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INDIANA: Fiscal concerns prompt change in field trips

by CHAUNCEY ROSS chauncey@indianagazette.net on April 09, 2013 11:00 AM

A traditional field trip for sixth-grade students in the Indiana Area School District is going on a two-year hiatus, in part because of budget considerations — both for the school district and students’ families.

The board of school directors agreed Monday to hold off the annual trip to Washington, D.C., until the 2015-16 school year and then begin sending eighth-grade students to the nation’s capital each year.

This year’s fifth-graders will be the first group to attend as eighth-graders, so no class will miss the field trip.

On the recommendation of the academic committee, the district next year will shift the $11,000 budgeted for buses to Washington to cover transportation costs for an annual sixth-grade trip to the Lutherlyn environmental education center in Prospect, Butler County.

That would reduce the students’ out-of-pocket contribution for the Lutherlyn field trip to just $50. And in light of the trend toward relying on donations to defray the district’s costs of the field trips, the families’ burden of contributing to two sixth-grade field trips would be eased, said committee Chairman Brian Petersen.

The action was one of several items of board business that will have some bearing on the district’s 2013-14 expenses, as directors and administrators work to reign in expenses in the preliminary budget.

The board agreed to take up discussion during the budget process of whether to hire a full-time school psychologist at the behest of director Diana Paccapaniccia. The district’s former director of psychology services, David Allen, retired in February 2012 and has served since then as a consultant for up to 20 hours a week. Paccapaniccia said a full-time psychologist would be better able to identify students at risk of violent behavior, therefore improving school safety and security.

The board approved the purchase of new AP Statistics textbooks from BFT Publishers at a cost of $5,460 to replace a text in use for 13 years, and authorized the purchase of equipment at a cost of $60,000 for the Digital Media Production courses.

In other business, the board:

Approved a “soft start” program for kindergarten students to ease their transition into becoming full-time students. Kindergarteners and their parents would attend one-hour orientation sessions on Aug. 27, the first day of classes, then students would attend their first full days of classes — half of them on Aug. 28 and the other half on Aug. 29.

Approved changes in dismissal times, from 2:26 to 2:40 p.m. for secondary schools and from 3:30 to 3:45 p.m. for elementary schools, for the 2013-14 school year.

The changes follow the board’s decision Jan. 28 to adopt a daily schedule of 10 class periods of 39 minutes each in the senior high school. Administrators recommended that as a way to continue to offer the same number of courses after the anticipated retirements of several teachers, especially in the 2014-15 school year. The schools would schedule remedial classes and activities during the last period of the day.

In August, a change in the bus schedule triggered adjustments in the start and end times of classes but did not alter the net length of the school day. The change approved Monday will extend the time students spend in school from 416 to 430 minutes a day in the junior and senior high schools and from 385 to 400 minutes a day in the elementary schools.

Accepted senior high school guidance counselor Linda Chirieleison’s notice of retirement at the end of the school year.

Authorized district Superintendent Dale Kirsch to electronically sign agreements with Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Ratified an agreement with Indiana Area Education Association concerning computer-mediated courses.

Agreed to form an ad hoc committee, to be chaired by Paccapaniccia, to review and recommend revisions to the Attendance, Behavioral Guidelines and Discipline Policy Handbook for students for the 2013-14 school year.

Employed Denise Dragich as an after-school math program substitute instructor for grades 3 to 5.

Approved without comment a disciplinary agreement for a student identified only as 1213-10.

Approved formal adjudication agreements for students identified only as 1213-3, 1213-5, 1213-6, 1213-7, 1213-8 and 1213-9, as a result of disciplinary hearings conducted Tuesday and Wednesday. The disciplinary measures were first approved by the board following the hearings and an executive session, in a public meeting at 1 a.m. Thursday.

The directors voted 6 to 1 for approval, with board President Thomas Harley and members Petersen, Hilliary Creely, David Ferguson, Robert Gongaware and Walter Schroth in favor and Robert Werner opposed. Directors Paccapaniccia and Alison Billon abstained from the vote, citing their absences from the proceedings last week.

Approved an amendment to a disciplinary agreement originally approved March 25 for a student identified as 1213-04 on a vote of 6 to 2, with Paccapaniccia and Werner opposed. Billon abstained from the vote.

Directors and administrators made no comment on the nature of the discipline ordered or the students’ offenses.

The group of six students sanctioned last week, and formally adjudicated Monday, were said to be among seven Indiana Area Senior High School students who were cited by municipal police in Dauphin County with violation of underage drinking laws during a Key Club state conference March 9 at Hershey Lodge & Convention Center.

Under district policy, students who violate the school’s ban on use, possession, transportation, sale, or being under the influence of alcohol are subject to punishment for Level IV violations, which is the most serious classification of offenses.

Sanctions may include suspension, expulsion, criminal prosecution or other actions deemed appropriate by the board and administration.

According to the student behavior and discipline policy handbook, a suspension may be ordered by an administrator for up to 10 days and students are permitted to make up any school work they miss.

An expulsion is the exclusion of a student from school and may only be ordered by the school board. An expulsion may be ordered for as little as one day or may be permanent.

The school board has the option to decide whether an expelled student may make up missed academic work. A student on a long-term expulsion has the option of seeking admission to another education program outside the district, but if no other program will admit the student, Indiana Area School District would be responsible for arranging alternate education.

The board’s other option is to fully expel a student, who is age 17 or older, and no longer be responsible for the student’s education.

“The necessity of recent disciplinary hearings has ripped the heart out of the district,” said board President Harley at the outset of the meeting.

“Students, parents, teachers, administrators and the board share the misery of such a horrendous event, where no individual wins and the community suffers,” he said.

“I regret even the existence of these rules of student conduct, much less their enforcement. However, harmful behavior by our young people must stop, and must stop now.”

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