Article courtesy The Progress; Jeff Corcino,
The Clearfield Area Board of School Directors is again looking at housing grades seven through 12 in the Clearfield Area High School in the hopes of saving money. This was the district's original plan for the school, but earlier this year the Feasibility Study Committee's top choice was to construct a new middle school and renovate the high school. But with the district now facing deep cuts in state funding, board President Dave Glass said he thinks this is no longer possible. "With the financial constraints posed by this extremely difficult budget I don't think we have the luxury of building a new middle school," Glass said. Glass said he would like the board to set a deadline to make a decision by July.
In discussions with the district's architect, J. Greer Hayden of HHSDR of Sharon, Glass said Hayden recommended the district undertake its building project in phases instead of trying to do it all at once. Glass said they should make a decision on what to do with the secondary education grades and the Central Office and Maintenance Department first, before making any decision on what to do with the elementary schools. He said with the uncertainty surrounding the status of Girard-Goshen Elementary School the district isn't in the position to make a decision about what to do with the elementary schools at this time. Girard-Goshen Elementary School has been closed since November due to structural issues with its roof, and a recent engineering study concluded it would cost about $1.4 million to repair. Board member Jennifer Wallace agreed and said in a few years the district would have a better idea of what its enrollment will be because of the uncertainty about the impact of development of the Marcellus shale drilling in the area.
As for the Central Office and Maintenance Department, the consensus of the board at this time appears to favor moving it to the high school campus. Superintendent Thomas Otto said locating the Central Office could give the district the opportunity for savings in administration by maximizing secretarial staff. For example, he said the district could have secretarial staff work in the high school office for a half-day and walk over to the Central Office and work a half-day. Board member Mary Anne Jackson asked if it would be better to have the Central Office and Maintenance Department in separate buildings with both located at the high school campus. Glass said they would ask the architects to produce cost estimates for a combined and separate Central Office and Maintenance Department.
In other business:
• Business Administrator Sam Maney announced that the state has approved the district's application for exemptions, allowing it to raise property taxes by a maximum of 6 mills. Without the exemptions the district would be limited to raising taxes by no more than 2 percent, or 1.8 mills, without approval from the voters via referendum. There are 10 exemptions to the referendum requirement for which a school district can apply to the state Department of Education or the courts to raise property taxes above the index. The exemptions include construction projects, voter approved debt, special education expenditures, expenditures to implement school improvement plans, etc. Under Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget, Maney said, the district stands to lose about $1.8 million in state funding. If the district raised property taxes by 6 mills it would generate about $720,000 in additional revenue for the district, he said.
• Dave Domico of the High School Improvement Team presented the board with a draft policy on attendance. The Improvement Team is looking to revise the district's attendance policy in the hopes of decreasing excessive absenteeism in the school. According to the Improvement Team, last year 38 percent of 12th graders, or 83 students out of 216, missed 15 days or more of school. Of those students who missed three weeks or more of school, 75 percent were not proficient in one or more of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment subjects of reading, math and science, according to a previous article in The Progress. Domico said the draft policy was modeled on the attendance policies of other school districts the team reviewed. The draft policy requires all students who are absent to submit a written excuse from their parent or guardian detailing the reasons for the absence within three days of returning to school. The written excuse must be specific and the acceptable reasons for an absence are limited to illness or injury, serious illness or death in the immediate family, quarantine, emergency medical or dental attention, absences pre-approved by the principal such as college visitations, military recruiting, required court appearances, pre-planned educational trips and tours, etc., and impassable roads determined by the transportation coordinator. Other acceptable reasons include authorized religious holidays with a cap of 36 hours per school year and require a written excuse from the parent or guardian in advance requesting the release to attend religious services. A student shall not be granted credit for any semester course if absences from that course total more than 10 periods per semester or 20 for any full school year. High school students will also not receive credit toward graduation for any classes from which they are illegally absent more than three times during a school year and could result in the student being denied promotion or graduation. In addition, the student will receive a zero for all schoolwork missed during an unexcused absence and students in the compulsory age having illegal absences will be subject to the attendance laws under the Pennsylvania Code of 1949. Domico asked board members to read the proposed policy and give it their consideration.