In The Q
SCHOOL BOARD NEWSLETTER, Spring 2019
Taking holistic approach, Safety Committee makes its recommendations
'What we have learned ... has been eye-opening for all of us'
The Community Safety Committee, working since September on ways to improve school safety, delivered its recommendations to the Quakertown Community School Board on March 28, 2019.
During a 52-minute presentation, four committee members -- chairwoman Diane Richino, Catherine Bianco, Amy Harwick and Stephanie Zajkowski -- described the committee’s holistic approach and broke up their recommendations along four subject areas:
Facilities and Equipment
Protocols and Staff Action
Supports for Students
The speakers explained how the thought process of committee members evolved over a six-month period based on their readings and research, employing best practices and not opinion. They heard presentations and took part in conversations with district staff, including high school Principal Dr. David Finnerty, Strayer Principal Dr. Jennifer Bubser, School Resource Officer Bob Lee, Director of Pupil Services Janet Pelone, and Assistant Superintendent Nancianne Edwards, the district’s safety coordinator who facilitated committee meetings. There was also an informal meeting with high school students that Mrs. Zajkowski called “insightful,” and a review of QCSD Board policy relating to student safety, wellness, discipline, bullying, drugs/weapons, terrorism, and positive behavior support.
“When I joined the committee, in my mind, safety in the schools was about an active shooter scenario,” Mrs. Richino said. “While that is extraordinarily important, it’s also the least likely of all the things that we’ve looked at to necessarily happen. While you want to prepare for that, there are a million other things we can do in the meantime that go a long ways to making a better school district and a better community.”
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As lunch debt soars, Board considers consequences
Since Pennsylvania’s “anti lunch shaming” law went into effect in 2017, the lunch debt in Quakertown Community School District has exploded from $5,000 that year to nearly $24,000 through March 31, nearly a five-fold annual increase.
“That’s a huge jump,” School Board member Jennifer Weed said at the March 28, 2019, meeting. “This indicates to the Board that some families are just not paying for their meals. This is not, we don’t believe, all need based.”
Students on free and reduced lunch are not part of the growing debt burden, she said. Ultimately, as the debt increases, taxpayers will pay for it in the form of increased lunch prices.
State law requires schools to provide a meal to any student who requests one, regardless if they have money. It also bars schools from publicly identifying or stigmatizing students who don't have money for lunch. However, it appears that some families are simply taking advantage of the system.
To remedy the situation, the Board’s Policy Committee, which Ms. Weed Chairs, is in the process of developing several options for an updated student debt policy. It would include actions to address any type of student debt, not just the lunch program.
Consequences could include missing major school functions, like prom, or other school events. Having a collection agency seek payment may also be considered.
“The school district ends up being responsible for this debt because the parents and their students are not paying for their food,” said Ms. Weed.
Current year's budget shows surplus; next year’s deficit manageable
The Quakertown Community School District’s 2018-19 budget has an estimated surplus of $3.5 million, Director Rob Diliberto, chairman of the Finance Committee, said at the March 28 Board meeting.
The $2 million sale of Milford Middle School and Tohickon Valley Elementary School, and the $580,000 saved from not having to demolish Milford account for most of the surplus. Funds from the sale of the schools is targeted to help offset borrowing costs for the Neidig Elementary School renovation project. Money budgeted for demolition will be placed in the fund balance.
The 2019-20 budget, still a work in progress, currently has a $1.7 million deficit. That’s an improvement from the $2.5 million hole in late January. It is based on a 2.7 percent tax increase, the maximum allowable under the Act 1 index, the state’s property tax law. The School Board agreed it would not seek exceptions for retirement and special education costs to go above the index for the 2019-20 school year.
The budget includes $400,000 for work to Ronald Reagan Blvd. that the District committed to approximately 20 years ago. If that’s not needed next year, the operational deficit drops to $1.3 million.
“I’m very comfortable with where we’re at right now,” said Zach Schoch, the district’s Chief Operating Officer. He said that under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner the district has historically been able to make up a $1 million deficit over the course of a year.
“We typically see that that’s made up through either good financial decisions throughout the school year, and a lot of it comes through attrition,” he said. “We feel pretty strongly we’re in a good place right now.”
On April 25, the Board will be voting on a Final Proposed Budget. The Final Budget is scheduled to be voted on June 6.
Three Junior Girl Scouts, all elementary school students in the Quakertown Community School District, were recognized by the School Board for their “Take Action” project, collecting toiletries for people in need.
Megan Gera (Pfaff), Kara Kelly (Trumbauersville), and Riley McGinty (Richland) teamed up, with the approval of Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner, to set up bins in each school to collect and distribute the toiletries. They are working directly with the Quakertown Food Pantry, Quakertown Community Outreach, Upper Bucks Code Blue and Quakertown Cares to distribute these items to children and families in the district.
After their presentation at the March 28, 2019 Board meeting, President Steaven Klein said, “If I may compliment the young ladies on how well they spoke, you guys did an awesome job!”
Dr. Harner praised the students’ for their flourishing leadership qualities. “We know pretty soon they’ll be rotating into the Board’s student representative seat here in just a couple of years, sitting up here with the entire Board because we know your leadership is already starting,” he said. “Parents, thank you for your tenacity and for working with us. This is exciting.”
On February 28, the Board also recognized several students.
High school Assistant Principal Jason Magditch announced the students of the month. They included junior, Nicole Chambers, September, 2018; senior, Alexandra Whalen, October, 2018; senior, Mikayla Fuentes, November, 2018; senior, Hannah LaBonge, December, 2018; and junior, James Klyne, January, 2019.
High School senior Adria Retter was recognized by the Board. Adria set a school record in the shot put in February’s state championship meet at Penn State. Adria's toss of 41 feet, 11 inches outdistanced Barbara Grossov previous mark of 37-11 in 2016. She took home a sixth-place medal with her outstanding effort.
Also recognized were 13 students who earned a perfect score on the PA Civics Assessment. They are Whitney Davis, Katelyn Derstine, Sydney Fronheiser, Sophia Kincaid, Nina Liddington, Jordan Pearson, Michael Richino, Amorio Riendeau, Amanda Smith, Luke Somers, Haunah Thomas, Darby Vail and Rachael Vallas.
Neidig planning has been 'huge community effort'
Planning for the Neidig Elementary School renovation is coming together in a “beautiful way,” Facilities Committee Chairwoman Kaylyn Mitchell said at the March 28, 2019, meeting of the Quakertown Community School Board.
Neidig, which is scheduled to close for the 2019-20 school year on June 14, the last day of the school year, will be fully renovated and include the building of a two-story addition. For the 2019-20 school year, Neidig students will attend Tohickon Valley Elementary School.
“We’re really starting to finalize the project,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “I think it’s exciting.”
Mrs. Mitchell said she was pleased that teacher input played a significant role in the design of the building and was happy that Neidig’s neighbors worked with the district to develop a “mutually beneficial agreement.”
“It’s been a huge community effort,” she said.
The Board has scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. on Monday, May 6, to award bids for the project.
Resolution supports legislation to change cyber charter funding formula
The Quakertown Community School Board passed a resolution at its March 28, 2019 meeting in support of Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 526. Those pieces of the legislation, currently being considered in the General Assembly, help districts that provide their own high-performing cyber education programs by removing the financial responsibility for resident students who enroll in cyber charter schools instead of the districts’ programs.
The vote was 7-1. Director Jon Kerns was the lone no vote. Board Member Keith Micucci was absent.
Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner has written about the importance of having this legislation become law. Here’s why:
QCSD sends $1.92 million a year to cyber charter schools. While it costs the district $2,000 to educate a cyber student, it pays $14,500 for a regular education student to attend a cyber charter school; $30,000 for a special education student.
Dr. Harner told the Board that 25 percent of regular education students become special education students in cyber charters, more than doubling the payment to the institutions. Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 526 would have parents pay those costs if the home district has a quality cyber education program, which QCSD does.
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Board updated on diversity, inclusion progress
In the year and a half that Laura Lomax has worked with school employees to help make Quakertown Community School District a more welcoming environment, she has found QCSD to be similar to other districts and organizations.
“You all have a wonderful institution,” Ms. Lomax, vice president of programs for Pearl S. Buck International (PSBI), said during her presentation to the School Board on March 28, 2019. “The scientific name is that you are in a place really respecting commonality and maybe needing to look more at differences. But that’s where every school district and most organizations in the world are, right in the middle.”
PSBI brought its “Welcome Workplace” program to the district, where it gave 473 confidential assessments to district employees, including administrators, teachers and School Board members assessing their own personal views. PSBI followed up those surveys with confidential, one-on-one discussions with each Board member and administrator, and held group meetings with teachers at each school. It also helped the district set up a Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
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school board information
The public is invited to attend meetings of the Quakertown Community School Board and its committees. Meetings are held in the District Services Center, 100 Commerce Drive in Quakertown.
Please click here for the School Board's 2019 schedule.
Please click here for the 2019 committee schedule.
If you're looking for additional information about the School Board, please visit our qcsd,org website. Simply go to qcsd.org and click on School Board. In addition to meeting dates, you may find out about the individuals who make up the Board, how to contact them, policies, upcoming agenda items on BoardDocs and videos of Board meetings.