At the Northampton School Board meeting on Monday, February 12, five residents read a prepared statement to the board regarding Policy 903: Public Participation in Board Meetings.

During public comment, residents stated: “Policy 903: Public Participation in Board Meetings prohibits a broad array of constitutionally protected speech. It uses terms that are vague and subjective. I am requesting that the board revise the policy tonight and remove the words ‘personally directed,’ ‘abusive’ and ‘irrelevant’ from item nine on page two.”

Guideline nine of the policy states that the presiding officer may “interrupt or terminate a participant’s statement when the statement is too lengthy, personally directed, abusive, obscene, not related to school district business, or irrelevant; request any individual to leave the meeting when that person does not observe reasonable decorum; and call a recess or adjourn to another time when the lack of public decorum interferes with the orderly conduct of the meeting.”

The residents reading the statement shared the sentiment that the guideline is unconstitutional based on their First Amendment right to free speech.

Although the board was unable to vote on the revision of the policy at the meeting due to requirements outlined in the Pa. Sunshine Act, President Doug Vaughn addressed the matter, stating the policy would be reviewed by the Policy Committee during their next meeting on March 4. Any committee recommendations will then be voted on by the board at a later time.

In other news, Robert Travis from Gorman & Associates shared a presentation regarding the district’s 2022-2023 audit summary findings, which found that the district’s financial statements “present fairly, in all material respects, the respective financial position of the governmental activities, the business-type activities, each major fund and the aggregate remaining fund information of the Northampton Area School District as of June 30, 2023.”

Travis noted that total district revenues amounted to $119,910,097, whereas expenditures totaled $120,572,318 for the year. This net change in fund balance resulted in an ending fund balance of $20,356,449.

Other findings included no detection of any deficiencies in internal control over financing reporting that were considered material weaknesses, no instances of noncompliance or other matters that are required to be reported and no findings discovered in relation to federal awards.

Next, Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School Executive Director Adam Lazarchak provided two presentations on the school’s expansion plan and its proposed 2024-2025 budget.

In terms of expansion, Lazarchak shared two options for the building addition’s design. The smaller of the two, “Scheme A1,” included plans for a new culinary commercial kitchen, classroom and storage, a new veterinary technician program clinic area, classroom, dog kennels, dog runs and storage, a mechatronics lab/classroom, four health services labs/classrooms, cyber security, medical office and social media/marketing renovated labs/classrooms and a parking lot expansion/traffic pattern with two access points.

Option A1 would provide 226 new seats with room to add 40 extra seats at an estimated total cost of $23,363,728.

However, since BAVTS had to turn away 200 applicants for the 2023-2024 school year due to being at or beyond capacity, “Scheme B” proposes a larger project that would include option A1, but also add a new lab/classroom for the two existing technology classes, a new lab/classroom for the existing auto collision repair lab, an aviation mechanics renovation to the lab/classroom in place of the old auto mechanic shop, a renovation to the welding program’s lab/classroom in place of the old auto body shop and repurposing the main building for the computer net, cyber security, medical and office administration, social media/marketing and aviation mechanics programs.

Option B would provide 330 new seats with room to add 80 extra seats at an estimated total cost of $46,604,863, which would be split amongst the three member districts based on their respective stakeholder share. Bethlehem Area School District’s pro-rata share in BAVTS is 67.08%, Northampton Area School District’s share is 21.30% and Saucon Valley School District’s share is 11.62%.

Switching gears, Lazarchak then presented the 2024-2025 BAVTS proposed $14,597,899 budget, which includes an expenditure budget net increase of 1.68%. The district’s proposed contribution of $3,140,829 includes a 9.12% or $262,407 increase.

During agenda discussion, board member Joshua Harris proffered a “town hall” meeting at Moore Elementary School in the form of a question-and-answer session for the board to discuss potential renovations, open/closure options and financial costs with the public. Board members concurred that the meeting would provide transparency with residents in light of the decision to keep Moore Elementary open and have five elementary schools, which they will need to formally vote on by June, Superintendent Joseph Kovalchik approximated.

Kovalchik expressed that he will look into the logistics of the meeting and shoot for a meeting at the end of March to give the public ample notice.

Aside from the First Student driver list revision, which was removed from the agenda, all regular agenda items were unanimously approved. The detailed agenda can be found on the district website.

The next Northampton School Board meeting will be held on Monday, March 11 at 6:30 p.m. in the NAHS auditorium, located at 1619 Laubach Ave.


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