Initial vote fails; school board president phones absent member for vote
Finances continue to weigh heavily on the minds of the Quakertown Community School Board, as was evidenced by a close vote for a much-needed renovation to the Upper Bucks County Technical School (UBCTS) last Thursday.
The technical career school, located in Perkasie, offers specialized programs to students of three neighboring school districts – Palisades, Pennridge and Quakertown.
The school was built in 1964 with the annex building addition constructed in 1974. It is sorely in need of a renovation, officials said, which is estimated to cost $23 million. The renovation would include an overhaul to all three buildings on campus in order to modernize them and ensure they meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Each school district is required to fund a portion of the renovation project, based on property values. Quakertown’s share is 31.3 percent, or $9.4 million. Pennridge School District would pay 47 percent and Palisades School District would be responsible for 21.6 percent.
Last week Palisades and Pennridge school districts reportedly approved their portions of the renovation project.
When the vote on the measure was taken in Quakertown, though, School Board member Paul Stepanoff voted against the decision.
With three board members absent from the meeting, Kelly Van Valkenburgh, Gary Landes and Dwight Anderson, the motion failed.
School board members were visibly shocked by Stepanoff’s vote.
“The issue for me has always been the cost of the project,” he explained.
School board member Joyce King remarked, “So you are not willing to support the students at the tech school?”
“I do support the students, but I don’t agree with the cost,” Stepanoff replied.
After unintelligible chatter between board members, School Board President Bob Smith produced his cell phone and dialed Landes.
Landes offered no questions or remarks just a vote of “yes” while on speaker phone for all attendants of the meeting to hear.
The move, while technically legal, is proving to be controversial.
The renovation project was approved with no other remarks offered by school board members. Reimbursements to the district could be as much as 26 percent of the project, officials said.
In other business, several residents of the district offered concerns regarding more outsourcing. The school board is now considering outsourcing custodial staff.
Scott Hendricks of Milford Township and president of Quakertown Educational Support Personnel Association (QESPA) stated, “We are still negotiating and we want to keep working towards a decision.”
The school board voted in May to outsource its cafeteria personnel positions.
Hendricks went on to explain there are over 2,200 signatures on a petition from the community in opposition of outsourcing. The concerns remain for students of the district and their safety, he said.
The company reportedly being considered for subcontracting custodial services is GCA Services Group Inc., based in Cleveland, Ohio.
Hendricks spoke about the company and his perception of its negative reputation from newspaper articles and internet research he conducted.
“Right now we are one half of one percent, in terms of dollars and cents, between the board and the custodians negotiations. That’s all. Safety is priceless for the children,” Hendricks said of current negotiations between the school board and QESPA.
There was no response by school board officials at the conclusion of Hendricks’ comments.
The next scheduled school board meeting is Aug. 8 at 7 p.m.