indiana area senior high school totem sign

Fresh off the payoff of two longstanding debts and enjoying a resulting smaller annual debt load, board members of the Indiana Area School District plowed almost $1 million into a building project fund and directed an architect to plan some potential school improvements.

The directors agreed to shift $950,000 into the capital projects fund from the general fund.

The transfer would be backdated to June 30 and come from what then stood as a fund balance of about $9 million, said Audit & Finance Committee Chairwoman Julia Trimarchi Cuccaro.

“We have had some relief on the budget with the payoff of two bonds, so we are trying to use those monies intelligently,” Cuccaro said in a report of the finance panel’s meeting earlier Monday. “The East Pike school roof is foremost in our minds.  We also are looking at the opportunity to refinance our 2012, 2013 and 2015 bonds.”

The board also directed the Buchart Horn architectural firm of York County, the district’s design consultant since early this year, to create initial designs for a new office area and the possible replacement of a temporary classroom at Eisenhower Elementary. The district put a $15,000 limit on the cost of the design work.

“This doesn’t mean that we are doing a project there. We are moving through the first step of the options of what can be done,” said director Terry Kerr, chairman of the Buildings Grounds & Transportation Committee.

“I’m thinking that we need to do some work at Eisenhower Elementary for a lot of reasons, not just these, but for safety and security,” Cuccaro said. “And we need to get ourselves oriented on exactly what we can do and what we can afford.”

Directors Kerr, Cuccaro, Tamie Blank, Cinda Brode, Thomas Harley, Tamara Leeper, Ute Lowery and Walter Schroth unanimously approved the study. Board member Barbara Barker was absent.

In other business Monday, a grassroots students-helping-students project at Indiana Area Senior High School has won the endorsement of the district school board, which offered up $200 of district cash and created a bank account in the district office for the project.

Known as the ASAP fund, it’s intended to quickly and quietly aid IASHS students or their families who are confronted by emergencies or find themselves in ongoing financial distress.

It was the concept of seniors Jason Zheng and Hasan Ali, who shared the concept with school leaders only weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic reached Pennsylvania and schools were shuttered for almost six months.

Since the turn of the new school year and a return to at least partial in-school learning for the senior and middle schools, Ali and Zheng opened a GoFundMe online fundraising page and reached into their own pockets to jumpstart the campaign. In 22 days, students, teachers and community residents and businesses have donated $7,380 toward an initial $10,000 goal.

“Many students and their families face financial hardship and cannot afford certain emergency or essential expenses, which hinders their ability to learn and grow. In the past, the community of IHS has raised money for students in these situations, but oftentimes, these fundraisers can be long, arduous, and expose the student to a lot of stress, knowing that many are aware of their hardship,” according to the crowd funding page.

Under guidance of faculty adviser Julie Steve and district Business Manager Jared Cronauer, the students designed the fund to support students with needs known only by the guidance staff, who would vet the requests and recommend assistance in secret outside the small circle who run the program.

“The petty cash account would be used for this new … ASAP fund, which is meant to get emergency help — whether it is monetary, clothing, food — anything students may need at the high school,” Cronauer said.

“These two students have led the project and it is their brainchild … with the students raising the money, and the counselors and principals and students making recommendations. No student will ever know which students get help, that will be kept confidential.

“But I can’t stress enough that it really is a student-based fundraiser. The students are raising all the money to help fellow students. … This has done amazing things the last two weeks. This $200 will just give the administration and students another avenue to help other students if cash is what they need,” Cronauer said.

“It’s entrepreneurial in nature, and for a small investment on our part, I think we’re going to get a lot of bang for our buck, in terms of how well they’ve done with this,” Cuccaro said. “So I’m willing to invest.”

The board also:

• Accepted with regret the resignation of custodian Kevin Wolford, who accepted other employment, effective Oct. 22, and authorized the administration to advertise for a new employee.

• Hired Michael Hockenberry as a custodian effective today at a rate of $12 an hour.

• Approved an incentive program offering pay of $125 per day to substitute teachers and para-educators hired through Kelly Services who work 10 days in a month. The incentive is intended to increase the pool of substitutes that has been depleted due to the coronavirus outbreak.

• Granted a leave of absence from Dec. 11 to March 30 for an employee whose name was kept confidential.

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the county courthouse; Indiana Area and Homer-Center schools; Blairsville, Homer City, Clymer, Center and Burrell; and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.