Board at ‘wits end’ with big decisions

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Jersey Shore Area School Board President Kelley Wasson leads a discussion about the capacity clarification document at a work session Wednesday night in Jersey Shore.

JERSEY SHORE — In an ongoing discussion about how the Jersey Shore Area School District can get out of debt, the school board president, Kelley Wasson, said she was at her “wits end” with the process during the work session on Wednesday.

“I’m going to be very blunt and very honest,” Wasson said. “We are dealing with trying to correct the deficit. We are trying to work through the process of deliberating over closures of two schools. We’re trying to determine what configuration this district would have to go through if there are closures … and all that has to be done within the next two months.”

In order to close Salladasburg and Avis Elementary schools, the board must decide at the meeting scheduled for April 30. The district’s deficit update was given at the meeting to currently be $1.821 million, according to Ben Enders, business manager.

“I don’t know what the most effective way is. I hear that it feels like we’re spinning wheels, but at the same time, everything is contingent on everything else,” Wasson said. “I, quite frankly, am at my wit’s end as to how we are to proceed with all these different variables that all have to be decided roughly at the same time.”

On Monday, the board received information from Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates Architects regarding a feasibility study about options for closures and reconfiguration of its schools. During Wednesday’s session, the board responded to some of these options in preparation for asking the firm more questions during the meeting scheduled for April 16.

“I was pleased to see … that the kindergarten to three, four to seven, eight to 12 option was do-able based off his (Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates Architects) numbers,” said Dr. Jill Wenrich, superintendent. “It definitely is do-able.”

Previously, the main option being considered for reconfiguration after school closures was kindergarten to

second grade at the elementary school, third to sixth grade at what is now the middle school and grades seven to 12 at the high school.

Mary Thomas, board member, said they need to discuss as a board what the options are for a district reconfiguration.

“That’s a discussion we have to hone in and decide … before you make that final decision on closing a school,” she said.

Merrill Sweitzer, board member, asked how much contact the administration had with Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates Architects regarding the feasibility study.

Wenrich said the administration walked representatives around the district for two days.

“To be perfectly clear, the architect that did this feasibility study, he generated all these numbers,” said Harry Brungard, board member. “He was not influenced by the administration in any way whatsoever as far as increasing number size or anything else like that … These people are insinuating that, and it upsets me.”

Wenrich said the only thing she requested be changed was that kindergarten classrooms be lower than the average of 25 students in a classroom to 20, which only lowered the elementary capacity.

“I’ve sat here over meetings and I’ve heard the innuendos … We really work hard here in the district. I’m not obsessed with closing two buildings. If you all remember, when I presented in November, I said these are some very difficult decisions need to be made,” Wenrich said.

She said she did not want to see programming hurt for the students.

“That’s why I made the recommendation for buildings and not programs. Unfortunately, it’s going to come down to buildings and programs now because every time we think we’re getting expenditures down, something else comes in and doesn’t help the situation,” she said.

Enders said cyber charter school costs, a new required position for a sign language teacher for a special needs student and a specific BLaST IU case caused the budget expenditure increases from the last update.

“We had a new student enroll in the district this past year. That student is in an outside placement. That placement cost us approximately $12,000 a month, so the projected cost for that one student is about $140,000 per year,” he said.

Wenrich said when a student comes into the district to cost the district such money is unpredictable.

“That is a killer … That is absolutely not an easy pill to swallow, and we can’t control those things,” she said. “We have to take every student that comes through our door, and we’re responsible for their education.”

She said there is no intent to do anything other than to figure out a financial situation.

Present at the meeting were members Wasson, Michelle Stemler, Brungard, Sweitzer, Karen Stover, Craig Allen and Thomas. Members Christopher Fravel and Dr. John Pecchia were absent.

The next scheduled meeting is for 7 p.m. April 16 at the District Service Center, 175 A and P Drive.