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Board votes to retain superintendent

The East Penn Board of School Directors voted unanimously to state their intention to reappoint Dr. Kristen Campbell as school district superintendent for a further term of three to five years at the March 13 regular meeting.

While expressing confidence in her leadership, this is a first step in renewing her contract. “It’s been an interesting five years,” President Dr. Joshua Levinson remarked as he praised her leadership.

In her 28th year, Campbell was employed by the district beginning 1995 as an elementary school teacher, working her way up to superintendent. “It’s been quite a journey,” she remarked.

The 2023-2024 East Penn School District Student/Teacher Calendar was approved and adopted.

The board gratefully accepted a $6,500 donation from the East Penn School District Education Foundation. The funds are in support of the Girls in STEM program.

They also expressed appreciation for the Trexlertown Giant’s recent donation of more than $12,000 to support the district’s Feeding School Kids Initiative. The donation, collected from “rounding up” purchase totals at the register, will be applied to outstanding cafeteria debt of students from low-income families.

Business Administrator Robert Saul provided an overview of the administration’s long range fiscal and capital plan.

Referring to a series of figures and charts, Saul estimated the 2023-2024 budget would see a total increase in revenue to $175,977,702 and an increase in total expenditures to $178,276,108. This would result in an estimated deficit of $2,298,406. This figure subtracted from the beginning fund balance of $23,489,535 leaves an ending fund balance totaling a projected $21,191,129.

The business administrator explained there are multiple factors involved in his budget predictions. Saul provided various scenarios for how this and other future district budgets would look like if there was no tax increase up to what it would look like if the district upped taxes to the Act 1 Index.

The average assessed property value within the East Penn District is $214,904, Saul noted. If the proposed budget, based on district priorities is kept at 3.92 percent, the owner of that average assessed property would experience a tax increase of $165.75. If the tax increase maxed out at the Act 1 Index of 4.9 percent, the owner’s tax liability would increase by $207.19.

As far as the district stands financially and its credit rating, Saul remarked, “We are in a healthy position generally speaking.”

Campbell described this as mid point in the ongoing 2023-2024 budget process.

More sessions on proposed educational priorities and facility expansion or renovation recommendations are to come up within the next few months. Adoption of the final budget is scheduled June 12.

The superintendent remarked on the board’s approving an agreement with GoFan as the district’s provider for online ticket purchases. She explained GoFan was chosen for ease of use, customer support and minimal fees. The district anticipates expanding their services for sports events.

In her district update, Campbell noted the middle school ice hockey team was competing in the Phantoms Cup Championship finals. She also commented on other student sports and academic successes.

A Drug and Alcohol Parent Awareness Night is scheduled March 22 for secondary students and their families. The Career Exploration Fair is being held March 28 and the high school musical “Fiddler on the Roof” begins at end of the month.

The application process for the district’s more than 30 college scholarships is open until March 27 to graduating seniors.

Campbell said nominations for Outstanding Seniors for Grad Spotlight will close March 15. Sales of 2023 Graduation lawn signs for seniors and for “graduating” eighth graders, by the East Penn Education Foundation, end May 15.

Kindergarten registration for the upcoming school year continues.

In personnel matters, the board accepted the retirement of Director of Special Education Dr. Linda Pekarik, effective Aug. 10.

Campbell praised Pekarik for “her steadfast and unwavering commitment to our special education students throughout the district.” With an extensive background in special education, Pekarik joined the district in 2006.

“Thank you for everything you have done,” Levinson added.

The directors acknowledged the resignations of Emmaus High Spanish teacher Jessica Babbitt effective March 24 and Eyer Middle School special education teacher Tracy Urban effective March 10. Alburtis Elementary School and EHS school psychologist Trevor Pinho’s resignation, effective June 9, was also acknowledged.

There were three requests to address the board.

Looking back on the COVID-19 pandemic, Macungie resident Jason Jenkins remarked on what he considered was “wrong” about what was reported regarding the origin of the virus and the various measures put in place in an effort to mitigate spread. He was critical of the school closures, quarantining, mask mandates and vaccines. “If we are really being honest, they weren’t wrong, they lied,” Jenkins said. “Vaccines are the biggest lie of all.”

He expressed “disappointment” at how the district handled the pandemic previously and asked the board to not mandate vaccines if they are “pressured” to by medical and pharmaceutical interests in the future.

Mary Ellen Jackson, of Emmaus, mother of two high school students, continued to seek recruits for Parents for Equity in East Penn Schools (PEEPS). She said membership in the organization is growing and their focus is on community building efforts.

Shonta Ford, of Wescosville, expressed support for comments made by Bart Bailey, of Macungie, at the previous meeting regarding “our collective humanity.” She said “We have more in common than have differences.” Ford employed a tree analogy to depict community living, saying pruning shears are better for maintaining it than an axe.

According to Levinson, an executive session was held before the public forum 6:30 p.m. on “personnel, negotiations and other confidential items.”

The next regular school board meeting is scheduled 7:30 p.m. March 27. 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 Macungie resident Jason Jenkins addresses the board on the COVID-19 pandemic.