Heat, bullying among topics at meeting

BELLEFONTE — During its first meeting of the 2019 calendar year, the Bellefonte Area School Board had a plenty of items on the agenda, but it was a pair of speakers that garnered the most attention.

First up was Steven Klein, a teacher at Bellefonte Elementary. Klein addressed the board in the fall about the extreme heat at Bellefonte Elementary. He was back Tuesday night for a follow-up.

Klein said he recently learned that each classroom in the building is capable of supporting an individual air conditioning unit.

“For many years, I believed that we did not have air at Bellefonte Elementary due to a lack of electrical capacity,” Klein said. “Each classroom does have a dedicated power supply that can handle an air conditioning unit … it has been there all along. It seems that the issues are manpower – as far as installation of units – as well as funding for this project.”

Although it’s the middle of winter, the issue at hand is the heat at the elementary school.

The building does not have air conditioning, and in the fall months — most notably August, September and October — the heat index is often unbearable, Klein said.

He said students, teachers and staff have complained about the extreme heat.

Klein charged the board with finding a solution.

“You are the decision-making body for this school district,” Klein said. “It is this body that will ultimately make the decision if there’s compassion for the students, the faculty and the staff of Bellefonte Elementary School. It is beyond my control.”

A meeting has been scheduled for Friday, Jan. 25, among Klein, Bellefonte Elementary Principal Jennifer Brown, Director of Physical Plant Aaron Barto and Superintendent Michelle Saylor to discuss the situation.

School board member Jeff Steiner asked that the issue be added to the school board’s February agenda as well.

“We need to have a full-out discussion instead of doing something off the cuff,” Steiner said.

Also, a community resident alleged that a relative who attends the middle school was being bullied.

“I think we’ve got a … disease in this school (district). We don’t know what to do about it. I don’t know what to do about it. It’s a big problem in every school district, I believe. But it seems to me that there’s nothing being done,” the man insisted.

Although the board didn’t address the man immediately after he spoke, officials took a short break in the middle of the meeting to speak directly to him before he left the building.

“We were kind of caught off-guard with the topics that he brought forward. I don’t want anyone to have the impression that his words are not serious. The district is taking them very seriously,” board president Jon Guizar emphasized.

Saylor also spoke about the matter.

“We take it extremely seriously,” Saylor said. “I also think there’s a social accountability. I think it’s something as a community that we need to address together. We don’t have the best role models. For students who bully, they have parents who often bully.

“Children don’t come into this world as bullies. Children come into this world as beautiful, innocent souls. They learn it somewhere. That’s something, as adults, we need to be accountable for.”

In other business, the board:

r Paid tribute to former teacher Cheryl DeCusati, who recently died at 60. DeCusati was a beloved teacher for many years at Marion-Walker Elementary School.

r Approved the resignation of athletic director Jimmy Soltis. Soltis has been with the district since September 2017.

Board member Rodney Musser thanked Soltis for his time with the district.

“I thought he did an outstanding job while he was here,” Musser said.

“I realize that (his resignation) is more of a family commitment. I just wanted to publicly say ‘thank you’ to Jimmy.”

r Approved the resignation of Raychel DeArmitt from the position of para educator — PCA at Merakey. He resignation was effective Dec. 18. DeArmitt had been with the district since January 2018.

r Heard presentations from Rick Bair, CPA at Baker Tilly, Arlin Roth, instructional technology specialist and Rick Knepp, director of technology.

r Accepted the following donations: 54 tickets to the Paw Patrol show at the Bryce Jordan Center. The tickets are for students at Benner Elementary and were donated anonymously; two sets of golf clubs, a golf bag and a pair of golf shoes to the boys’ golf team by the late Bill Simon IV; a set of golf clubs to the boys’ golf team by Barry Hayes; $100 for a first grade classroom at Bellefonte Elementary; 20 winter jackets valued at $350 to Benner Elementary by an anonymous donor and 18 13-inch HP Chromebooks for the Bellefonte Area Middle School donated by AccuWeather.