Failing to agree on administrators' salary increases and benefits, the Upper Perkiomen School Board scrapped a plan up for a vote at last Thursday's meeting and also said the board could be restructuring the district's administration altogether.
The administrator compensation plan, which was withdrawn from the agenda after a lengthy executive session, would have given district administrators increases of 3.25 percent in 2014-15 and 3 percent in years 2015-16 and 2016-17. In addition to those increases, administrators with five or more years' experience with Upper Perkiomen could be paid additional if they hadn't reached a certain mid-range salary compared to a "marketplace" of 15 area school districts.
Vacation days are set at 25 per year (if the employee started employment by July 2008) and could accumulate to 40 days.
But perhaps the most highly contentious are fringe benefits in the plan including six years of medical and prescription insurance for administrators who retire and their spouses.
Upper Perkiomen Director Margie Gehlhaus said while she doesn't speak for the board, she believes there are too many financial stressors on the district to afford that kind of coverage.
"In my opinion, with the current problems in Pennsylvania with the Retirement (PSERS) and now the Affordable Care Act, I find a stand must be taken. We can no longer give these [kinds of benefits]. For the years 2014-2020, we have five administrators who retired and will be getting this benefit...costing the district/community roughly $500,000. This money, I feel is one of the factors which is hurting our district.
"Students need a great many things and these types of rich benefits do hurt the students. They take away the money needed for students to be better equipped after they leave high school for wherever and whatever they venture into in the 21st Century."
The plan, which is an agreement and not a contract, would cover 17 administrators including the assistant business administrator, directors of food services, facilities and operations, instructional technology, principals and assistant principals, among others. Board Vice President Raeann Hofkin said it will likely be up for another vote in August.
During a public comment period, Debbie Weeks of Upper Hanover asked the board if they were still considering restructuring the district's administration. Substitute Superintendent Dr. Fran Leskowicz, who previously served as the district's assistant superintendent, will be retiring in August. The board re-hired Dr. Timothy Kirby as an interim superintendent beginning in August, but Leskowicz said he was instructed not to advertise for an assistant superintendent.
"Yes, we will definitely be looking at that," said Hofkin in response to Weeks' question, with several nods from other board members.
The board also approved employee agreements for several groups including food service, administrative support and maintenance and custodial personnel. The agreements gave salary increases ranging from 2-3 percent.
In other news, the board voted 6-1 to close the Upper Perkiomen Virtual Academy, the district's own charter school, effective immediately. The virtual school, which reportedly would have had 11 students in 2014-15, offered students who couldn't or chose not to attend Upper Perkiomen schools the chance to learn from district professionals while being able to participate in extra-curricular activities and receive an Upper Perkiomen diploma.
The board heard from a district parent whose daughter was planning to enroll in the virtual academy next year due to two medical conditions. The parent, Deborah Wanamaker, said while she would "hate to see the program go away," she would be willing to explore other options like attending classes through another district or a cyber charter school.
"I like the idea of a virtual academy …but it needs to be rebuilt and reintegrated with our new technology. I don't see it going away forever; just a little while," said Hofkin.
"The kids using it are not benefiting from it," said Gehlhaus. "These students are not getting what they need. They're not getting good grades."
"Let's take what we learned and rebuild it," Director John Gehman stated.
Director Mike Elliot opposed the move.
The district also approved the hiring of Laurie Hoppes as principal of Upper Perkiomen Middle School. Hoppes, who most recently served as principal at Northwestern Lehigh Middle School, said she is "thrilled to serve the students and community of Upper Perkiomen."