A combination of lowered staff hours and increasing class sizes has some Upper Perkiomen School District residents up in arms.
District officials met with paraprofessional staff last Monday to notify them that their hours would be cut from 30 in 2014-15. The exact number of hours each staffer would see cut has yet to be determined, Board President Bill Scott said at a Nov. 14 school board meeting.
Upper Perkiomen employs 78 paraprofessionals who serve as everything from playground monitors to special education aides. District officials said 57 could be affected, as well as five food service staff members.
“This is simply a function of Obamacare,” Scott said. “If you have more than 50 employees they must have less than 30 hours or we have to offer them insurance…We understand the hardships but it’s a dollars-and-cents decision for the school district.”
Officials said the board will look at every option moving forward, noting that under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the district also would be fined $2,000 for each individual who chooses coverage through an ACA exchange plan instead of a policy offered by the district.
School Board Director Margie Gehlhaus stressed that the law is not only affecting school districts, saying that C.B. West reduced staff hours two years ago because of the impending law and big corporations, like Home Depot and Trader Joe’s, are also cutting their workforces.
“It’s not something pleasant for us, but we thought it was unfair to the paraprofessionals to wait until the last minute to notify them,” said Superintendent Dr. Beth Yonson, adding that the district had been crunching health insurance numbers for “some time.”
But Upper Perk paraprofessionals and the public said they don’t think the move is in the best interest of students or staff.
“I think the district needs to cut dollars and cents on down,” said East Greenville Mayor Ryan Sloyer, remarking on the high salaries of administration.
Scott said he believes the district would likely benefit from a few more administrators, calling it “far from top heavy” and said current administrators work hard.
“They are paid fairly, from administration and staff on down to the cafeteria workers,” Scott said of district workers.
Lori Seimes of Zionsville, a district paraprofessional, said she disagreed.
“So you think that I’m making $17 an hour after 20 years when other districts start off their employees at what I make, that’s fair? I have to disagree…Please think of the children and who is going to help them; especially if they have an IEP (individualized education program, for students with disabilities).”
Above and beyond the paraprofessionals’ hours being cut, though, was the public’s trouble with increasing class sizes at Marlborough Elementary.
Katie Taylor-Moran said her son’s fourth-grade class is up to 31 students with the addition of a new student this week. She said there is no teacher’s aide in the classroom.
“I’m very concerned about my child’s education,” she said. “It is virtually impossible to cut yourself [as a teacher] in that many pieces. That’s a very crowded classroom…I think it’s ludicrous. I don’t know how teachers do their jobs. There’s got to be something done soon.”
Per the district’s class size policy, the maximum class load goal for kindergarten through second grade is 25, third and fourth grade is 28 and fifth grade is 30. Middle and high school classrooms vary from 25-40, depending on subject.
“Teachers, our fantastic teachers, they can only do so much,” Kim Wheeler of Green Lane agreed. “Our kids are first and I think they will be the first to suffer from this.” Wheeler went on to say that she sees families pulling kids from the district and that test scores will begin to go down and funding will follow.
When asked about the district’s class size policy, Yonson said the policy establishes guidelines, not mandates set in stone. She said that the class sizes are being watched vigilantly by the school board and that numbers only climbed in two fourth-grade classrooms that week with new registrations.
“If the numbers go up, the board will have to see what they can do, whether it’s [adding] aides or what,” she explained.
In other district news, the board approved an added expense of $24,642 for the high school tennis court reconstruction project. The expense was due to problems with the stone layer underneath the court, said Facilities and Operations Manager John Sheeran. He said when the court was constructed in the 1970s, the stone layer was not constructed properly and ranged from nothing to six inches. Sheeran said the thickness should have been six inches throughout, and the monies will be used to pay for stone at a cost of $20 per yard.
The board authorized the refinancing/refunding of a 2008 bond, which will be bid out via an online auction in the coming weeks. The move will save the district an estimated $495,670.
The board also approved the resignation of Upper Perkiomen High School Principal Dr. William Shirk and noted the end of terms for school board directors Harry Quinque (10 years), Jennifer Allebach (seven years) and Rob Pepe (four years).
Scott thanked the board members for their unique perspectives and service to the community. Each one received a framed sunset photo of the Green Lane Reservoir taken by a district student.