When: Penn Manor school board meeting, March 21.
What happened: The board heard a proposal from Jerry Egan, assistant superintendent for elementary schools, and Krista Cox, Eshleman Elementary School principal, to possibly shift newly enrolled elementary students to buildings other than the existing school boundaries to balance the number of students in each school. Egan said families would not be split between elementary schools. He also said the shift would not affect existing students at either Eshleman or Hambright Elementary.
Why it matters: Egan said the district focuses on neighborhood schools at the elementary level. There are two larger elementary schools — Central Manor and Hambright — and five smaller elementary schools. He said Penn Manor has created what’s known as “swing areas” to help balance enrollment at elementary schools. Cox said at the beginning of this school year 11 of the school’s 14 classrooms were considered to be oversize, or classes that have 25 or more students. However, the number of oversize classrooms has been pared down to seven since some of the school’s families opted out of public education this year; and some classroom aides have been hired to assist teachers in classes that were considered oversize.
Quotable: “I’ve lived on Manor Avenue for 20 years. The population has changed. There are some new multifamily units, so that means more families,” said school board member Nickole Nafziger.
What it might look like: Egan said the elementary population has shifted to the northern border of the school district. Thus, Egan proposed that new enrollees or “move-in” students in the West Ridge area could attend Eshleman or Hambright, while new enrollees in the Quaker Hills area could attend Eshleman or Conestoga Elementary School. The school assignment would be based on class sizes at the respective buildings. Egan said there was some consideration of possibly shifting new enrollees in Quaker Hills to Pequea Elementary, but there’s development occurring in the Willow Street area that will most likely affect the number of students at Pequea.
Virtual school: Egan is proposing to eliminate virtual schooling at the elementary level when the contract with Lancaster-Lebanon Virtual Solutions expires at the end of the school year.
Budget: The board discussed the cost of recruiting and retaining employees in the next school year and the potential impact on the 2022-23 budget. Business Manager Chris Johnston said the budget continues to be a “work in progress,” and the funding gap has been pared down from $3.1 million to $2 million due to some decreases in expenditures and increases in revenue. While he’s not recommending it, Johnston said a 3.64% tax hike would close the funding gap and results in an increase of $114 for a homeowner with a home assessed at $179,000.
Workforce crisis: Johnston said the cost of proposed wage increases for new hires and existing staff — school nurses, paraprofessionals, support staff and substitute teachers contracted through Substitute Teacher Service — would be $338,355. As a retention measure, district support staff hired before March 1, 2020, could receive a $1 per hour increase in their hourly rate, and support staff hired after that date could receive 50 cents per hour more, resulting in an additional $334,484. In total, the two measures would increase the funding gap to $2.67 million.
Discussion: Board members were conflicted between the need to increase pay rates to attract new employees and retain staff, and its impact on the budget. Board President Carlton Rintz said he recognizes where the pay increases are going, but was concerned about having to raise taxes. Board member Loren Brown said the existing staff deserves the pay increase, and he asked if there was a way to adjust other expenditures to cover the increase. Superintended Mike Leichliter replied there are not a lot of places to cut.
Quotable: “We can’t forget who pays for it—our taxpayers are facing inflation just like our staff, and some of those taxpayers are on a fixed income,” Rintz said.
What’s next: The school board directed Johnston to present at the April 11 meeting separate pay rate options for new hires and existing staff. The board will also take action on proposals to possibly shift new elementary enrollees and to eliminate virtual school at the elementary level.