John Uccellini, a former high school mathematics teacher and math curriculum coordinator for the district who retired in 2012 after 31 years of service, said he took part in finding ways to cut costs in his position as a district administrator.
Identifying three top cost-cutting measures the district should employ, he said health care and other personnel costs could be reduced through negotiation with the teachers association, the district staff and administrators.
“It’s difficult to answer that question because we’ve cut so much already. We’ve taken innumerable measures such as ESCO (an energy cost-reduction project) and programs like that to get what savings we can possibly get,” Uccellini said.
“The best things I think at this point are to work with the administration and teachers association and look at other additional savings that we can find, but at this point we have exhausted most of the easy things that can be done.”
While the current salary scale provides higher-than-average starting wages for teachers, Uccellini said it also caps salaries at lower levels than other districts.
“Look at the Pittsburgh area schools; their top salaries are much higher than others. There is a trade-off,” he said. “A high starting salary attracts more and better teachers. Look at the number of teachers that try to come to this district, versus the option to have $100,000 salaries that some districts have. Would I be willing to make that proposal to start negotiations? Certainly. The question is what we would have to give, as a district, to the association to get that kind of an agreement. It’s not a bad idea, but it’s not one that you can just go in and ask for.”
Uccellini said the athletic program makes up a very small percentage of the overall district budget.
“We have 20 varsity teams. For a school our size that is remarkable. Is it expensive? Yes, we have to hire coaches to do that. Is it worth the investment? I certainly think so,” Uccellini said. “Sometimes you have to pay for what you want. We want a well-rounded school district and athletics is certainly a part of that.”
Uccellini said he saw the effectiveness of pre-kindergarten programs as a district administrator, tracking the aptitude scores of incoming kindergarten students.
“It is not an insignificant number of young children coming into kindergarten that are not at the level we want them to learn and it takes tremendous resources to bring children who are not ready to learn to the point where they can learn in kindergarten, so we need pre-K programs,” he said. “We need to do more outreach with other providers of pre-K services to see that they offer an educational component that meshes with what we are offering in kindergarten.”
He said one of the top priorities for improving education would be to ensure that the board “exercises due diligence” in researching its decisions, such as the vote to realign elementary enrollment.
“Communication would be my second priority because I don’t think this board or any board has done as good a job of communicating with the community at large, especially with the citizens who are taxpayers but don’t have children in school any more,” Uccellini said. “We need to better engage them so they understand why we need tax increases when we do.
“My third priority would be to look at things that we know are educationally sound practices, those that don’t involve a lot of money, but we know that work, and to make sure that that’s what we’re encouraging and promoting in our schools.”