Board discusses policy change on number of votes to close school

BLOSSBURG – During its Tuesday work session, Southern Tioga School Board members discussed voting on a proposed policy change to its required number of votes to close a school if it means there would be no school left in any particular community, a move which more than one resident said would “tie the hands” of future boards.

Board member Barb Shull, who is not running for re-election to the board, questioned the legality of the recommendation by Superintendent Keith Yarger that the board’s “goal” of maintaining at least one school in each community as long as it is financially feasible be codified in district policy.

Yarger, who was ill, was not in attendance at the meeting.

Board President Ivan Erway said that “in order to achieve the goal set forth by the board to keep a school in each community, we are implementing the clause that the board voted on in June.”

“This codifies in policy the board’s vote to keep one school in every community unless it is financially not feasible. It protects Liberty, Blossburg and Mansfield all in one sweep,” he added.

Board Secretary Penny Crowell said that board solicitor Chris Lance told her there are certain items that require a five- or six-vote majority, but that requiring a six-vote majority in this instance “is going above and beyond the law. A future board could change it and revise the policy if they wished.”

During the public comment portion, Sullivan Township resident John Ritter called such a policy “a blatant attempt to tie the hands of the incoming board.”

“Given the timing, it is a pretty blatant attempt to tie the hands of the incoming school board to make the decisions necessary to bring this district to fiscal responsibility and do what is best for the students. I urge you to vote against it,” he said.

Liberty Township resident Steve Guilliaume agreed with Ritter.

“I understand the board’s intent to keep a school in each community, the part I struggle with is our district is in peril financially, and it just ties future board’s hands to make what might be the best decision at the time.”

Robin Stetter, also of Liberty Township, noted that the board had agreed there needs to be a school in every community.

“If that vote came up, you would do that. Why do we need to change policy that will impact future boards?” she asked.

In reference to ongoing teacher contract negotiations, Cogan House Township resident Todd Smith, a district teacher, said that Southern Tioga teachers never have gone on strike even one day, compared to other districts in urban areas.

“That is unheard of. If that doesn’t show some selflessness and dedication, I don’t know what does,” he said.

A year ago, teachers in all 500 school districts in the state were asked to take a pay freeze, but only those in 31 districts agreed to do that, Smith said.

“Our contract ended June 30, 2012, but that freeze took effect in the 2010 school year, this is 2013. Do the math, that is three years ago,” he said.

As for the negotiations, which board member Frank Kollar referenced saying teacher’s union reps had “walked out” during the last session, Smith said he thought there were “conflicting reports” on who walked out on who.

“Talk to us. The people here do not want to go on strike, they just want to do their jobs,” he said.