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UNITED: School board agrees to allow energy audit for the high school

by on March 14, 2014 10:50 AM

EAST WHEATFIELD TOWNSHIP — The United school directors approved a letter of interest on Tuesday to have an energy audit conducted at the high school that will present the district with alternatives for savings.

The letter of interest with Schneider Electric Buildings Americas Inc. allows the company to proceed with a business case analysis at no cost to the district to look at the high school’s energy usage and look for ways to save energy usage through performance contracting, which could be beneficial to the district versus low-bid contracts.

No date was set for the audit to begin, officials said, as the letter was just approved Tuesday and Schneider Electric needs to be notified.

Performance contracting, also known as the Guaranteed Energy Savings Program, allows the district to make upgrades to the facilities in order to save energy, including lighting, the building’s heating system and building controls, Schneider Electric representative David Kramer told the board in a presentation last week.

Kramer said United High School is a good candidate for the program after performing a walk-through and examining the district’s different systems and conducting more than a year’s worth of utility analysis.

Schneider Electric would be responsible for all aspects of the project aside from any physical install, such as lighting. The company would be the single source of accountability to the district, and if the district is not seeing the energy savings it was promised, Schneider Electric would reimburse the difference to the district.

Kramer told the board last week that if the district were able to save 20 percent of its energy costs, it would equate to about $1.3 million over 15 years, and that money wouldn’t need to go to outside utilities; rather, all or a significant portion of that money would be reinvested back into the building through upgrades such as more efficient lighting and building controls.

“Hopefully, what we would do is save enough money to pay for whatever renovations we needed to do,” board President Don Davis said Tuesday. The savings potential depends on how the district chooses to set up its upgrades and projects, with the possibility that it could be a budget-neutral concept in which the district breaks even.

Following the recommendations from the audit, the district can choose to move forward with the performance contracting through Schneider Electric or stay with its current utilities.

Also Tuesday, school directors heard concerns from residents about the lack of a second nurse in the district and staffing in the special education department.

District resident Pam Buterbaugh said she has a “real problem” with no school nurse at the elementary school. She said with the lack of a nurse, sick students go to the secretaries “and the secretaries have their own jobs to do.

“They don’t need to be determining whether these kids should go home,” Buterbaugh said. “It’s hard for the kids, the teachers and the secretaries.”

Buterbaugh, who has custody of three grandchildren who attend United, said something needs to be done soon because it’s difficult to get a phone call from the school about a sick child while she’s at work or indisposed.

The board tabled a motion during a brief special meeting last week to approve a memorandum of agreement between the district and the United Education Support Personnel Association to include a nurse’s aide position in the bargaining unit with secretaries, aides and custodians, as well as a motion to transfer Jill Barbus from her position of building secretary/paraprofessional health room aide to a nurse’s aide position at the elementary.

A nurse’s aide, Davis said, is someone who has at least an LPN license, but that it could also be a certified school nurse or a registered nurse.

Davis said the board thought they had that memorandum of understanding with the association that would approve that position, but found out shortly before the March 4 meeting that they did not, and as of Tuesday, Davis said they still don’t.

Davis said that “it’s definitely a concern of ours that we have coverage for a nurse in both buildings at all times,” adding that legally, in Pennsylvania, a school district the size of United is required to have only one school nurse.

“Is that the best practice? Is that what we’d really like to do? Probably not, but at this particular time we’ve done everything we can to make sure that we have nurses available,” he said. Davis said there are protocols in place, including having high school nurse Lori Kovach available to go across to the elementary school as well as have phone consultations if needed.

“Technically, there may not be a nurse in the building every single day and every single minute, but we have a plan in place that there is some sort of reference,” Davis said, adding that the secretaries “know that plan and are able to call the appropriate people. It’s the best we can do right now.”

Davis said the district continues to advertise for substitute nurses, “and we hopefully can get some more people.”

Anyone who has a nurse’s certification that would be interested in being on the district’s substitute list can contact Superintendent Barb Parkins’ office at (814) 446-5615.

Another parent, Melanie Brilhart, expressed concerns about what will happen when the district loses two special-education teachers to retirement. Brilhart told the board that she’s “concerned about our little people and our special people,” and wants to make sure the district has the staff available to meet those needs. She also said not having a nurse at the elementary school is “a little bit frightening to me.”

“It’s a tough situation to be sharing our teachers, and if it’s possible, keep filling positions instead of letting them stay vacant,” she said.

Davis said that at the board’s next budget meeting, which is tonight, “we’re going to talk about what we need to do that’s best for our students.”

“At this time, we haven’t made any decisions — we certainly haven’t decided to not replace anyone — and it would be our intent to provide whatever services we could and still remain within the constraints of a fiscally responsible budget,” he said.

When it comes to special-education teachers, Davis said, there are a lot of rules and regulations regarding caseloads and other requirements, and that the board “will take that all into account.”

“At this time, we’ve not made any final decisions on what we’re going to do with replacing or not replacing special-education teachers,” he said.

Heather Carlson is the wire editor and an assistant web editor for The Indiana Gazette. She covers courts, Saltsburg and Homer City borough councils and Penns Manor and United school districts, in addition to writing feature articles. She can be reached at
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