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PMSD Eyes Switch to Four Days a Week, No Tax Hike Seen in Preliminary Budget

PMSD Board meeting. Top row, board president Rusty Johnson, board member Ronnie Byrd, board vice president John Coyle, and member Jacquelyn Leonard. Second row: members Stephen Watto and Michael Stern. Third row: member Frank Pecci, Dr. Catherine Sweeney Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction, Joseph Colozza, Chief Financial Officer, and member James Gamble. Bottom Row: Dr. Elizabeth Robison, Superintendent, and Dr. Mark Wade, Assistant Superintendent for Special Education.

SWIFTWATER – The Pocono Mountain School District is investigating the possibility of return all students to a four-day in-person instructional schedule.

At the January 20 board meeting. Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Robison told the board that a change in the instructional model was under investigation, partially in response to the urging of the state secretary of education, who recently encouraged schools to find ways to move to more in-person education, especially for younger and special needs students. She said they were evaluating if it was possible to maintain social distancing and other safety guidelines. After meetings with her team, they concluded more time was needed to determine the possibilities.

Robinson recommended that the district continues with the current hybrid program for now while making more in-person education available for special needs and at-risk students, on a case by case basis. The decision to invite those students to attend in-person more than two days a week right now would be based on each student’s individual needs, their IEPs, IEP team recommendations, and requests from parents.

Robison told the board that they are still not seeing evidence that COVID-19 was being spread within the school environment itself. She attributed this to the maintenance of masking, hand washing, and social distancing on campus, and the work of the janitorial staff in maintaining a safe environment.

The board also heard a preliminary presentation on the 2021-22 budget from Joseph Colozza, the district’s Chief Financial Officer.

Colozza stressed that the version of the budget he presented was skeletal and very preliminary. He said his team is currently working with an assumption that, despite considerable losses in the tax base as a result of post-reassessment appeals, the district can go a ninth consecutive year without a tax increase.

Tom Brogan, president of the Pocono Mountain Education Association, was given a spot on the evening’s agenda. He expressed appreciation to the public for their support of the teachers during these difficult times. He also introduced one of the association vice-presidents, Dave Phaneuf, who responded to a question from the board at the December meeting, asking how the teachers were feeling during this unusual school year.

Phaneuf said the teachers are grateful, exhausted, and worried. They are grateful to be able to serve the students in the district and appreciative of the administration’s provision of PPE and other safety devices for the classrooms, and the sanitizing by “our outstanding janitorial staff.” He noted that the hour of planning time in the morning was “crucial in responding to student questions from the night before, updating Google Classrooms, grading assignments, preparing for the days instruction, both virtual and hybrid, contacting students, and talking to parents.” Phaneuf said the staff was also thankful for the parents and others who have become virtual teaching assistants this year.

In addition, he said the teachers also felt “exhausted - our staff has been working extremely hard to make sure this hybrid model is successful for all of our students.” He said that teachers spend “countless hours” on Google and YouTube learning new skills and adapting technology to help their students succeed. This, he said, was on top of the time spent grading, teaching, answering student and parent emails, helping with technical support, keeping up with their lesson plans, creating videos. That time, he told the board, came at the expense of teacher’s evenings, weekends, and family time.

Teachers are also worried, as the local COVID numbers remain high, including in the communities making up the district. They remain concerned for their own health and that of their students and their families. Educators, he said, are worried about taxing local health services, and very concerned about bringing COVID home to their families.

Brogan said the staff were also hopeful, as the vaccine begins to roll out. The PMEA fully supports the recommendation to continue on the hybrid model until the vaccine is more fully distributed and all staff are inoculated. He also wanted to make it clear that the PMEA has a very good relationship with the administration and that, regardless of differences of views, they are able to maintain constructive dialogue.

Shane Pagnotti, Pennsylvania School Board Association Member Services Manager, attended the meeting to recognize board member John Coyle for his eight years of service to the district with placement on the PSBA Honor Roll. The Honor Roll is the association’s recognition of leadership exhibited by dedicated board members. Coyle said it was an honor for him to serve on the board for eight years, “in good times and in challenging times. Right now we are in challenging times.” In turn, he also thanked the other board members for their work as well.

The district will be hosting a COVID-19 drive-through testing clinic at the West High School (see separate article). Robison told the board that she hopes to also convince the Pennsylvania Department of Health to designate the district as host for a drive-through vaccination clinic to help distribute the vaccine in our community.

The next meeting of the board is Wednesday, February 3, online. Register for the online meeting on the district website.

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