‘A new era’
Speakers ask for change within school district
By KEVIN MCKEE
MILL HALL — It’s no secret that the Keystone Central School District, much like those it teaches, has been going through some changes.
Among the items the board approved on Thursday night are a paid leave of absence, retroactive to Dec. 22, for Superintendent Kelly Hastings, who did not return to work after the holiday break in early January. She is to retire in mid-March. Paid leave also was granted to Curriculum Director Terry Murty, with part of it covered by the Family Medical leave Act, effective Nov. 20.
Furthermore, Murty’s retirement, effective July 31, 2018, with 33 years’ service, was also approved.
In addition, school board member Jeff Johnston’s resignation was accepted.
Johnston, a figure many identified as being sympathetic to the administration, suddently announced his resignation to the board in December.
His seat is now up for grabs, with a Jan. 25 deadline for applications.
The remaining board members have been left to continue cleaning up a budgetary crisis, which is a process that increasingly looks to involve a fundamental re-imagining of what the school district strives to be.
As board member Roger Elling put it at Thursday night’s meeting, “Last time, I said that I had only heard from a couple people. Since then, I’ve heard from a couple more. I would like to hear from even more people. Do not be afraid to make comments now. It’s a new era.”
Of course, no new era can, or should, be completely free of historical reminders of that which came before. For example, Brian Douty and Heather Haigh both spoke at Thursday’s meeting. Both were prominent speakers to the board several months ago, while the board was struggling to deal with the ramifications of the administration’s error involving the music program.
That error looks to be a historical footnote indeed, as Douty obtained copies of emails, through a right-to-know request, of certain individuals in the administration, names omitted, who he alleges “lied to board members” and “manipulated information” to make it appear as though contract clauses had not been breached.
One of those adminstrators, Che Regina, director of human resources, contacted The Express on Friday and again conceded that a form letter should have been sent to two music teachers whose position were cut through attrition, but he defended the administrators and board from any intentional wrongdoing,
In regard to advance notice to the teachers about their positions being eliminated, Regina said the district did just miss a 15-day advance notice to the teachers, but not intentionally. He said he personally communicated with the instructors and both were able to be reassigned to music positions in other schools.
“Look, none of us are happy about any loss or changes of jobs. We needed to do everything the right way contractually. We did communicate with the (teachers) union president afterward, and he assured us they had no issue with how the transfers were handled,” Regina said.
And yet, Douty began his presentation saying, “I’m encouraged by this new board.”
Haigh referred to the new board as “a board of inventors,” as she spoke to the resistance to new ideas she encountered while on the task force, even from one of the former board members who served with her, suspected to be Johnston.
“One of my least favorite phrases: Because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” Haigh said.
Haigh emphasized a desire for the district to not keep doing things the same way, and to focus “on integrity alongside knowledge.”
This would become a running theme of the evening, as a long line of community members signed up to speak to the board — not just about their problems or concerns, but also to speak messages of hope, opportunity and rebirth.
Tracie Christensen, following her son, Vincent, who also spoke to the board, said that while she was moving through conversations with district officials, “my fear, anger, and frustration created a little space for hope and optimism.”
As she put it, “We have a clean slate. Let’s start anew. As a new board, share with us what your vision for the district is.”
The need for a vision statement was something which the board appeared to take well to, as Elling responded, “You asked us what our vision is. We want the community to let us know what the community’s vision is.”
In fact, everyone was welcomed to come up with a vision or mission statement for the district and to email them to Elling.
Christensen, as well as her son, also touched on the termination of the contracts of the fall sports team coaches, citing it as a “teachable moment of what not to do.”
“It’s not just about what we say, but also how we say it,” she said.
Board President Charles Rosamilia responded to the concerns about the athletic contracts throughout the evening, stating repeatedly that the reason the contracts were terminated was so that they could be renegotiated with the task force’s recommended salary reductions in mind.
“Coaches’ salaries were not renewed so as to not lock them in,” Rosamilia said. The only way the district can renegotiate the salaries is by not having the coaches already signed to contracts.
Another speaker to the board was Elisabeth McCoy, who handed out a list of items as homework to each board member, featuring 21 action items – several of which she touched upon in person: Work in more community involvement, including task force members; put the full details in the minutes on the website, which do not currently include the various exhibits; discuss and produce a budget that closes at least Dickey Elementary School to compare at next month’s program planning meeting.
She also spent some time talking about whether or not parents would want to transfer any of their children to the Renovo campus, citing it as one of the nicest schools in the district, while also decrying the classrooms throughout the district that are assigned to life skills and special needs, stating that their poor conditions are one reason parents are sending students to the Sugar Valley Rural Charter School over Keystone.
Of course, no new era comes without warnings, either.
Miranda Hanley, a junior in the health occupations CTE program at Central Mountain, warned the board that, “This is our future, and we won’t let that be taken from us.”
Hanley cited fearing the removal of the Career and Technology Center, saying that “if you were to cut this program, we wouldn’t be sufficiently prepared for college.”
While she agrees that it is unfortunate that the district is in its current predicament, Hanley and her peers feel that they, as students, “shouldn’t be made for suffer for it.”
That was a perspective agreed upon by John Longstreet, the president/CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, who spoke to the board about the Culinary Arts CTE program.
According to Longstreet, one of the biggest problems facing the restaurant industry currently is a shortage of skilled workers, with 30 percent of establishments reporting that they cannot fill back of the house positions.
Much of Longstreet’s presentation emphasized the need to reconceptualize high school in a world where increasingly large numbers of students are not going on to college, and the opportunities for the district that are available therein, especially as pertaining to the importance of strong career and technology programming.
While the road ahead at Keystone may be unclear and frought with peril, the first meeting of 2018 has at least revealed a spark of hope from the community — a spark which, carefully managed under earnest and integral care, might blossom into a blaze.
In other news, the board approved the following items unanimously at Thursday night’s meeting:
r Approved a leave of absence for Jachelle Vitko, speech therapist, Mill Hall Elementary School, on Dec. 1, 2017. Absence is uncompensated.
r Approved a leave of absence for Whitney Eck, itinerant art teacher, starting Jan. 4 and ending Jan. 18. A portion of the leave is uncompensated.
r Approved the involuntary transfer of Heather Boyle, world language teacher, at CMMS, to world language teacher/English teacher, at CMMS, effective Jan. 16.
r Approved the involuntary transfer of Nancy Worden, librarian, at Dickey-Mill Hall-Liberty Curtin Elementary schools to librarian at Dickey-Liberty Curtin Elementary schools-CMHS, effective Jan. 16.
r Approved the involuntary transfer of Michelle Hoy, librarian, at Bucktail Campus, to librarian at Bucktail Campus-CMHS, effective Jan. 16.
r Approved the employment of Leslie Skrtich as homebound instructor for the 2017-18 school year.
r Approved the employment of Chelsea Walker as student monitor for the 2017-18 school year.
r Accepted the resignation of Jessica Ballard, payroll secretary, effective Jan. 12. The board subsequently eliminated the payroll secretary-classification B1 position due to reorganizing the business office.
r Approved the retirement of Donna Duma, business operations administrative assistant, with 10.25 years of service, effective Sept. 21, 2018.
r Revised the job description of benefits secretary, classification B1.
r In accepting the resignation of Johnston, Region VIII representative for Castanea and Bald Eagle Townships and Flemington Borough, the board encourages interested residents in those municipalities to contact district administration about serving on the board and how to go about applying. The deadline is Jan. 25.
r Approved a leave of absence for Melinda Allen, general cafeteria worker, at Central Mountain Middle School, on November 13, 2017. Absence is uncompensated.
r Approved a leave of absence for Kimberly Keller, housekeeper, at Mill Hall Elementary School, beginning November 15, 2017, through December 22, 2017.
r Approved increased hours for Elizabeth Cruze, library aide, from 6 to 6.5 hours per day, effectively Jan. 16. Increase in hours is necessary to provide adequate services to students.
r Hired Tina Lomison, general cafeteria worker, 3.25 hours per day, at CMMS, effective Jan. 15. Position is the result of Stephanie Dietz’s transfer.
r Employment of Misty Buck, general cafeteria worker, 4.5 hours per day, at CMHS, effective Jan. 15. Position is the result of Laura Goodman’s resignation.
r Approved former board president James “Butch” Knauff to the SMILES volunteer program to receive a $500 credit to property taxes for 100 hours’ service.
r Approved the following as volunteers for the 2017-2018 school year: Lindsey Bathurst, Susan Blesh, Lundy Daniels, Kathryn Heivly, Onalee Johnston, Amy Knight, Sara Long, Kristine Meeker, Steven Shadle, Gabrielle Weaver, Kari Boyle, Shannon Kinley and Seth Matter.
r Approved Jon Chappell as a bus driver for Susquehanna Transit Co.
r Accepted the resignation of Brian Witner, building assistant, at CMHS, effective Jan. 12.
r Approved the retirement of Karen Falls, building assistant, at CMHS, with 25 years of service, effective the first day of the 2018-19 school year.
r Approved the affiliation agreement with St. Joseph University for the purpose of student teaching.
r Approved the agreement between the County of Clinton, Clinton County Law Enforcement Agency, and the Keystone Central School District Police Force.
r Approved Ross Winner as an athletic game worker; Scott Fravel as a CM girls basketball volunteer; and Joshua Knauff for Bucktail boys basketball.
r Approved an overnight field trip request for CMHS students to attend the PMEA District Orchestra from Feb.y 8-10.
r Approve an undisclosed memorandum of understanding with the Association of Clinton County Educators for professional compensation.
Also, Kyle Coleman spoke to the board as a Woodward Township supervisor, asking if the board will consider selling a 100 by 300 foot piece of land behind Woodward elementary to the township, whose building adjoins the school property. The township, he said, has looked to expand in the past to a site it owns along Coudersport Pike, but that has become unfeasible. So, the township would like to talk to the district about the parcel, which is zoned residential and equals about seven-tenths of an acre. The board referred Coleman to Property Services Supervisor Barry Hackenberg to begin discussions.