The Bermudian Springs school board said goodbye to outgoing members on Tuesday and prepared to welcome new ones. Heading into the second half of the school year, the board also elected to enroll in a USDA program to reduce school lunch debt.
The board held a caucus meeting on Monday evening and a regular voting meeting on Tuesday.
During the caucus meeting, district business manager Justin Peart said the current school lunch debt totals about $4,000 and will continue to increase through the end of the year.
Along with Judy Sterling, the district director of food services, Peart presented the board with information about the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) available for low-income areas.
In September, the USDA broadened the number of districts that can participate in CEP by lowering the thresholds for participating, according to Peart and Sterling. By participating in CEP, the district will provide meals to students without needing to gather applications from individual households. Instead, the district will be reimbursed for the meals using a formula.
Sterling said there are many benefits of CEP to both the district and families: less paperwork, less stigma for students, and less lunch debt, among them.
While the district will continue to see the lunch debt pile up through the end of the year, once CEP is in place on Jan. 1, the district should not see the debt increase.
In October alone, the difference between federal breakfast and lunch reimbursements as they are currently handled versus participating in CEP would have been over $15,500, according to Peart.
The board voted on Tuesday to enroll in CEP. The district will sign up for four years beginning on Jan. 1.
The board also approved the Act One Resolution. The resolution means that the district cannot increase school taxes above the Act One index of 7.2% for the upcoming 2024-25 school year.
Board president Michael Wool asked the audience to recall that the resolution only sets a limit for school taxes.
“This is just a reminder that this is just notifying the public and the state that we have no intentions of going above the Act One index,” Wool said. “This is by no means setting any tax rates for the upcoming budget. That will happen as the board adopts their budget and goes through the process over the next six months, seven months.”
The board also agreed to move forward with repairing the high school tennis courts that have experienced cracking. According to Peart, the quote for the project is $65,900.
While the board agreed to move forward with the repairs, the members asked Peart and Superintendent Shane Hotchkiss to provide more information on possible funding sources during the board’s December meeting.
Assistant Superintendent Shannon Myers presented information on the school data available through Future Ready PA.
Through the website, visitors can look at whether schools in the district met their goals in English Language Arts (ELA), math, and science.
In some categories, the red text or warnings that certain grade levels did not “demonstrate growth” may look concerning, but Myers said there are several factors to consider before raising the alarm.
Myers provided a crash course in navigating the data, showing where, in some cases, the data is still affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated Keystone test waivers, and said that “hit” should begin to even out. In several cases, the district met or exceeded the state average even if it was below the goals set for the individual schools.
The board approved three resignations and one termination. Several extracurricular contracts and volunteer positions were also given the green light.
The board unanimously agreed to move Laura McMillian, a middle school instructional specialist, to the position of acting high school dean of students, effective Wednesday.
Jesse Sims, the school security officer for the district, provided an update on his activities since beginning his position in September.
Sims reported that he has assisted with disruptive students, pointed out unsecured or opened doors, and helped respond to medical concerns. He’s helped with a fire drill and participated in a campus safety review.
But he has also focused on becoming a solid fixture for students.
“The students, there’s no fear of me,” Sims said. “I’m not a bad guy when they see me. They come up to me here. I’ve seen them at most of the football games.”
Sims said he is focusing on building trust.
“My main focus here, obviously, everybody knows what the number one reason for being here would be,” Sims said. “But the likelihood of that is so low that I’m not just going to sit here and wait for that event that hopefully never unfolds. So while I’m here, what I’m doing is interacting constantly with our staff and students of all three buildings as much as I can. I’m seeing the students every morning when they get off the bus to start their day. I see the high school and middle school students every day when they leave to go home.”
Hotchkiss recognized Wool for serving on the board for 16 years, secretary Douglas L. Knight for serving for 17 years, and board member Corey A. Trostle for serving for 11 years.
“It’s been a really interesting experience,” Wool said. “You know it was one thing pre-Covid. It was something very different during Covid. And even today, the times are definitely challenging for the board. For those of you that are going to continue to serve, you have my thanks.”
Wool told the board that while some people call the job “thankless,” he believes most people have “positive intent.”
Wool also reminded the board to listen to other viewpoints.
“You often hear about this thing, ‘diversity,’” Wool said. “It conjures up, sometimes, some really bad feelings. But diversity of thought is important, and the fact that when you have multiple people in the room, usually you have diversity of thought. I mean, sometimes with our board, there’s nine of us and sometimes I think there’s 10 opinions. But we got through it.”
Wool said the golden rule was a guiding principle for him.
“For me, at the end of the day, and I know I’ve shared this with some of you, I like to think I’m a relatively simply guy: I love my god, and I just want to treat people the way I want to be treated,” Wool said. “I think that when you do, everything else is going to come out right. So I wish you all nothing but the best, and it has been a pleasure serving with you.”
The board will hold a caucus meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 4. A regular board meeting will immediately follow the caucus meeting.
The meetings will be held in the administration office board room and will be livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel.
Imari Scarbrough is a freelance journalist. She was a staff newspaper reporter for five years before becoming a freelancer in 2017. She has written on crime, environmental issues, severe weather events, local and regional government and more.
You can visit her website at ImariJournal.com.