INDIANA: As classes begin, directors approve new hires
August 27, 2013 11:00 AM
by CHAUNCEY ROSS

On the eve of the first day of classes for students, the Indiana Area School District board of directors hired a counselor, a teacher, a para-educator and a nurse to fill staffing needs.

And two weeks from now, the board may hire two more part-time teachers.

At a semi-monthly business meeting Monday, the board hired Maria Olechovski to teach second grade at Horace Mann Elementary School, at a starting salary of $62,105.

District Superintendent Dale Kirsch said her assignment will allow 49 students to be divided among three classes averaging about 16 students instead of two classes of 24 and 25. Olechovski will begin work after giving a resignation notice at the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District.

The board also authorized the administration to recommend two candidates for part-time elementary teaching positions. They will be considered at the board’s next meeting Sept. 9.

Kirsch said one would most likely be assigned to teach kindergarten at Horace Mann school, where 45 children are enrolled for two classes starting today. The other would be assigned to the first grade at Eisenhower Elementary School, where 42 students are anticipated in two classes.

Board member Brian Petersen, the chairman of the academic and extracurricular committee, and Kirsch recommended against hiring another teacher for fifth grade at East Pike Elementary School, where 56 students are divided into two classes.

School board President Thomas Harley said the district should get ready for even larger elementary classes in coming years.

He told of seeing the baptisms of eight infants at his church this past weekend, and called it evidence that young families are coming to Indiana.

Of those eight children, future members of the Class of 2030, Harley said, “statistically, three will be economically disadvantaged, two will struggle with reading, three will struggle with math and seven will graduate … if we maintain the status quo.

“This outcome is simply not acceptable and our responsibility to those eight children and the 2,700 they represent demands that we do better.”

Harley said elementary school enrollment this fall has risen by 20 to 30 children since last year, and by more than 180 since 2007.

Because of the trend, Harley said, “closing any elementary (school) is neither possible nor prudent in the face of these continual student population increases.”

Harley said the district must hire additional teachers at the elementary level, pay them fair wages and benefits “within sustainable contracts,” eliminate ineffective programs and find more efficient ways to deliver higher-quality education.

“Public education must educate every student … not just five of eight, but eight of eight.”

The board also hired Holly Marusa as a secondary guidance counselor at a salary of $67,926; Tracey Iandiorio as a para-educator at $9 an hour; and Carolyn Clawson as a licensed practical nurse at $12 an hour.

The vote to hire Marusa was 8 to 1, with Harley, Petersen, Alison Billon, Hilliary Creely, David Ferguson, Diana Paccapaniccia, Walter Schroth and Robert Werner in favor and Robert Gongaware against.

Gongaware cast a symbolic “no” vote, saying that the Indiana Area Education Association labor contract provides a salary 55 percent greater than the pay Marusa would have received in her current position at the Marion Center Area School District.

The votes on the other hires were unanimous.

In other business, the board:

• Was told by Buildings, Grounds and Transportation Committee Chairman Walter Schroth that construction and renovation work is continuing at two of the schools as the school year begins. Hampered by excessive rain this summer, workers fell as much as three weeks behind schedule in their work to replace the roof at Indiana Area Senior High School and at Ben Franklin Elementary School, Schroth said.

Contractors also are replacing the boiler at Ben Franklin School, a project that should be finished in mid-October.

All work has been completed in areas where students attend classes, and Schroth said the unfinished work will be done in areas away from the classrooms.

Schroth said workers completed some asbestos-removal work in the schools during the summer but will wait until next year to continue that phase of the project. The only remaining asbestos is encapsulated in the floor tiles and shielded from exposure to staff and students, Schroth said.

• Was told in Petersen’s academic committee report that the district will need to pay $35,000 of reserve funds for mathematics curriculum materials for kindergarten through second-grade students, which had not been included in the comprehensive math program upgrade ordered earlier this year. Petersen said the cost also includes expanding the orders for some materials in response to the increased enrollment.

• Learned that the district’s online class system, the IDEAL program, will have 10 full-time students this year, down from 12 last year. Two IDEAL students graduated, according to Petersen, who also reported that the enrollment of “blended” students — those taking a mixture of classroom and online courses — has risen from 12 to 85 for the first half of the school year.

• Approved a resolution that asks area transportation planners to include a multi-modal path to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists as part of the proposed construction of a roundabout at Philadelphia Street and East Pike.

Schroth introduced the resolution and first deflected possible criticism that Pennsylvania Department of Transportation should spend money on other projects before building a roundabout in White Township.

“That is not our decision,” he said. “But since PennDOT has decided to do this, I believe that we should pass this resolution.”

“The reason for a roundabout is to slow traffic,” Ferguson said. “All we are doing is endorsing something that is safe for pedestrians.”

Paccapaniccia said that, based on her experience of frequently driving on roundabouts in New Jersey, the plan would create the expense of building a sidewalk from Philadelphia Street to East Pike School.

“I think it’s premature,” she said. “I don’t believe this is the best way to spend tax money. ... I think other intersections in the Indiana area are more dangerous.”

The resolution was approved on a vote of 8 to 1 with Billon, Creely, Ferguson, Gongaware, Harley, Petersen, Schroth and Werner in favor and Paccapaniccia opposed.

• Corrected the starting salary to be paid to Jenna Irwin, who was hired Aug. 12 as an elementary teacher, from $63,705 to $59,705.

• Accepted the resignation of para-educator Jessica Mock, and authorized the administration to advertise the position.

• Accepted the retirement notice of food service worker Bonnie Gallo, effective Oct. 1.

• Learned that Back-to-School Night meetings for teachers and parents have been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 3 at Ben Franklin Elementary School, 5:30 p.m. Sept. 10 at Eisenhower; 6 p.m. Sept. 10 at Horace Mann; 7 p.m. Sept 11 at Indiana Area Senior High School; 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at Indiana Area Junior High School; and 6:30 p.m. Sept. 18 at East Pike Elementary School.

• Approved revisions to the district policy on suspension and expulsion.

• Authorized Daniel Murphy to accompany Spanish exchange students on a field trip to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 13, and Amanda McAnulty to travel to Niagara Falls on Sept. 23 at no cost to the district.

• Agreed to abide by an increase from $70 to $75 per game in the fee for varsity football officials, as set by WPIAL.

• Approved an agreement between Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug & Alcohol Commission and the school district for services during the 2013-14 school year.

• Agreed to voluntary participation in the Pennsylvania Youth Survey for grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 at no cost to the district.

• Heard from district resident Douglas Steve, a former school board member who spoke during the public comment period, criticizing the board for leaving vacant positions unfilled and waiting until late in the summer to hire some new staff positions. Steve also complained that asbestos-abatement work was not completed as planned in Eisenhower, Ben Franklin and Horace Mann elementary schools.

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