmaus.