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Board pledges to respect Act 1 Index cap

The East Penn Board of School Directors voted unanimously to adopt the resolution not to increase any school district tax for the 2023-2024 school year at a rate that exceeds the index as calculated by the Pennsylvania Department of Education at the Jan. 23 regular meeting. The 2023-2024 fiscal year Act 1 Index is capped at 4.9 percent.

Before the vote, Treasurer and Business Administrator Robert Saul provided a “First Look” at the proposed 2023-2024 budget. He advised the board this does not mean the preliminary budget is calling for a maximum tax increase. He explained there are exceptions allowed by districts within Pennsylvania to seek a higher tax increase above the Act 1 Index, but Saul assured the board, there is no need for East Penn to go that route. They agreed and pledged to not go above that figure.

In the coming months, the board will be presented with different portions of the proposed budget including district revenue, expenditures, a long-range fiscal and capital plan, along with funding and program priorities. A final presentation and adoption of the final budget is to take place June 12.

The board voted 8-1 to approve the ARP ESSER Health & Safety Plan. “There are no changes to the plan that was approved in August 2022,” School Superintendent Kristen Campbell said during the biannual review.

Face coverings and masks remain optional for all students and staff except as required by state or federal mandates.

School facilities will return to pre-pandemic layouts to prioritize in person instructional experiences. Physical distancing will occur to the greatest extent practical and consistent with prioritizing educational instruction.

Students and staff are required to wash hands or sanitize before lunch.

High touch, locker areas and classrooms will be sanitized often in accordance with facilities sanitization guidelines.

Parents will be asked to screen students at home each morning as they did during the 2020-2021 school year. Any student or staff member experiencing COVID-19 symptoms will be asked to stay home.

On his “nay” vote, Director Michael Felegy said, “The superintendent has the power to make a minor change to the safety plan. That minor change, going back, was masking up.”

After much discussion, the directors voted 8-1 to approve renewing the Panorama contract for an additional two years. Campbell explained there are multiple components to the company’s role with the district, not just the student surveys. She mentioned they manage student assessment data, course grades and core academic progress. This helps teachers and the district to track student progress.

While a majority of the board is in favor of the surveys to provide data on student social and emotional learning, they questioned how long the surveys should continue.

Director Alisa Bowman supported the contract as it helps teachers keep on target with a student’s Individualized Education Plan and 504 plan for a students with disabilities. Director Allan Byrd said, “It’s important that students feel they belong.”

Campbell reminded the board students and their families can opt out of the surveys.

Felegy again was the dissenting vote. “I do not believe in the questions that were being asked are really necessary for education,” he explained.

In personnel matters, the board accepted the retirement of Lincoln Elementary School Principal Lynn Brinckman, effective Aug. 2 and Eyer Middle School Administrative Assistant Cathy Jones, effective March 16.

Campbell praised Brinckman for her “21 years of dedicated service.”

During her district update, the school superintendent reviewed how the administration handles inclement weather events. She touched on topics such as how and when decisions are made and means to communicating school closures to students, families and the community. Sometimes, a decision can be made the evening before, other times they have until 5:15 a.m. to make the call, depending on circumstances.

She announced the high school has added a new food serving station to help shorten lunch lines.

Emmaus High Student Government Association students Maggie Machulsky and Maddie Hess spoke about winter sports and activities including the 2023 Scholastic Art Awards where Emmaus student artists received six Gold Keys, 13 Silver Keys and 48 honorable mentions. Their artwork is exhibited through March 5 in the Miller Gallery at Kutztown University.

The dance team is heading to nationals in March.

“Fiddler on the Roof” tickets go on sale online in February for performances in March.

Five winter sports are in play including basketball, rifle competitions, swimming and diving meets and wrestling. The SnoCo dance returns in February.

Assistant Superintendent Douglas Povilaitis provided a first reading of new policies on Students Experiencing Homelessness, Foster Care and other Educational Instability and Unmanned Aircraft Systems – Drones. Updates on Principles for Governance and Leadership, Enrollment of Students, Eligibility of Nonresident Students, Attendance, Graduation, Dress and Grooming, Suspension and Expulsion and Transportation were discussed.

He explained the changes to most of the existing policies reflect language from newly-passed state laws, including the combining of two separate policies into one umbrella policy for Students Experiencing Homelessness, Foster Care and other Educational Instability. “We are already supporting these students,” Povilaitis said.

The new policies on unmanned aircraft were requested by a student drone club and its adviser. These include safety regulations regarding weight, flying within visual line-of-sight, speed, and where they can and cannot be operated.

There was one request to address the board. Lower Macungie Township resident Frank Dumbleton questioned investing school resources on renewing Panorama when, in his opinion, there was a greater need to boost student performance in math.

President Joshua Levinson mentioned a 6:45 p.m. executive session was held before the public forum on “confidential matters.”

The next regular school board meeting is scheduled Feb. 13. The public can access documents through BoardDocs via a link on the district website. Livestreaming of meetings is available on the district’s YouTube channel.

PRESS PHOTO BY ED COURRIER Treasurer and Business Administrator Robert Saul presents a “First Look” at the proposed 2023-2024 budget.