The current Wyoming Area School Board is representative of what the Pennsylvania School Boards Association recommends: a school board of the district’s peers.
Our cross section includes a doctorate holder, two engineers, a finance major, a corrections officer, a real estate Broker, a retired businessman, a Purple Heart-decorated veteran and a registered nurse. Somehow we all mesh. We are always argumentative but extremely transparent, and in the end we always respect each other.
We have accomplished much without reverting to the use of the board as a personal employment agency. Our critics will say, “You raised taxes!” If there were any other way to pay for schools, administrators, teachers, support staff, wouldn’t any board seek it out? The fact is that in Pennsylvania, this is how we finance our schools.
We don’t set out to try to dig a hole for ourselves, which is why we have been as prudent as we can be.
We have practiced more moderation than most boards. We recently refinanced our 30-year-bond with PNC as the under-writer, saving the district $2.2 million, attempting to back-fill a deficit of $1.9 million for the 2015-16 school year. As a result of the most horrific school shootings, we redesigned the front entrance of our secondary center. We were submitted a bloated estimate of $115,000 but shaved the cost down to $9,000 with a savings of $106,000. The estimates the district received for critical repairs to infrastructure were $79,635. The actual cost was $19,625, with a savings of $60,010. This, combined with the savings on the front entrance totaled $166,010. The list is available for inspection.
We navigated over a period of three years a contract for our teachers – the teachers who keep our standing in the top 10 percent of the state, while successfully implementing a health care change to a PPO, resulting in a tremendous savings.
We contracted with West Wyoming Borough, to the benefit of both the borough and the board, the purchase of four used but useful vehicles that we sorely needed. They included a Ford Explorer, a Crown Victoria, a dump truck and a trailer at a tremendous savings. Now that our feasibility study is completed, we are in the process of condensing and making our district even more manageable and in line with our budget, with the hope that we can make a tremendous financial difference.
Some of the problems that we have with maintenance, especially of the secondary center, have more to do with errors in the original design than upkeep, such as the glazing on the bricks that doesn’t allow them to breathe, just one of the many things that weren’t anticipated when this beautiful school was built. The absence of air-conditioning in Montgomery Avenue, which was unfortunately redesigned with sealed windows, has led to a severe problem with overheating in this new climate. How can we use that famously overused phrase “for the kids” when elementary students sit in hot, humid classrooms with temperatures in the high 80s?
We have furloughed teachers, reassigned teachers, combined classes, always with an eye to both saving the taxpayers money while providing the best education possible. We have lost some very valuable substitute teachers to other districts because our pay scale is not competitive. We have replaced some retiring administrators with some of the best, hardest-working people in the state, in some cases, assigning them to double the work that the previous administrators had done.
We have invested in curriculum programs that are far ahead of the national average, giving our students the jump-start that makes them so competitive when they graduate
We have more volunteer coaches than ever, who strive to make up for the financial shortfall that we suffer. We have a new self-funded lacrosse team that costs our district nothing and is PIAA-approved.
In spite of the fact that we receive no monetary compensation, no favors for ourselves, we work tirelessly. Committee meetings are held weekly, with members of alternating committees subbing for each other when their employment will not release them. Our reward is being part of the operation of a district that we all take pride in and has been successful in reaching its goals.
Are we doing something right? Yes, we are. Not to say that we don’t make mistakes; but all of us have always shown that we are more than happy and anxious to correct them. There is little room for individuality in this board; most often, we are unified in our focus. But we give our bond to you that we will give every issue individual attention and proudly work to continue to keep our standing as one of the top districts in Pennsylvania.
Deanna C. Farrell
Wyoming Area school director