Harvest Chapel Church helps Bermudian School District

The Bermudian Springs school board accepted a late holiday gift during the regular board meeting on Tuesday when a church paid for the district’s outstanding food service debt.

The topic of the donation initially came up during the board’s caucus meeting on Monday.

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Justin Peart, the district’s business manager, said Harvest Chapel in Abbottstown offered to pay for the outstanding food service debt throughout the district.

“What they’ve done is they’ve cleared the entire negative balance of our lunch and breakfast debt for the entire district as of the last day of school prior to the break, so we’re obviously very grateful,” Peart said on Monday. “They were very pleased at the amount they were able to collect.”

Peart said Harvest Chapel was also able to help other schools.

“They said they covered our entire district and were able to cover two other elementary schools in other districts, but that’s something that their congregation wanted to do, and obviously we’re very grateful and very pleased,” Peart said.

Superintendent Shane Hotchkiss also voiced his gratitude.

“Thank you to everyone with Harvest Chapel who had a hand in that,” Hotchkiss said. “We’re really appreciative and I know our families are as well.”

Peart said the church reached out to him prior to the holidays. The board was apprised of the offer on Monday and accepted the donation during its regular meeting on Tuesday.

Transportation contract

David Schrantz, a representative of Roher Bus Company, asked the board on Tuesday to reconsider changing its transportation contract.

During the caucus meeting a day earlier, Peart said the district currently has contracts with both Roher and E&B Transportation. When the contracts end with the conclusion of the school year, Peart advised the board to sign an agreement solely with E&B.

Hotchkiss said that going forward, it will be simpler to work with one company than two as the district eyes ways to boost transportation efficiency.

The board voted 7-0 on Tuesday approve the contract with E&B.

President Michael Wool was absent and board member Matthew Nelson abstained, saying he felt he did not ask enough detailed questions about the contracts to vote.

Curriculum council discussed

Treasurer Ruth E. Griffie and board member Jennifer Goldhahn have both expressed interest at previous meetings about joining the district’s curriculum council. Griffie has previously said she served on the council years ago.

On Monday, Hotchkiss and assistant superintendent Shannon Myers said the curriculum council has evolved over the decades, with changes to its composition, meeting frequency, discussion topics and methods developing over the years.

Myers said she had gone through records dating back to 1997 to learn more about how the council had previously operated.

No board members have served on the council in several years, according to Myers, and the council, similar to how it has been since 2006, is only made up of staff members.

Board members may be able to form a curriculum committee that would seek updates from the council and provide relevant information to the larger school board, according to Hotchkiss. Committee members should be voted on by the board.

Goldhahn and Griffie voiced interest in creating a committee. The item may appear on the board’s agenda in February.

2023-24 budget development

On Monday, Peart said the board will receive monthly updates as he and his team work on developing the 2023-24 budget. He pointed to the factors complicating his work.

“School districts are not immune from the economic downturn over the past two years,” Peart said. “This is evident by the continual increase in expense just to operate the school district. The impacts on economic downturn affect school districts the same, and I would even venture to say, if not more than, individual district residents because there’s things that we have no choice in the matter.”

Peart said that while individuals have some flexibility with its budget, the district has less.

“For example, mandated cost of retirement, mandated cost of cyber schools and then, on top of that, yeah, we have to pay the $6 a gallon for diesel and things of that nature,” Peart said. “The increased costs in electric. The increased cost and propane heating oil. We have all those additional costs, so we’re not immune to any of that and it’s definitely affecting us as a district financially.”

The district’s special education budget will also need to be increased due to additional needs for placements and professional services, Peart said.

As current Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf prepares to exit and governor-elect Josh Shapiro prepares to take his place, Peart said the district will need to wait to learn more about Shapiro’s ideas for the state budget.

“We don’t have a sense right now what he’s proposing, and since he is a new governor, he has another month to provide his budget,” Peart said. “Usually, the budget is presented in February so I’d be able to provide that information to you at the February meeting. Since he’s a new governor, he has until March.”

 Peart also pointed to rising cyber charter school tuition, increased electric, fuel oil and propane costs and other factors that make developing the district’s budget a challenge.

Traffic analysis

Hotchkiss shared the results of a traffic study completed by Grove Miller Engineering.

“So, back when we received permits to build the new middle school, the township at the time had expressed the desire for us, within 12 months of opening the building, to conduct a traffic study to determine the impact of the location and flow of cars in and out of the district,” Hotchkiss said.

The 50-page report shared the results of the traffic analysis, which studied the behavior of traffic during busy morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up times.

Five intersections were included in the survey. Hotchkiss said some issues were detected at the high school, but indicated they may be easily solved.

“So in the morning, when you come in off of the main drive, what they observed and found is that people come in and they want to turn left up the first aisle right out here in front of the admin office,” Hotchkiss said. “And so when they do that, if they can’t make that left, it backs up traffic out on the main drive.”

The solution may be to block off that option, encouraging traffic to move forward, Hotchkiss said.

Motorists may also be asked to change where they queue to pick up students in the afternoons to further reduce traffic backups.

Hotchkiss said he will share the information with the township, but he was happy with the results.

Board appreciation

Hotchkiss gave the school board members certificates for their service in recognition of Board of Education Appreciation Month.

School board members are part of a larger district team and face “challenging and vital work” on behalf of the district and larger community, Hotchkiss said.

“School directors volunteer numerous hours monthly, which includes adopting policies, voting on budgets, approving curriculum changes, to name a few,” Hotchkiss said. “They take time to learn about the issues affecting public education and to seek innovative solutions.”

Following the regular meeting, the board went into executive session.

The Bermudian Springs board will hold a caucus meeting on Monday, Feb. 13 and a regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 14.

Both meetings will be held at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium. Meetings can also be viewed live through the district’s YouTube channel.

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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.

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