Indiana, PA - Indiana County

INDIANA: School changes detailed

by on November 13, 2013 10:59 AM

The monthly business meeting of the Indiana Area school board on Tuesday served mainly as a preview of business over the coming months, after a transition of almost half of the seats on the board takes place.

District Superintendent Dale Kirsch detailed the changes on the way in the elementary schools, following the board’s Oct. 28 vote to reconfigure the grade levels of students to be enrolled in the buildings beginning in September.

In his informational report, Kirsch also outlined the potential changes in faculty, class offerings and costs at Indiana Area Senior High School as the administration waits to see the number of teachers who plan to retire or remain in the classrooms in the next school year.

Board members debated but ultimately tabled the most significant item of business that came up for a vote. A choice of proposals for modifying the high school graduation requirements will fall to the incoming board of directors for a quick decision before students begin scheduling their classes for 2014-15.

The session was the last for four members of the board: Alison Billon, who chose to leave the board after three terms; Walter Schroth, who fell about 160 votes short of being elected to a third term in the Nov. 5 election; David Ferguson, who opted out of running for a second term; and Robert Werner, who served almost six full years on the board since 2007 but failed to win a nomination in the spring primary. All were given plaques in recognition of their service.

Newly elected directors Deborah Clawson, John Uccellini, Julia Trimarchi Cuccaro and John Barbor will be seated at a reorganization meeting Tuesday, Dec. 3, and join in deliberating the district’s financial and educational operations.

They’ll resume debate over whether to increase the graduation requirement from 24 to 25 credits, or to maintain the 24-credit requirement and “redistribute the credits to maximize areas that (the district) values and/or represent slightly more modern educational desires and global realities.”

Ferguson, who placed both motions on the agenda, recommended increasing the requirement to 25 credits and to award one-half credit for the mandated senior project.

He said that the second choice, to redistribute the credit requirements, implies that the district now places less value on the areas of study where the numbers of required credits would be reduced.

Ferguson said he had drafted the rationale for changing the credits required in various subjects, but without the information included in the motion on the agenda, several board members said they wanted more time to think about how to vote.

A motion to table the proposed increase to 25 credits was approved without opposition, but the motion to table the redistribution of 24 credits passed 6 to 2: Board President Thomas Harley and directors Schroth, Billon, Werner, Robert Gongaware and Diana Paccapaniccia were in favor, while Ferguson and Brian Petersen wanted to act on it right away. Board member Hilliary Creely was absent.

The incoming board will oversee the planned transition of the district’s elementary school enrollment, from housing pre-kindergarten to fifth grade in all four buildings to sending pre-K to third grade to Ben Franklin and East Pike schools, and fourth- and fifth-graders to Horace Mann and Dwight Eisenhower schools.

According to Kirsch’s figures, the realignment will reduce the number of elementary classroom teachers needed from 68 to 64.

Adding in the changing numbers of art, music and physical education teachers, librarians, math specialists, principals and guidance counselors needed for the reconfigured schools, Kirsch said the district could reduce the total elementary staff by almost five full-time positions.

Kirsch’s figures also show the district could immediately meet the unofficial policy of having no more than 20 students in pre-K to third-grade classes and no more than 25 students in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms.

Based on Oct. 1 enrollment figures, the district had seven elementary classes with at least two students more than the recommended maximum; seven classes with one student more than the guidelines; and five classes with less than the maximum.

But had the schools been realigned for this year, the district would have only one class with one student more than the recommended number and 11 classes with fewer than the guideline.

According to Kirsch’s report, the senior high is projected to lose five full-time teachers through attrition, reducing the staff from 55 to 50 teachers for 2014-15. Overall, the district could have almost 11 fewer teachers next year, resulting in savings of almost $1.1 million.

Kirsch’s report further proposes a variety of possible changes in graduation requirements, based on the number of teachers expected in each subject area.

The report also shows that the district is on track to collect $400,000 more earned income tax than originally expected for the current year.

The district’s earliest budget draft called for reducing expenses by $1.2 million, but Kirsch said the combination of salary savings and increased revenue will allow the district to meet that goal and have funds to put toward 20 identified areas of program improvements in technology, curriculum and capital projects.

The comprehensive report on realignment, class sizes, staffing and graduation requirements will be posted today on the district website,, Kirsch said.

In other business, the board:

• Approved a revision in a policy to allow home-schooled students to enroll in specialized courses at Indiana County Technology Center, sponsored by the district. The policy also allows home-schooled students to attend as many as three classes in the district schools.

District officials said that a home-schooler who enrolls in three school classes and signs up for ICTC would be declared a student of the district and be required to meet other conditions to receive an Indiana High School diploma.

• Approved a budget transfer of $35,000 from reserve funds for the purchase of additional mathematics curriculum materials, as approved earlier.

• Granted an extension to Jan. 6 of a leave of absence approved earlier for elementary school teacher Heather Redinger.

• Approved a field trip by about 16 senior high baseball players and four coaches to Myrtle Beach, S.C., from March 23 to 27 at no cost to the district.

• Heard from former board member Douglas Steve in the public comment period. He called for the incoming directors to reverse the board’s decision on Oct. 28 to conduct a tax-increase referendum of district voters in the spring primary election.

Chauncey Ross is the Gazette’s fixture at Indiana Area and Homer-Center school board meetings, has been seen with pen and notepad in area police stations and courts, and is something of an Open Records Act and Sunshine Law advocate. He also manages the Gazette’s websites and answers your questions about them.
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