School boards wrestle with unexpected expenses; Elk Lake moves to 4-day in-person instructional plan

At last week’s board meeting, the Elk Lake School District announced it would be bringing all the students back to campus for four days of in-person instruction.

Beginning Monday, Sept. 28, students will resume in-person instruction on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will remain as a virtual instruction day.

The district had been operating on a more restricted hybrid model since opening in late August, with students separated into two groups with in-person instruction for each group happening on two days of each week, and all students participating in virtual instruction on Wednesdays.

The at-home classroom will no longer be an option for students.

Students enrolled in the Warrior Academy – the district-based cyber school option – will continue with that model, however, that comes at a cost to the district.

With students enrolled in the Warrior Academy, as well as third-party cyber charter schools, the cost to the district is about $730,000, considerable higher than the amount budgeted for the school year.

The Susquehanna County Career and Technology Center (SCCTC) will remain on its current schedule.

Elk Lake isn’t the only district facing unbudgeted expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Montrose Area Superintendent Chris McComb said, at the Sept. 14, board meeting, that the district has about 80 families with students enrolled in its district cyber option.

The cost per enrolled students is about $3,500, amounting to about $300,000 in unexpected expenditures for the district. That total does not include the number of students enrolled in off-site charter schools.

McComb also said that of the CARES Act funds received, the district used that money to purchase additional Chromebooks, PPE, and to offset the addition of a district “tech coach.”

“There are a number of expenses that were not expected and not budgeted for,” he said.

The Montrose board meeting was the first held since the students returned to school for the first time since March, and the board meeting on Monday, Sept. 14, returned to a sense of normalcy – albeit virtually.

Board president Mary Homan opened the work session by thanking all who had worked to make the reopening of the schools possible. She recounted that in May at a reopening committee meeting thinking that so much work needed to be done to make it possible. “Thank you to everyone for making it happen and making it happen very well,” Homan said.

High School Principal Eric Powers spoke in the work session on topics “a bit more normal than the past six months.”

He proposed adding an advisor position for the middle school FBLA club, to which the board gave its nod of approval.

Powers also proposed continuing the waiver of local graduation requirements for the Class of 2021 seniors. He noted that with the cancellation of Keystone exams in the spring the current seniors missed an opportunity to retest on exams. The requirement for the completion of a graduation project by those who do not score proficient or better on the Keystones will also be waived.

“We are still compliant with state level requirements,” Powers explained, it is the district’s local requirement he is looking to relax “given the situation this year.”

The principal also proposed allowed licensed/certified drivers that are sophomores to be able to drive to school. He noted that while the proposed policy change would not affect many students, the few who would be able to drive would help alleviate the number of students riding buses.

Superintendent Chris McComb said the policy change really amount to only omitting the requirement that students complete the driver’s education course.

Riley Keihl, a current ninth grade student, was recognized for receiving the Ray Kroc Achievement Award at the meeting.

The board discussed fall sports, and McComb said he is routinely asked about where the district stands with participation.

“Games are going on now,” he said, “Interestingly enough, the biggest concern is number of spectators allow in attendance.” He noted a recent federal judge ruling that the governor’s shutdown orders were unconstitutional.

He also said that the district would continue to stay withing guidelines, limiting spectators for football games.

Homan said board member Jon Wood – although not able to attend the meeting – had asked her to express his opinion that the district should not participate in contact sports.

Board members discussed challenges presented by away games and potential for exposure.

Board member Gloria Smith said, “If we have to shut down the entire school for education because 24 kids went to play a soccer match…I just don’t want the school to have that happen,” as she also voiced support for student athletics.

Board member Gretchen Backer offered, “I want them in school more than anything but think sports are part of their education as well.”

The board also welcomed new Jr.-Sr. High School Assistant Principal Terry Whalen.

The next Montrose Area School Board meeting will be held Monday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m., with it still to be determined if the meeting will be held in-person or continue in its virtual format.

At its Monday, Sept. 14 meeting, Mountain View voted on its resocialization of sports plan, which passed with a 6-3 vote. Boardmembers David Schulte, Sondra Stine and Christine Plonski-Sezer voted against the plan.

The board also cast a 7-2 vote for its hybrid reopening plan, with school directors Michael Barhite and Derek O’Dell opposed.

The Mountain View hybrid plan will run until the end of the first marking period, explained board president Jason Richmond, and the board will revisit the plan in October and decide on possible changes at that point.

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