CLEARFIELD – At a special meeting Tuesday night, the Clearfield Area School District Board of Directors eliminated five staffing positions while also abolishing three others, which were unfilled.
“We looked at this hard and don’t like doing it. We must balance quality of education with fiscal responsibility. And, declining student enrollment led us to these decisions,” said board President Dave Glass.
Superintendent Dr. Richard C. Makin added, “We had to look at the enrollment and also balance the needs of our students. (Of course), we are concerned as we are with any loss. But we’ll work through it.”
The board voted, 7-1, for the elimination of the following positions: one Kindergarten as well as one third grade position at Bradford Township Elementary School; one fifth grade position at the Clearfield Middle School; one Educational Assistance Program (EAP) math tutor position at the Clearfield Area High School; and one ungraded Kindergarten position.
The professional employees assigned to the above positions for the current school year are: Amanda Turner, Bethany Hoover, Kristy Troxell, Glenna Woodring and Jennifer Wright, respectively. These employees will not be furloughed due to the bumping and realigning of staff, Glass said.
He said employee Andrew Johnson, the “least senior person in the certification area,” is expected to be affected by the elimination of the previous staffing positions. He said Johnson is “non-tenured and his temporary professional employee contract is being non-renewed” at the end of the current school year.
Under the same vote, they also agreed to abolish both a Title I reading position and a guidance counselor position at the high school. Last week, Jon Mikesell was approved to vacate the latter position for a guidance position at the middle school.
Board members Glass, Rick Schickling, Phil Carr, Larry Putt, Mary Anne Jackson, Susan Mikesell and Dr. Michael Spencer voted in favor. Board member Jennifer Wallace cast the sole nay vote; board member Tim Morgan was absent.
They then held a separate roll call vote for the abolishment of an agriculture education position at the high school. They approved the same by a 6-2 vote. Mikesell and Wallace were the lone board members to oppose doing so.
Following the meeting, Wallace said she doesn’t believe in staff cuts.
“I don’t feel it’s appropriate. I think there are other places in the budget, where we can make cuts. I don’t think we should be cutting teaching positions at all,” she said.
Mikesell added the agricultural education cut would result in a course load too great for a single faculty member. Prior to the board’s vote, they heard from Lori Clayton of the high school’s agricultural department. She voiced the same concerns as Mikesell.
“This year, we got the program back on track. It takes a while to build that momentum,” Clayton said. “I can’t teach 160 students, but I can teach about half of that.”
Clayton said she believed any staff cut would be detrimental to their program. She indicated she and her counterpart have worked well together, playing off each other’s instructional strategies.
“Two heads are better than one, I think. I fear we’ll lose students (if the board cuts the position),” Clayton said.
At recent meetings, the board has also heard opposition of staffing cuts from both a student and the faculty. During the public comment period last week, former student Alex Angstadt voiced his disapproval of the board’s consideration of eliminating a math tutor position at the high school.
“I’m shocked and fearful,” he said, indicating it was his understanding they would not be filling the open geometry position. He said he was also alarmed by their plans to take Woodring from her math tutor position and place her into the classroom.
Angstadt said the students have been “pushed” toward proficiency in math on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSA). He said they have made a steady increase on the exams.
“Why would you change (the staffing)?” he asked. As a student, he admitted to struggling in math over the years. He sought tutoring from Woodring.
He credited his “vast knowledge” to the guidance that he received from Woodring. He said she helped him become more prepared and to perform at a higher level.
“If students don’t have a tutor, who will they go see? How can you ensure each student receives the one-on-one attention that they need to be pushed toward success?” Angstadt asked.
By eliminating the position, he said class sizes would only grow larger. He said teachers then wouldn’t be able to guarantee each student understands the covered course materials. He said his former classmates would continue to experience the effects of the board’s decision following high school.
Angstadt said students are expected to have well-established math skills at the college level. Without the necessary skills, he said students would struggle to survive at a college or university.
“I understand budgets. But if you decide to collapse this position, you’re not just failing the math department. You’re failing every student at the high school,” he said.
Prior to a closed session two weeks ago, the board was approached by Woodring and Judi Bookhamer, both of whom teach in the high school’s math department. Both voiced concerns about the possible aftermath if the board elected to cut a faulty member to resolve budget issues.
Woodring said she “felt strongly” for her department and its student performance. She said they have worked alongside Tim Janocko, assistant principal, in order to better the students’ test scores on the PSSA.
In the past, Woodring said the students only scored a proficiency level of 33 percent in math on the PSSA. She noted the college preparatory students who are exposed to algebra and geometry classes have performed well on the assessment.
“It’s not good. It’s not good enough,” she said. She said the students have more recently achieved a proficiency of 56 percent. However, she noted they must reach 100 percent proficiency in math by 2014.
In addition, she pointed out that the students will soon begin the Keystone Exams. She emphasized these exams will account for one-third of their final course grade. As a result, she said the students will need practice and help from the math faculty.
“We’re the front line,” Woodring said. “. . . If they don’t do well, we take the heat. I realize the concerns with the budget. I really do. (Our) students must come first.
“We have a long way to go over the next few years. We have tutoring in place, but the kids need a full staff. Fifty-six percent is a long ways to 100 percent by 2014.”
Bookhamer said she was proud of the math department’s faculty members. She said they have come far since she joined the staff. She called attention to their department, which is among the few offering statistics courses in Clearfield County.
“Any cuts to the math department could be detrimental. Let us continue to grow,” Bookhamer said.
Glass said he appreciated the dedication of the faculty in the high school’s math department. Following the closed session, he added the board has mulled over its budget decisions.
“We’ve taken our time. It’s a tough job,” Glass said. “We must weigh the sides of both the kids and the taxpayers. None of us take it lightly.”
In other business on Tuesday night, the board approved:
- the creation of one autistic support class with a 7-1 vote. Mikesell was the lone opposing vote for the same. She said she didn’t oppose the creation of a class to support autistic students. Further, she explained they didn’t allow enough time for it to be well-developed.
- the creation of one third grade position at Centre Elementary School with a 7-0 vote. Jackson abstained from the vote.
- the recommendation of Bruce Nicolls as the granted signatory authority for those items, when the superintendent is absent or on leave pending the appointment of an interim superintendent. Nicolls was appointed by a 6-2 vote. Wallace and Spencer opposed the same.