The Northampton School Board met Monday, May 9 in the Northampton Area High School auditorium with a lengthy agenda and many concerns from residents.
The first item on the agenda was the Northampton Community College’s budget presentation by Dr. Mark H. Erikson.
NCC is the region’s largest and most diverse college with more than 20,000 students and 142 degree and certificate programs. On average, one out of every four Northampton County students attends NCC, and their annual tuition cost is $4,890 for full-time students.
In fall 2021, the Northampton Area School District had 663 students enroll in NCC with 34% of those being full-time students, 61% being female students, and 23% of those enrollments were minority students.
Dr. Erikson presented that it has been a challenging two years for NCC, which saw a double digit decline in fall enrollment, with an uptick in winter, and a rebound in the spring. While noting that federal stimulus funds have been helpful, Erikson stated that NCC has put together an aggressive two-year plan to reduce costs while maintaining quality. However, Erikson added that NCC fully expects their enrollment numbers to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels soon. The community college is excited to work with NASD to expand dual enrollment opportunities, and to provide life changing opportunities for their new graduates and district residents of all ages.
Overall, Erikson expressed the Northampton proposed sponsor increase total for the 2022-2023 school year will be $28,279, which will be a 3.28% increase for the district budget.
During public comment on agenda items, several residents voiced their concerns regarding the banning of Gerald Bretzik from all future 2022 board meetings after his disruption of the April Northampton School Board meeting, stating their disagreement with the board for their “selective targeting” and “unfair” infringement on the public’s rights to free speech.
Resident Gerald Bretzik was asked to leave the premises prior to the start of this month’s meeting after being escorted out by security at last month’s school board meeting for shouting obscenities and threatening President Chuss during the meeting’s public comment.
One resident stated, “I don’t believe in banning people for speaking up,” and other residents implored the board to “rethink” banning Gerald Bretzik from attending future meetings.
Residents also addressed their issues with the board’s current operation of removing or deleting the livestreaming of board meetings 24 hours after they are held. They explained that this policy prohibits many residents from being able to view the meeting due to exigent circumstances such as their work and home life, which prevents them from being able to attend the meeting. Residents stated that leaving the livestream up for 24 hours is not enough time for many individuals to watch the meeting and requested that the board revise the policy on when they remove the livestream to allow more time for individuals to watch the event online.
NASD Superintendent Joseph Kovalchik identified that the livestreaming policy is a local decision regarding when the livestreams are deleted. Additionally, he stated that the policy committee that develops the drafts presented to the board meets publicly once a month and that the drafts are “out there for a couple months before the final decision is actually made by the full board.” Kovalchik also added that the next public policy meeting with be held Wednesday, May 18 at 10 a.m. in the District Office.
Board member Doug Vaughn moved to make a motion to add a nonbinding resolution to the agenda regarding Moore Elementary. Vaughn proposed the board members vote on whether NASD should invest in repairing Moore Elementary School with the intention of keeping Moore Elementary School open indefinitely.
Vaughn added, “I’m simply asking the board to give their opinion to the public.”
There was debate from other board members regarding whether the motion was in compliance with the Sunshine Act requiring agenda items to be presented at least 24 hours in advance.
Vaughn’s motion was moved to table the discussion until the next Northampton School Board meeting under the Old Business section of the agenda. Vaughn expressed his disappointment in board members and their lack of transparency on the subject, which residents appeared to agree with.
Board member Kim Bretzik also brought up how her husband, Gerald Bretzik, has been criminally charged with two misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,000 fine, which she said sends a message to the public: “Don’t get up. Don’t misspeak at the podium,” Bretzik said.
“But the fact is, we can’t ban someone from a public meeting for prior restraint. We can’t ban them because we are afraid that they are going to do something. We also can’t censor speech just because we don’t like it,” said Bretzik. She added that the Supreme Court recently ruled that public speech restrictions in public school board meetings as unconstitutional.
Bretzik stated, “When we cut people off from speaking at the podium, we exacerbate the divide that we have heard about here between parents and the school.”
Next on the agenda, board members voted on various resignations, leave of absences, staff transfers, additions and deletions to the Substitute List, and a revised Master District Volunteer List for the district. Board members approved all items (A-K) under the New Business Personnel/Voice Vote unanimously. The resignation of Renee Sallit from the position of Principal of the Borough Elementary Schools, effective at the end of the day on June 30, was met with regret from board members. Later during the meeting, Sallit expressed that she is sad to be leaving the district after eight years but is excited for her new position as the Director of Teaching and Learning in the Whitehall-Coplay School District.
Sallit stated, “I didn’t necessarily want to leave the district, but it has provided me a chance to grow” and that during her time at NASD, she has grown as both a professional and an individual.
Board members also unanimously approved all items (A-W) under the Personnel/Roll Call Vote, which included: the additional teacher mentors for the 2021-2022 school year for inductees and LTSs, the revised listing of athletic coaches and assistant coaches for the 2021-2022 spring season with their designated payments, and the approval for Mrs. Leigh Zakutansky to attend the PJAS State Competition along with one other student on May 15 through May 17 in State College for a maximum cost of $560.
This also included the approval for: the extension of Amy Wieller as the Long-Term Substitute Music Teacher at George Wolf Elementary School for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year, Sandra Kulick as the Hall Monitor at the middle school effective retroactive to April 20, 2022, Michael Rex and Jonathan Lynch as TPE Mathematics Teachers at the middle school effective August 22, 2022, Anne Gordon as the Guidance Secretary at the middle school effective retroactive to April 25, 2022, Rachel Laird as TPE Grade 1 Elementary Teacher at Lehigh Elementary School effective August 22, Sydney Kuronya as TPE Grade 2 Elementary Teacher at George Wolf Elementary School effective August 22, the submitted list of teachers and instructional assistants to provide Extended School Year (ESY) and Chapter 15/Section 504 Services for the summer 2022, Ashley Dziedzic as PE Special Education Teacher at Siegfried Elementary School effective August 22, Susan Holland as PE Special Education Teacher at Siegfried Elementary School effective August 22, Sarah Andrews as 1:1 Special Education Instructional Assistant at Siegfried Elementary School effective August 22, and the approval of listed Summer Bridge lead teachers, teachers, guidance counselors, and nurses and their reimbursement in accordance with the appropriate Collective Bargaining Agreement effective June 13 through August 4.
Additionally, Michael Lopata was approved as Middle School Principal effective July 1, Jamison Barnhart was approved as High School Assistant Principal effective July 1, Dayna Younis was approved as School Psychologist Intern for the 2022-2023 school year, Angela Borealo was approved as High School Assistant Principal effective July 1, Shannin Peters was approved as Lehigh Elementary School Principal effective July 1, Douglas Sherman was approved as Northampton Borough Elementary School Principal effective July 1, Billie Fruit was approved as Network Administrator effective July 1, and Joseph Provini was approved as Head Wrestling Coach for the 2022-2023 school year.
Next, the board voted on the approval of various policy revisions. The first vote included new policies for adoption such as: 815.4 – Use of Livestream Video on School District Property, 826 – Record Retention, and 826 – Record Retention Policy, which was only approved by members Vaughn and Bretzik, and the motion to revise the aforementioned policies failed. Members also voted on the approval of policy 918: Title I Parent and Family Involvement Addenda, which passed unanimously.
Following, the board unanimously approved the 2022 Summer School Program to be offered through the Colonial Virtual Program (CVP) Summer School.
Next on the agenda, board members approved various financial items such as the renewal agreement with Aramark Educational Services to provide food service management for the 2022-2023 school year; the First Northern Bank & Trust Co., the Pennsylvania Local Government Investment Trust (PLGIT), and the Pennsylvania School District Liquid Asset Fund (PSDLAF) depositories for school funds for the 2022-2023 school year; the BAVTS 2022-2023 proposed budget in the amount of $13,848,288 with the district’s portion being $2,629,092; the 2022-2023 proposed budget for the Northampton Board of Education, which includes the General Fund of $120,476,097, the Food Service Fund of $2,450,035, and the Athletic Fund of $261,224; the issuance of General Obligation Bonds, Series 2022, in the maximum aggregate principle amount of $33,000,000, the proceeds of which would be used to refund all or a portion of the General Obligation Bonds, Series A of 2014, provided that a net minimum savings of $563,000 is achieved; the 2022-2023 Cleaning and Maintenance Supply Bids awarded as $30,024.18 for cleaning, and $59,331.73 for maintenance for a combined total of $89,355.91; the appointment of the Northampton Area School District as Tax Collector for the Allen Township, Bath Borough, Chapman Borough, East Allen Township, Lehigh Township, Moore Township, and Northampton Borough real estate and per capita taxes for 2022-2021; the bills for payment; the bids for Paper and Janitorial Supplies in the amount of $33,260.50 as awarded by the Northampton/Monroe/Pike County Joint Purchasing Board; the district insurance rates for 2022-2023 in the following amounts: Property/General Liability/Abuse/Crime/Boiler & Machinery – Utica $162,078, Automobile – Utica $20,667, Excess Liability – Utica $13,727, School Board Errors & Omissions – AIG $28,990, Workers Compensation – Key Risk $236,997, Cyber Liability – Chubb $34,506, Fiduciary – Chubb $4,938, and Law Enforcement – CRC Swett $5,532; the Treasurer’s Report; and the 2022-2023 property tax reduction allocation at $1,845,741.31 to reduce property taxes and set the homestead/farmstead exclusion at the same fixed amount under the Taxpayer Relief Act (Gaming Funds).
Finally, board members voted on the approval of various miscellaneous items, which included two expulsion hearing waivers, the resignation of Kim Bretzik as Board Liaison to the Northampton Public Library with no current replacement effective May 10, the election of John Dally, Jr. (Pen Argyl School District), Randy Galiotto (Easton Area School District), and R. Charles Stehly (Bethlehem Area School District) to the Northampton Community College Board of Trustees for the term of July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2028, and the exclusion of Gerald Bretzik from school board meetings for the remainder of 2022.
The approval of all miscellaneous items carried unanimously, other than the exclusionary item, which resulted in an approval of 7-1-1 as board member Doug Vaughn voted no in response, and board member Kim Bretzik abstained from the vote.
In other news, the NAHS Class of 2022 commencement will be Friday, June 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the Al Erdosy Stadium, with rain dates on June 4 and 5.
A Board of Education public information will be held Thursday, June 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the NAHS auditorium, where updates on the Seemsville Road and Route 329 elementary school and administration building project will be discussed.
The Northampton Area School District Board of Education will meet next on Monday, June 13 at 6:30 p.m. in the NAHS auditorium, located at 1619 Laubach Ave., Northampton.